Don Giovanni in Itchen Abbas Church 14th-16th October 2016
I can say truthfully that the production of the opera was a triumph of hope over expectations. It will be reviewed in The Valley News and Hampshire Chronicle, but I think a few thoughts about how it all came to be might be valuable for the future. Don Giovanni was so different from anything else that we do in the Valley. Glynde Easton is a highly successful black tie social event that raises a lot of money. Likewise the Southwood Players open air plays are social, if less dressy, and raise significant funds, with a bias towards charity. Both of these reserve the churches in case of rain. Don Giovanni brought a higher level of singing and acting to the Valley without the social and dress trappings of the outdoor events with their picnics. It used the church for several days but, at least in its inaugural season, was dependent on sponsorship to make any money for the church and the MS Society. Don Giovanni, in this abridged form, is about the most accessible and easy to follow opera there is, even without surtitles.
Lavinia and I came across the Intermezzo Soloists and their friends 15 months ago singing in Oborne, near Sherborne, in a tiny church. They were clearly stars, even if youngish. They come together from all over the world, just for the pleasure of joining up as old friends, singing in a small intimate venue and living in a home rather than a hotel for a change.
Putting on the opera posed several challenges, of which the economics, costume hire, accommodation and catering are only a few. The main relationship in doing this is of course with the church and the members of its congregation who are so unstinting in the help that they give. But there are other issues. The booking of Itchen Abbas Church for 4 whole days – essential to do this early – can cause problems for other users if not carefully planned, as opera needs the space for rehearsal almost all the time. Opera is not an obvious mission use, even if it does draw new people into the church. So, is the purpose just to raise money for the church, or for charities or to enhance the lives of those who attend? There are different views which must be accommodated. However, in the end, we must accept that the primary purpose is to bring, to an enlarged audience, the joy of superb music in the long standing tradition of the Church, where so much of our classical repertoire originated.
St John’s is ideal as a venue in many ways; the uninterrupted chancel stage, the access, parking and loo meeting all those needs; comfortable and moveable seating and even decent acoustics. It is awkward that there is no access behind the chancel, but some cunning stage directions resolved that and the gallery added an extra dimension.
The key issue in the end was getting across how good these professional singers are. Next time you will all know that there is no exaggeration in the words of one of the audience who wrote of it as “a triumph”. Nonetheless it will need good marketing to fill the church. I was only aware too late that the Diocese has engaged marketing consultants who can help with parish events, but so much of selling tickets is down to personal recommendation that another time I would want more help with this.
It was definitely a triumph and just totally wonderful to have these beautiful voices given full rein in St John’s. I don’t think that I have ever seen an accompanist with such a huge grin as she played passionately in support of the wonderful Intermezo Singers!
Thank you so much to Nick and Lavinia and all the other volunteers who put on such a fantastic performance in aid of the Itchen Valley Parish and the MS Society. Thank you too for accommodating all the singers – the joy of having professional musicians playing your own piano and practising is great but so is the work of feeding and looking after them.
Revd. Alex Pease