Shortly thereafter, Vox Populus was invited to participate in the actual singing with Opera Queensland to help promote Brisbane during the G20 Cultural Celebrations.
On 30 September, a larger group from Vox Populus fronted up to the ABC Radio studios at Southbank for the first rehearsal. There we were met by some lovely people from Opera Queensland, and handed a booklet containing the music. It turned out that Verdi was your man of the moment, and we’d be performing choruses from three of his most famous operas, Aida, Nabucco and La Traviata. The entire performance was estimated to take fewer than 7 minutes. All good so far.
The wonderful Narelle French explained what we’d be doing and took us through the first part of the rehearsal. As we commenced, three things became blindingly obvious – we had to sing in Italian, this was extremely difficult, and we had absolutely no idea whatsoever what we were doing. Within 15 minutes, a cursory glance around the room revealed that all the Vox people were wearing the same expression, that of abject terror. The comfort break after an hour or so of this torture found some Voxarians heading directly for the exits at a fast pace. Luckily, they were stopped and a Vox huddle ensued, where the Vox motto of “what could possibly go wrong?” was uttered, albeit in a somewhat disbelieving tone of voice. For some, “what could possibly go wrong?” turned into “what the hell have I done?”.
However, being Vox, we girded our loins and hung in there over the next month of intense, still-terrifying-but-getting-better-by-the-day rehearsals.
Mastering the music, lyrics, language and choreography became a feat of endurance and achievement but we loved it. That month of preparation flew by so incredibly quickly, and although none of us felt ready, we found ourselves at the dress rehearsal on the balconies of the Treasury, overlooking the beautiful Queen’s Park. Our illustrious conductor, Jason Barry-Smith, was perched on the roof of the Casino directly opposite us, although all we could see of JBS was his shadow, magnified to immense proportions on the roof wall. He reminded us of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and it was difficult not to laugh. We all made it through the Dress Rehearsal, and all of a sudden, we felt like a proper opera chorus.
Over the next two weeks and 18 performances, we glided out onto those beautiful sandstone balconies every night and performed as though our lives depended on it. Our hearts would swell with pride as soon as the music started and the thrill of anticipation shot through us like lightning. The blinding lights in our eyes meant that we couldn’t really see all of the people below us in Queen’s Park, but we could hear them cheering us on and that was a very special feeling indeed. The people of Brisbane truly and fully embraced us, and our crowd numbers got bigger every night. On the very last night of performance, we were exhausted, exhilarated and more than a little sad that it was over.
Being part of the G20 Opera Queensland Community Chorus taught us all to master new skills, have confidence in ourselves, and to stay committed to the project, no matter how difficult the task. The very best part of this experience was not actually the honour of performing this beautiful music in a beautiful venue and before an adoring public. The very best part was the forging of new friendships with others and the bonding between our Voxarian brothers and sisters. This opportunity created our own secret language and gave us magnificent memories that will last us all a lifetime. It’s only the members of this special group who know what it’s like to get “chatty-chatty with JBS over duckies”.