Carmel Oliver (soprano), writes:
Many of the congregation will have heard the Cathedral Choir perform various pieces by the Italian Renaissance composer over the past 12 months, but none could have imagined how excited we felt to sing Monteverdi in his home country. One of my earliest memories of joining the choir was overhearing a soprano say ‘I just love Monteverdi, he’s like, basically, my life’, a sentiment that rang true for most of us, so going to Italy on a #findmonteverdi mission seemed like the choir’s dream come true.
Bounding about the Skylink bus on a dreary day in August, we made a note-able crew in our shocking pink tour shirts. Our first stop was fair Verona, where we soaked up sun, Shakespearean sites and frankly unhealthy amounts of gelato. The choir, made up of choristers old and new was joined by Anna Laura, our invaluable Italian guest star, who had sung with the Cathedral choir while on exchange some years ago.
The first musical offering was a mass at the San Zeno Basilica, the church which inspired Shakespeare to write the scene of Romeo and Juliet’s wedding. Almost certainly the hottest mass we’d sung in (it was a sticky 40 degree day), we sang the Missa Bell’ Amfrit’ altera by Lassus, a motet by Hassler, and Lauda Jerusalem by Monteverdi. The congregation and clergy were an absolute delight to sing for, with enthusiastic applause all round and chilled red wine afterwards!
The very same day we packed off to Mantua in a minibus (almost as romantic as Romeo fleeing there)
or what became a magical musical event. The Basilica of St Barbara put on a concert in the evening (photo above), which gave us the opportunity to sing our entire tour repertoire. Representing a fitting musical journey from Ireland, England and ending in Italy, this included music by our own Alex Patterson, Tallis, Rutter, Croce and, of course, Monteverdi. People drifted in off the streets and sat fanning themselves in the audience for what proved to be an atmospheric and joyful concert. Two encores, thank you speeches and a standing ovation later, none of us could wipe the smiles off our faces despite the sweat!
Next stop was a day in Venice, which offered the biggest #findmonteverdi gem, his grave. After visiting the Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari to pay homage, we tripped over to St Mark’s Basilica (photo above) where he held the post of maestro di cappella. It was a wonderful and strange thing to try to imagine Monteverdi himself walking around in the church, hearing many of his compositions, which have survived for hundreds of years, for the first time. An almost overwhelming experience just being in the glittering building itself, it was a privilege to celebrate mass with the congregation made of locals, tourists and nuns.
Our final musical experience was a delightful mass sung in St Anthony’s Basilica in Padua. Supported by the jolliest priest I’ve ever met, we sang in the morning service and were so well received that people from the congregation compared us to angels. A few selfies with the priest after mass rounded things off nicely (below).
Other highlights included a day trip to Lake Garda, a gripping performance of Puccini’s Tosca at the Arena di Verona, visits to museums, art galleries and gondola trips. As well as the obligatory overeating, we also got to know each much more. I learned that Dave, on his 7th tour with the choir, knows an awful lot about train electrics, and that Hannah, a second soprano, always takes an extension cord on holiday with her. Chris and Anna have a great talent for discovering the best food
to be had, Leah doesn’t respond well to mosquito bites and making Alex happy with good singing is the best reward. It was an absolute privilege to represent St Barnabas with such a talented group of hardworking singers, so a big thank you to everyone who worked hard to make it happen and indeed all those who came along to support us in our pre-tour concert beforehand.