If the word “soprano” reminds you of the opera, it might be time for you to broaden your range.
“People think that we sing opera only,” said Jan Callner, one of the vocalists in Three Sopranos and a Piano. The quartet will perform four shows Sept. 17 through 20 at the Cambria Center for the Arts Theatre.
The three sopranos — Callner, Melanie Gruber and Mary Schwalbe — don’t limit themselves to opera by any stretch of the imagination. Accompanied by pianist Karen Johnson, they do perform classical numbers, but they’re just as likely to pull compositions by Leonard Bernstein or Billy Joel out of their hats.
They’ve also tackled songs by Stephen Sondheim, Irving Berlin and Barry Manilow.
Still, their name is reminiscent of the Three Tenors, which consisted of opera giants Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras. And that’s no coincidence.
“We have the Three Tenors. Why not the Three Sopranos?” Schwalbe quipped at an Aug. 26 rehearsal for the group’s upcoming show, “Seasons.”
“It’s not just seasons of life, it’s seasons of the year,” Callner explained, shortly after running through a number with a decidedly Halloween-y theme — complete with pointy black hats and capes in bright colors like tangerine orange and lime green.
“Seasons” will be the group’s fourth production in their three years together, and each effort requires long hours of planning and rehearsal. They had worked on “Seasons” for six months, meeting at least once a week and racking up more than 100 hours of preparation.
“Our process is just a labor of love,” Callner said. “We do our own staging, our own choreography. It’s a group process. We are all creative, and we bring all our gifts to the table.”
In addition to the hard work of choreography and rehearsals, choosing the numbers for each show is a time-consuming process. Not only must the group members work together, but they also need to present the songs in the proper order, they explained.
“You can’t do six ballads in a row, or you’ll put the audience to sleep,” Callner said.
“I don’t think most people understand how important that is,” Johnson said.
While Callner acts as the informal musical director for the group, each member has input.
The Three Sopranos and a Piano came together after Callner moved to Cambria from New York, where she had taught voice while working in regional theater and off Broadway.
Callner also sang in a rock band that traveled the world with the United Services Organization and wrote a handbook for singers titled “Practically Singing.”
She encountered Johnson, then Schwalbe and, finally, Gruber. Before the women knew it, a quartet was born.
“All of a sudden, here’s this ready-made group,” Callner said. “When I was in New York, I knew tons of singers, and it never occurred to me to do something like this.”
Johnson studied organ at Pacific University's School of Music in Oregon and San Francisco State University. She has performed in chamber music groups and currently accompanies the Cuesta College North Coast Chorus.
Gruber spent six years as a vocalist with the U.S. Air Force Band and has performed in community theater productions such as “My Fair Lady,” “The Sound of Music,” “Carousel” and “Camelot.”
Schwalbe, music director for the Unitarian Universalist Community of Cambria, has been a church soloist for more than two decades and sang with the Long Beach and Golden West opera companies.
Although all three singers are sopranos, each sings other vocal parts as well. “We trade parts,” Callner said. “Because we don’t want to strain our voices, we switch off — and that’s the hard part.”
- Who: Three Sopranos andâa Piano
- When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17, 18 and 19; 3 p.m. Sept. 20
- Where: Cambria Center for the Arts Theatre, 1350 Main St., Cambria
- Tickets: $20 for general admission; $15 for Allied Arts members; $5 for students with ID
- Information: 800-838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com, http://cambriacenterforthearts.org