|27 Jan 2022|
On the evening of Thursday 20th January, the Concert Artists of St Mary’s Calne staged their much-anticipated ‘Opera Gala’ within the historic surroundings of Oxford’s magnificent Sheldonian Theatre.
A dazzling evening of operatic highlights began with pre-concert drinks in the Theatre’s atmospheric Attic where Sir Christopher Wren’s artistry could be enjoyed. Up a further flight of stairs (making 114 in total!) audience members accessed the eight-sided cupola in the centre of the theatre roof. Here they were rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of “the city of dreaming spires”.
The Sheldonian Theatre welcomed a wealth of parents and supporters to share an exciting programme from the world of opera, with pupils treading the boards alongside Grammy award winning classical artists. Opera Ensemble, Chamber Choir, Junior and Senior Consorts, Orchestra and LIV Choir were delighted to create the music for the fifth concert in the school’s highly successful Cantabile Series, led by Director of Vocal Studies, Bethan Dudley Fryar. Charity was at the heart of the event to raise funds for the music bursaries and celebrate music at St Mary’s. Captivating performances from the operatic world included Offenbach’s Barcarolle, the jaunty Gandarmes duet and Puccini’s evergreen classic from Gianni Schicchi, Oh my Beloved Father. The music department created bespoke arrangements for the girls’ voices and instrumental prowess, including Puccini’s Humming Chorus for orchestra and the poised trio from Cosi fan tutte, Oh winds gently blowing. The glorious evening culminated in a Grand Finale involving all performers and music staff in a special arrangement of Brother Mine from Die Fledermaus. It certainly raised the roof!
We were blessed to have the vocal talent of two renowned international operatic artists, Neal Davies and Osian Wyn Bowen. Their richly coloured and dramatic solos were spectacular. They captivated the theatre with stirring performances from Don Giovanni and Gianni Schicchi before joining forces with the Opera Ensemble in a scintillating rendition of the world-famous Au fond du temple saint from Bizet’s opera, The Pearl Fishers. Both Neal and Osian are in the throes of busy performing schedules with English National Opera and Scottish Opera, and it was a joy and privilege to have such talent sharing the evening.
Current parent and trustee of The Calne Foundation Trust, Mr Andrew Aylwin, gave a heart-felt and moving closing address. Speaking of his own love of music, which started at school, he thanked the audience for supporting the concert to raise funds for music bursaries. He applauded the performers, conductors and accompanists for a spell-binding evening and ensured the pupils, audience and performers felt the significance of the evening. His poignant words had strength and the finale invited Mr Aylwin to rediscover his love of singing by joining in the chorus and rounding off the evening.
It is wonderful to announce that the fifth Cantabile Concert has raised over £14,000 for music bursaries. This means that 438 individual music lessons will be made available to girls who would otherwise not be able to access such high quality, one to one, music learning. This will enable pupils from diverse backgrounds to enjoy the power of music and to find a voice of their own either through an instrument or indeed as a vocalist. Music at St Mary’s is inclusive and a significant thread in the fabric of the school. The success of the evening allows music to thrive for all. Truly a life-long gift!
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