A local choir took to the stage at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds in March, joining Swansea City Opera in their touring production of Lakmé, an opera by Léo Delibes. The company has developed a tradition of involving local choirs in the tour, to sing the chorus part of whichever opera they are performing.
Chedburgh Community Choir (CCC), under musical director, Polly Anderson, was keen to get involved, even though many of us had never sung in an opera, or even thought of it. Since Christmas, we had devoted part of our regular Tuesday evening rehearsals at the Erskine Centre, Chedburgh to learning the music.
John Beswick, Swansea City Opera’s Music Director for Lakmé, joined us for two afternoon rehearsals. He was very encouraging, and stressed that experience was meant to be fun for us. Professional singers would be alongside us on stage, supporting us.
Lakmé is a tragic love story, set in Raj-era India. The daughter of a Brahmin priest falls fatally in love with a British soldier. I didn’t know the opera previously, and it was an interesting insight into the composer’s take on multicultural relationships and the harsh realities of the British presence in India.
We had been told in advance that only four singers of each vocal part would be able to go on stage in costume, with the rest singing in from the wings. In the event, the company came up with more spare saris, which enabled another five women to go on stage – including myself, which was thrilling.
A large part of the chorus music is sung from the wings while the principals are singing on stage – and that was an interesting experience. Apparently, CCC is the largest choir Swansea City Opera has worked with, and the space in the wings at this gem of a Georgian theatre is not all that big, so we were squeezed in, three wide and 10 deep, with a secondary conductor standing on a box in the wings to lead us.
Despite having only a couple of hours to run through the staging in the afternoon, it all went like clockwork thanks to the meticulous planning put in by Swansea City Opera. The support we were given with the music, staging and costume was exemplary. We felt welcomed and warmly accepted by the company. Big thanks are also due to Chedburgh Community Choir’s musical director, Polly Anderson, who gave us such a lot of help and encouragement and cheerfully nursed us through the rehearsal period!
As well as being able to sing this lovely music and perform to a packed house in the wonderful Theatre Royal, we were lucky enough to hear some superb singing from the professional performers. A glorious experience all round.
Chedburgh Community Choir member
March 13 2017