An adventure with the opera

by Margaret Crichton

On a chilly June evening, a group of my community choir members from Ivanhoe, Epping and Mernda, and I gathered outside Horti Hall, the home of the Victorian Opera, waiting with interest (and some with trepidation!) to see what we were confronted with when the doors opened. Members of other choirs from around Melbourne wandered up to join us and we were invited inside.

Nothing too scary confronted us at first; just a hundred or so chairs set up in rows near a piano and a music stand. Then, at 7.30, our conductor and the accompanist arrived, and after a few preliminary remarks it all started!

Well, really it all started with an email from the Victorian Opera asking for choirs to take part in the chorus of a new production – Remembrance – which tells the story of World War 1 using songs from the era and a few specially composed pieces. It is narrated by the War Correspondent, played by the wonderful David Hobson, with solos and group pieces by young singers from the Victorian Opera. Photographs from the time were projected at the back of the stage – along with the words of a few of the bawdier songs! All the words were authentic.

ITHE CHORUSMost of my singers have little or no music reading ability. The next couple of hours of intense rehearsal were a little daunting for them as they felt surrounded by people who could sight-read the music or who had studied it intensely before arriving.

But as I pointed out to them, community choir members have a great advantage – they watch the conductor and listen to the instructions and the music!

And with the help of the practice CDs I obtained for them, everyone learned their parts. The fact that there were some tunes and words which were familiar to most of them also helped!

We had three rehearsals at Horti Hall. Just 6 hours to learn 4 part harmony with a couple of quite tricky arrangements thrown in. It was wonderful to see how well the pieces came together. Our conductor was very clear in his ideas, not surprising when we learned he was the composer.

August arrived and we knew the performance was close. Firstly there was the dress rehearsal with full orchestra on stage at Hamer Hall. Twenty singers from the Tasmanian Symphony joined our merry throng. It was the first time we had sung the work in its entirety and there were a few little surprises. (Keeping track of which parts were being sung and by who, in each production could not have been easy.) Not all of the singers could make it to this rehearsal, which was held the evening before the performance, so we knew the numbers were a little down. That didn’t affect the enthusiasm or the volume though.

Then home, with the music running through our heads, to recharge for the next day, which was full on!  I arrived at Hamer Hall at 1.30 and the singers just kept on coming! The production was travelling on to regional areas and some of the singers from those areas took the opportunity to come along for an extra performance.

There were singers from Gippsland, Strathbogie, Bendigo and other areas. In total, 130 singers were in the chorus, and for many of them it was their first experience singing with such a big group and in such a wonderful venue.

There was a stage rehearsal, a break, a seating call, last minute instructions,  and then – the theatre doors opened and the audience began arriving.

All too soon the performance was over. Those of us from Melbourne envied the singers who were getting to perform again in the regions. One night just wasn’t enough! Our audience groupies gave us lots of positive feedback. (Even those who weren’t opera buffs and were dragged along to cheer us on!) And I wanted to be in two places at once, singing and watching.

 The feedback from my singers was all along the lines of when can we do this again!

So, if the chance comes your way, don’t be daunted, grab it and go. Take the plunge, do your best, watch and learn, and as I reminded my lot, have fun!!!

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