Since 1990, The Dallas Opera’s chorus has been led by Ukrainian-born, Alexander Rom. Under his expert direction, the group has gained a reputation for excellence and precision. They’ve just come off an exceptional performance of “Samson and Dalila,” where Rom and his group received a warm ovation during the Sunday matinee curtain call.
Rom graduated from the Leningrad Conservatory of Music with a master’s degree in choral conducting. He was a student of Avenie Mikhailov, a music director of one of Russia’s first professional choruses, founded by Peter the Great.
Rom immigrated to the United States and found work as a Russian opera coach in New York.
Maestro Rom has also served as opera coach for numerous companies, including the Metropolitan Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Savonlinna Opera Festivals in Finland, Cincinnati Festival, and Ravinia Festival.
According to his website, Maestro Rom is an Honorary Visiting Professor at Sibelius Academy and the Helsinki Conservatory of music in Helsinki, Finland, and was a Visiting Professor at the Savonlinna Opera Festival Music Institute for ten years. He also staged and musically prepared a production of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” at the Retretti Performance Hall with an international cast of young and rising stars from Russia and Finland. He was a founder and Music Director of the Grace Choral Society of Brooklyn, New York, which he directed for 19 years. His music and arrangements for voice, chorus, piano and other instruments have been performed in many prestigious venues. Maestro Rom maintains a private voice studio in Dallas.
“I am a chorus master by my education,” Rom said during a phone interview last week. “I was working at the Met [Metropolitan Opera in New York] before that as a coach for the Russian Operas. Here, it was my direct profession. So that was what made me leave New York.”
In the beginning, Rom was living half the year in Dallas and half the year in New York.
“It was a bit difficult, all right, but then I got used to it,” he explained. “This is home now.”
Dallas is fortunate to have someone of his caliber.
“He is a superb chorus master because he understands how to prepare the singers so they make the most of the acoustic of the hall,” says vocal coach and TDO Music Director of Education Mary Dibbern. “We are so lucky to have him here in Dallas!”
Maestro lives “about 20 minutes” from the Winspear in a house with an extensive library – too many books, if you ask his wife of 15 years.
“My wife will throw me out of the house,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t know where to put the books. Extensive library is probably an understatement. I need a bigger house, but I don’t have the money to do it. I love books. I love books not on the computer. I love books on paper.”
Last year, during his pre-opera talk for “Eugene Onegin,” Maestro’s love for the printed word shone through as he discussed Pushkin’s “verse-novel” (1837) that was the basis for Tchaikovsky’s opera (1878).
His passion for the material was palpable and contagious, and we left the room with a better understanding of the story behind the drama.
“Listen to this opera with your heart,” he advised the audience as the lecture ended.
That is the message he also conveys to his singers, who will be in full flight in TDO’s upcoming production of “La Traviata,” (Oct. 27, 29 [m], Nov. 1, 4, 10 and 12[m]) one of Rom’s favorite romantic operas.
“First of all, I want them to feel for the story they portray,” he explained. “And I want them to be as precise as possible in their execution, yet I want them to absolutely have different emotions – unique emotions that go into the audience whether the audience realizes it or not, they feel that impact from the stage.”
Maestro says in singing, there is the factual – notes and lyrics scores the composer writes. Then, there is the emotional.
“I am the voice teacher for the chorus,” Maestro states. “Before raising my hand for conducting, I am the teacher.”
“Alexander Rom is one of the finest musicians I have ever worked with,” says vocal coach and TDO’s Music Director of Education Mary Dibbern. “Not only does he love the human voice, but he knows how to make everyone sing at their best level.”
For Rom, singing is a “highly psychological process – more so psychological than any other of the arts because the body is the instrument. The whole body.”
Rom says a singer’s ideas immediately “get into the body and it tries to react. If it’s the wrong idea, it [the body] doesn’t react complimentary. There is no intermediate process.
“I really try to convince my singers to have those emotions,” he noted. “That gives a better results and it’s different with each performance.”
According to Maestro, singers are singing by imagery. They do no have a keyboard or strings or even a score to look at on stage.
“Singers see nothing,” he noted. “And that makes it very, very difficult.”
He hopes his singers and, ultimately, his audiences, “receive the information into our system before the brain can even digest it, so that the emotion comes first and then we try to analyze it, especially with romantic music [like Verdi].”
Tenor Don O’Neal, who has been with TDO for two years, says, “Singing with the Dallas Opera Chorus under the direction of Maestro Rom, is akin to receiving a 3 hour voice lesson in bel canto [beautiful] singing every rehearsal. Maestro Rom is a consummate artist, and every session with him forces you to grow as a musician and a person.”
To prepare for the upcoming production of “Traviata,” Rom has been re-reading the original Alexandre Dumas’ book, “La Dame aux Camelias,” written in 1852. This is his fifth pass through the book, though this time he was reading it in his native tongue.
“Each time I read it, I think, I’m a little wiser and maybe a little smarter.”
Rom loves the tragic romance of “Traviata,” despite the demanding production that includes crowd scenes he must oversee from the side of the stage.
He has to watch the conductor in the pit while conducting his singers on the stage.
“No matter how hard you try, you’re always a little bit late,” he confessed. “So I tell my singers not to watch the monitor [with the conductor] – watch me.”
If things get out of hand and he has to remind his crew who runs the show, “I’m already very upset and I don’t like what I’m doing or what they do and I usually don’t sleep that night.”
Normally, however, he hopes they are all on the same page.
“I’m in my place,” he states. “They are in their place and nothing is more important than the other.”
His personal favorites are “Traviata,” “Madame Butterfly” and “La Boheme.”
Of “Traviata,” he says, “I never tire of it. It’s wonderful.”
Tickets for the 2017-2018 season, including “Samson and Dalila” and “La Traivata,” are now on sale.
Single tickets range from $19 to $289. Family performance tickets are just $5.
For more information or to make your purchase, contact The Dallas Opera Ticket Office at 214-443-1000 or visit TDO online at http://www.dallasopera.org.