After six months of careful planning Vox’s inaugural staged opera scenes course took place to great acclaim at the stunning Palazzo Guarnieri in Feltre.
The week-long workshop, included a fantastic tutorial team (Kelvin Lim, music director; Christopher Lane, stage director; Beverley Worboys, vocal / movement coach and assistant stage director; Brian Parsons , voice tutor; Theresa Goble , voice tutor and Michael Pugh , vocal coach) attracted participants from all over the world, including France, England, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Switzerland, Germany and Scotland. Jessica Friend ran the administrative side of the course, rarely taking time off and was a constant point of contact for staff and students alike.
The course began on Sunday evening with a tour of the Palazzo and orientation. The beauty and majesty of the building is even more impressive in reality; the Palazzo exudes an artistic, positive atmosphere, and is equipped with excellent facilities, including a small theatre and state of the art recording studio. It also houses a fine jazz café/restaurant.
All the previous nerves and anxiety were transformed into excitement and positive anticipation for the week ahead. Work for the week then began in earnest. Beverley conducted a mini workshop, using physical and vocal exercises designed to set the ball rolling and create a good dynamic. Participants then sang an aria or song of their choosing to the assembled company and tutors.
All Vox courses have an initial orientation session at which participants are asked to sing to the rest of the company. This can be a bit nerve wracking but it serves various purposes: tutors get to learn the singers strengths and can note areas that may need attention. It also acts as an ice breaker and enables participants to have a starting point to assess their developmental journey. On this occasion it also acted as an audition for those wishing to be considered for the celebrity masterclass with International soprano Madelyn Renée.
The first session of the course concluded, everyone repaired to the bar of the Uni Sono Jazz café for a welcome glass of local prosecco for which the Veneto region is renowned. Feltre also boasts the Tiramisu - making world champion! Vox has a policy of learning in inspiring places, it was agreed that Feltre and the Palazzo Guarnieri were no exception.
Sessions started in earnest on Monday morning. Classes and rehearsals ran mornings and evenings, to take advantage of the cooler hours of the day and also for participants to have the chance to immerse themselves in the Italian culture and lifestyle.
Each day began with a group warm-up with either Beverley or Chris. Most noticed an increase in general fitness and improved breath function; it would be nice to say it was due to the warm-up sessions, which of course is true in part, but actually is more likely to be due to the steep climb necessary to get to the Palazzo at least twice a day. The Palazzo Guarnieri is in the centro storico of Feltre , high above the modern town of Feltre. Many calories were burned going to and from the venue each day, which is just as well because the lure of the delicious pasta especially at the excellent Jazz café within the Palazzo was irresistible!
The course contained many highlights. Hearing the strains of Verdi’s Libiamo echoing around the Piazza Maggiore as Kelvin rehearsed the company, on Monday evening for the first time was thrilling.
Tuesday, during the afternoon break , many of the company assembled in blistering heat outside Feltre’s Cathedral and were treated to a guided tour of Feltre ,beginning with the excavated archaeological remains of the ancient Roman city under the Cathedral and finishing with a tour of the exquisite Teatro de la Sena, known as the “piccolo Fenice” because it was designed and built by the same architect as La Fenice in Venice. Everyone was excited to step on stage and it didn’t take much encouragement for some impromptu singing to occur, to test the acoustic of course! Vox expects to be able to perform in the theatre in 2019.
Tuesday evening stage rehearsals began, with Chris, Kelvin and Beverley, whilst individual sessions carried on with the rest of the team. Throughout the week participants received voice lessons, music and language coaching, movement, stagecraft, as well as intensive musical and staging rehearsals in preparation for Saturday’s public performance.
On Thursday evening the eagerly anticipated celebrity masterclass took place with soprano, Madelyn Renée. Madelyn, who epitomises the true meaning of diva, beautiful and elegant, brought much glamour to the Palazzo. The singers were initially rather in awe of her, but Madelyn quickly put them at ease. Her warmth and enthusiasm were palpable to audience and singers alike. Her encouragement and tutelage taught students valuable lessons. She was instinctively able to help each singer improve their performance , inspiring them in the process. Afterwards, it was revealed that it was Madelyn’s first masterclass; Vox is honoured to have hosted her debut masterclass, as we’re sure she will be in great demand. Madelyn was very keen to meet everyone after the class and Vox hosted a very enjoyable dinner for the whole company in the Jazz restaurant. Madelyn was very generous with her time and advice, and lots of good wine and food was consumed.
Thursday had clearly inspired everyone and Friday’ s rehearsals and sitzprobe flew by despite the weather getting hotter and hotter. Friday 24th Aug, Feltre was also the final destination for the 30k Belluno Feltre run. As everyone left the Palazzo, not only were they caught up with dozens of runners, but the most dramatic thunderstorm hit the town, truly operatic in it’s ferocity. What a sight! With the opera scenes scheduled for the next day, the ensuing drop in temperature was most welcome.
Show day seemed to arrive much quicker than anyone expected, final run done, lighting set and microphones placed for recording , everyone left to have a break before returning to the Palazzo to get into make up and costume in good time.
Vox had commissioned the very talented Maud Joëssel to design a poster for the workshop, and her viscerally dramatic design was posted around the town. The performance had also been promoted by various bodies within Feltre but we still had no idea if we would attract an audience.
To Vox’s surprise, the venue was full, with people standing at the back and flowing into the next room. The audience were treated to an evening of Italian opera and I think it’s safe to say that everyone gave their absolute best performance of the week . Laughter, pathos, tragedy , love and every emotion in between was portrayed in scenes by Mozart, Monteverdi, Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini.
Mike created his own orchestra for the singers with his brilliant accompaniment, Beverley produced the most striking make up and hair, all held together by the steady direction of MD, Kelvin. The performance was enthusiastically received with extended applause and admiration as stated in the review by a local journalist. The headline rated the performance a success!
Many members of the audience joined the company in the adopted Vox headquarters, namely the Unisono Jazz café after the performance where a celebratory atmosphere continued till the early hours.
Vox would not have been able to make a success of the week without the support and friendship of the people of Feltre, who welcomed us with open arms and invited us back next year. Special thanks go to Nicolò Ferrari Bravo and family and all staff at the Palazzo, Caterina Ciani, and Cristina Possiedi.