Ar-RIVA-derci, Midsummer!

Amanda, Candice, Teneice, and Tiffany at a rehearsal in the orchestra pit at Playhouse on the Square.

IT wouldn’t be an orchestra without the string section, and it would not be a voicestra without the female voices of RIVA.

Let me define voicestra. It is the group of a cappella singers who sit in the orchestra pit and provide the backdrop of vocalizations that include song and sounds that reflect the thoughts and the action taking place above them on the stage where Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream is being performed in the premier of the world’s first operapella. The male contingent is made up of members of DeltaCappella, a vocal band that has performed from Vegas to Beale Street to  Chapel Hill–and have shared stages  with  groups like Take 6, Naturally 7 and SONOS.

RIVA,  though,  is a newly minted female vocal group, brought together by the

Teneice, Tiffany, Katie, and Nura

circumstance of the operapella, which needed a group of female singers with exactly the kind of tight blend and exacting musicianship that the women of RIVA can lay down in hearts and diamonds.

The sound that comes from the voicestra depends on an almost intuitive relationship between the singers. It’s really not so different from a string quartet that performs without direction and whose virtuosity comes not just from the skill of the individual players, but from their ability to interpret music as a whole.

Abby, Amanda, and Candice. Not picured is Heather, who was singled out for mention in the review of the production that appeared in the WSJ.

Much ado ensued when it was realized that the operapella had received the green light of all of the groups involved in its production, for a women’s group was essential. Auditioning talented women singers and simply plunking them into the pit would not have resulted in an operapella. It would simply have been a chorus, which is not the same thing at all.

Jay Mednikow, founder of DeltaCappella, reassured  Ching that he would both found and help a women’s group to get off the ground, and invited Treble, a well-known New York women’s a cappella group from New York to come down and participate in the audition process. Ads were placed around town, because the hope was to repeat one of the greatest strengths of DeltaCappella, which is a diverse membership.

A name was chosen for the group before it was even born–RIVA, a made- up Memphis name, in the grand  Memphis tradition of creative names that are bestowed on children born here everyday, names  that combine a syllable of this with syllables of something else. It’s a lovely tradition, and one to be honored. In this case, RIVA is a cross-reference to our big muddy “river” and “diva”–a combination that might be unlikely anywhere but here in Memphis, where the vibrantly beautiful and  and the earthy and gritty flourish together and as one.

The women of RIVA are perhaps the truest heroines of the entire production, for without them, there would not have been a true operapella.

Stephen Carey of Opera Memphis coached the women as they learned the complicated score.

The newly created group was forced into hyper-drive in the spring of 2010–and had to get to know each other both as people and as musicians,  learning  their  individual voices, melding and shaping their voices in order  to sing together as one.

There was the challenge of arranging their schedules  to accommodate additional time for frequent and long rehearsals in order to learn the  200 pages of  complicated music  that was far more challenging than the pop ballads and rock songs that will eventually  become a staple of their future performances.

These are the sort of challenges that are trying for any group of musicians–but for a newly organized  group of women to soldier on and bring it like RIVA has brought it to every performance is stunning. They are not only talented, but generous musicians in every sense of the word.

Much good has and will come of this premier production of  Midsummer Night’s Dream.   But one of the most exciting and hopefully long lasting contributions  of the operapella  is the remarkable birth of RIVA, Memphis’ premiere women’s a cappella vocal group.

Thank you RIVA divas for making a Midsummer Night’s Dream possible. There have been times that your presence has gone unsung, but your voices and your gift of song will be heard in Memphis for a long time to come.

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