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9 hours 12 min ago

Raising the roof in Manchester

Anita Ferguson writes about performing in our Manchester Opera Hour at HOME on 11 April:

The anticipation and excitement were building up for weeks before our performance. We had to put our backs into 'Kingdoms come and kingdoms go', a piece written specially for us by Composer in Residence Anna Appleby. It was tricky but so satisfying when we finally had it. We always devote a lot of time to devising and rehearsing action to go with the pieces, with lots of discussion among the group generated. We see the importance of subtle and slight hand movements, which start to flow into one another and make a beautiful, sometimes mesmerising sight.  

We worked hard for several hours on the day, striving to do our very best, as always. There's a wonderful buzz in the air. Jonathan, Gavin and David took us through all the pieces, with good humour, patience and encouragement, as they always do. We had to work out the staging in a new venue (HOME). Everyone was listening intently and determined to get it right. We dined al fresco on Gregg's butties and crisps, which went down very well. Everything was wonderfully organised as usual, thanks to our Sally and Gareth. Several of the Streetwise London team were with us, and it was great to see Matt and Mark, who gave us welcome support. Many of us had solo speaking roles - another challenge.

It's showtime and the audience file in; every seat is taken. We begin singing 'O sole mio' with gusto, with the chorus in Italian. I hear one of the lads say: 'I can't believe I'm singing opera... in Italian... to a crowd!'. Billy is amazing leading the 'Bella mama' piece, teaching the audience to sing it in the round. I smile when she gives instructions to our leader Jonathan on where to stand and what to do; he obeys!  

There is a film about Streetwise, with all of us trying to spot anyone we know. Then we sing excerpts from The Magic Flute, this term's opera. There is a little commentary on the story alongside each piece. It's challenging but I think we give a good show.

It is time for 'Kingdoms come'. It's the world premiere, so it has to be good. Anna gives a brief intro and we are away. We sing with all we've got, the harmonies blending beautifully. A harp and horn add a professional dimension, played by students from The Royal Northern College  of Music. I spot Anna in the crowd jumping up and down. We perform it better than we ever have;  the adrenelin is overflowing. We come to fortissimo at the climax, and we are soaring up to the rafters. What a high!  

We give a mirthful rendition of 'Mama eu quero', giving Carmen a run for her money with some energetic rhythmic moves.

We come to what for me is the highlight, our resurrection chorus from The Passion, by James Macmillan with libretto by Streetwise Opera Manchester. So it is ours and we give it all we've got. It's a song about redemption and hope after suffering and strikes a chord with many of us. We join arms on 'together we're singing', and I find tears running down my face, of joy and hope and love for these wonderful people. We end with this sublime piece, with its message of strength in adversity and compassion for others. Memories of our superb Passion echo for many of us. It brings all that back to my mind.

Seeing the faces of our group, putting heart and soul into their singing is so moving and life-affirming! We see what the human spirit can do when given a chance.

On a personal note: I had a phone call at last week's workshop, telling me my mam had just died. I didn't go home. I wanted to stay and carry on singing with my very special Streetwise family. This truly was the only place I wanted to be. Thank you Streetwise; you have given me a place where I belong.

Photo: Alan Kerr