Real people: Love of singing keeps retiree in opera chorus

Lynnette Anderson can’t pinpoint the exact moment when she became a singer, but she also can’t remember a time when she wasn’t.

“I think I was born singing,” said the Decatur resident with a laugh. “I was in the school choir, I took piano lessons, I always sang in church.”

Anderson’s passion didn’t wane when she went to college. At West Virginia University, she majored in music and launched a career teaching it. After relocating to Atlanta in the late 1970s, she taught in the Fulton County schools and sang in the choir at Embry Hills United Methodist church. It was through that choir Anderson discovered another outlet for her music with the chorus of the Atlanta Opera. She signed on as a volunteer and has been part of the backup ensemble since 1985, a tenure that now makes her one of the opera’s longest-serving volunteers.

Even after retiring 10 years ago, Anderson, who sings mezzo and alto, didn’t relinquish her spot in the chorus. She delights in learning the foreign-language songs, getting into costume and blending in with the action on stage. Depending on the production, Anderson may be part of 20 to 70 chorus members who support the lead players. She’s been part of productions of Carmen, The Merry Widow, Madame Butterfly and Macbeth, to name a few.

“My favorite was the first ‘Butterfly’ when I got to work with (chorus master) Walter Huff,” Anderson said. “I also got to work with (conductor) Whitfield Lloyd who always talked about the plot and what we should be feeling. We had a great time in costumes as witches when we did ‘Macbeth’ and the ‘Merry Widow.’”

The work that goes into mounting an operatic production is substantial, and so are the time commitments for the volunteers. Music rehearsals start several weeks before the chorus ever begins learning the stage positions. That work alone may mean practicing a few times a week.

“We have to have the music memorized before we go on stage so we don’t have to worry about that part,” she said. “Many of the directors will then talk to us about character development, what we should focus on and how to interact with the main characters. You really need listening and acting skills to do it.”

But the commitment has its rewards, she said.

“I get to sing beautiful music that is just thrilling,” she said. “I also love doing the stage work. I get to work with and hear a wonderful orchestra. And I enjoy working with all the people at the opera. It is a lot of work, but it’s always fun, and I love the whole process.”