Glyndebourne’s behind-the-scenes Don Giovanni in Canterbury

Last month, on Thursday the 17th of November the University Chamber Choir were invited to the Marlowe Theatre by the touring arm of the prestigious Glyndebourne opera company.

Glyndebourne is actually an English country house, the site of an opera house, that was founded in 1934 by John Christie and his opera singer wife, Audrey Mildmay as the venue for Glyndebourne Festival Opera. It is now one of the finest and most celebrated opera houses in the world and delivers performances to some 150,000 people across a summer Festival and Autumn Tour. Glyndebourne has been taking to the road since 1968; not only an opportunity to experience affordable world-class opera on your doorstep, the Tour is renowned for nurturing emerging talent and launching the careers of young artists. The Tour is focused on what always lies at the heart of Glyndebourne: exceptional opera. With intervals of 20 minutes and the opportunity to either dress up or dress down, the Tour can have a slightly more relaxed feel – except on stage, where the attention to detail doesn’t falter. Glyndebourne remains committed to presenting opera of the highest quality, commissioning new work, developing new talent and reaching new audiences.

Our ensemble was invited to participate in Glyndebourne’s Canterbury visit as part of their 2016 tour within their performance was Don Giovanni: Behind the Curtain. The opera’s original form is a stable of the standard operatic repertoire in two acts, with music written by Mozart, based on the legend of Don Juan, a fictional 14th century libertine synonymous with a penchant for seduction, where we find him on his last day on earth. As part of the tour, Glyndebourne have created Behind the Curtain as a theatrical event that explores the opera from a different perspective – specially created to provide a behind the scenes insight into how an opera is staged; the alchemy of the art form – however still providing a full performance complete with all the soloists, orchestra and production elements but with the ability to pause live opera and ask a question or discuss a facet of the performance.

It was Glyndebourne’s intention to have a local choir perform certain chorus parts of the opera within the excerpts throughout the show and we are very pleased and proud that our University Chamber Choir were lucky enough and talented enough to be chosen. Their primary aim was to rehearse and perform part of Act Ii of the opera, the final scene, wherein Don Giovanni is dragged down to hell for refusing to repent for his wickedness.

On arriving at the Marlowe in the afternoon, the choir were immediately faced with the realities of a professional production. Although they had rehearsed the section previously, they had limited time to practice fully with the Glyndebourne chorus and conductor before being placed in their positions for the performance at 7:15pm after a quick warm up. Souvenirs were provided in the form of Glyndebourne company t-shirts to perform in and after a whirlwind preparation their time on stage singing was complete in little over five minutes, but this did not detract from the excitement of the situation and the wonderful experience, in addition to being lucky enough to have prime view in order to watch the entirety of the first act. Moreover, Glyndebourne did not hesitate to include them in the performance with a couple of the choir – Hannah Jacobi and Matt Swainsbury – being selected to answer a few questions on stage. They were asked interestedly about their studies and at what stage they were in their programmes, before enquiring about what it was like to be a member of the Chamber Choir and how their rehearsal process had been in preparation for Behind the Curtain.

Here is a brief insight into the answers given by Hannah, the Chamber Choir Secretary.

“It is really enjoyable to be in a choir where the pressure of solo singing is taken away, but because of the small number of us, there is still a soloistic element. Chamber Choir provides us with so many I opportunities to progress as a musician, such a sight reading, performances outside of university and in the cathedral, experiences unlike any other that you could get on your own.”

“We approached the music of Don Giovanni like we would any other piece, but we had to think far more about the performance of it as we not only had to embody a character, but also had to perform from memory. This posed a unique challenge for us, as classically trained singers we are often hidden behind the safety blanket of our scores, so having those taken away was a highly valuable and different experience for us.”

“The premise of Behind the Curtain is so exciting and amazing to get an insight into what goes into putting on a production of this scale. The most surreal part was definitely standing onstage observing the final minutes of the opera play out whilst standing so close to the Glyndebourne soloists!”

What a fantastic opportunity for our Chamber Choir – the School of Music and Performing Arts congratulates them on this brilliant achievement!