Michael White’s classical & jazz news: Couch to Chorus; Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette; Jennifer Vyvyan

Friday, 6th November 2020

Jennifer Vyvyan www.jennifervyvyan

Jennifer Vyvyan

WELL, here we are again: another lockdown, live performances wiped out, and back to where we were in March. Depressing eh?

But to be positive, the music world is more prepared this time with online things to cheer us up – and one is a Zoom programme organised by Opera North that functions as a sort of singing therapy.

Called Couch to Chorus, it’s a five-week course designed to turn singers of any level – even those who can’t read music – into a virtual opera chorus that will eventually assemble for a Christmas concert of extracts from La Boheme, Hansel & Gretel, and Gilbert & Sullivan.

You have to register, decide what voice-type you are (though someone from Opera North will help if you can’t), and commit to the class times.

You’re asked to donate something, though the amount is up to you. Then you’re away, with online coaching to unlock the voice you always suspected you might have but were afraid to show the world.

It kicks off on November 11, with full details at www.operanorth.co.uk

At the very least it will absorb some of those aching hours of lockdown. And though opera-singing wouldn’t be a good career move just now, you could well turn out to be an undiscovered Pavarotti. Stranger things have happened.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Opera in New York has restarted its free online streamings of archived shows, some of them featuring the real Pavarotti, and otherwise with singers of international stature. This Friday has Anna Netrebko and Roberto Alagna as the lovers in Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette (conducted by Placido Domingo, though that isn’t why I’d recommend it).

Saturday has the legendary Leontyne Price in a 1980s staging of Verdi’s Forza del Destino.

And Wednesday offers Deborah Voigt in Fanciulla del West – a sort of operatic Annie Get Your Gun about a strong woman in the Wild West that embraces some of the most absurd moments in all Puccini alongside some of the most sublime. Each opera is only accessible for 23 hours. Details: www.metopera.org

• If that still leaves you with locked-down time to kill, try a new website about the late soprano Jennifer Vyvyan – which extends beyond her to the whole world of English singing in the mid-20th century of which she was a part. Vyvyan lived in Hampstead, was one of the great Handel singers of her time, but also championed modern composers like Malcolm Williamson, Arthur Bliss and (above all) Benjamin Britten. She took starring roles in the premieres of Turn of the Screw, Gloriana, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Owen Wingrave…

And she had a fascinating life, to which I can testify because I put the website together. Covering a lot of ground, it’s big (Pavarotti doesn’t have a site like this) but hopefully informative and fun, as well as free to access. Find it at www.jennifervyvyan.org and discover what a fabulous artist she was.

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