OPERA PRELUDE

SEE GOLDEN DAYS: CARE HOME CONCERTS

2019 REPORT 

A charity that supports the professional developments of early-career opera singers is funded by Age Unlimited to bring song to care home residents. The charity's director of outreach, Alex Haigh, reports.

PERFORMERS

Callie Gaston (soprano) Olivia Warburton (soprano) Joanna Songi (soprano) Becca Marriott (soprano) Nina Kanter (soprano) Jessie Tse (soprano) Mimi Doulton (soprano) Felicity Turner (mezzo) Phoebe Haines (mezzo) Rosie Clifford (mezzo) Leila Zanette (mezzo) Xavier Hetherington (tenor) Alex Haigh (tenor) Richard Dowling (tenor)
Ed Ballard (baritone) Ricardo Panela (baritone) Humphrey Thompson (baritone) Maria Levandovskaya (piano) Natalie Burch (piano) Kaoru Wada (piano)

 

 

12th March - Royal Hospital Chelsea (21 residents in attendance) 

 

“What an incredible voice!”

- Simon, an 89 year old gentleman

Our first concert of 2019 saw us returning to a place we have performed now over 8 times: the Royal Hospital Chelsea. It is always such a pleasure to come here and see the enthusiasm and joy with which these long serving members of our armed forces enjoy a couple of songs from two fantastic singers and their pianist. Becca

Marriott and Ed Ballard are both regulars of the See Golden Days concerts and performed some beautiful duets, including pieces from Don Giovanni, to the less operatic (but just as wonderful!) Carousel and Cats! My personal highlight of this concert was George (who used to be a euphonium player in a brass

band). Every concert he conducts the singers - I don’t think he realises he’s doing it, but he gets so swept up in it that he simply has to move his hands along with the musicians. I was also pleased to see a 10% increase in numbers from last concert and the performance was well advertised on noticeboards around the building. A great start to a wonderful season.

26th March - Octavia Housing (14 in audience)

 

 

“You can come here every day!”
- Helen, a permanent resident at Octavia

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was our 4th visit to Octavia Housing, and it’s always a delight to catch up with audience members who keep coming to our performances. Octavia is a centre that specialises in dementia care (amongst other disabilities) so we are always aware of the difficulties these issues can bring. As a result our programme was reflective, calm and only occasionally full blown operatic! It was very well received by the wonderful audience, whose numbers are fairly consistent with last year’s. I spoke to my regular friend Edna, who featured in last year’s report, as well as chatting to some new faces. Phoebe Haines and I performed this concert. We will be back next year!

16th April - Ellesmere House (23 in audience)

 

 

“What a wonderful concert!”

- Anne, a resident (I naturally didn’t ask her age...!)

 

Ellesmere this year was quite an adventure! After speaking back and forth with Roxy (the senior coordinator) we agreed a time that coincided with the coming of the piano tuner (1 day before our concert) which I thought was perfect... Sadly, this tuner failed to appear and we were left with a rather interesting piano to work with. It was dreadful! But superstars Rosie Clifford and Ricardo Panela sailed through singing beautiful pieces from Cole Porter’s musicals, the opera Carmen and even some of the more acceptable pieces of Kurt Weill. I was delighted to meet Mary (who is 101) who joined Ellesmere after the sad closing of St,

Wilfred’s home in Chelsea last year; Opera Prelude used to rehearse there regularly and we performed many See Golden Days concerts there too so I was very pleased to see our regulars are still coming to listen to us. What was lovely to see (in the photo below) was that the staff of the centre kept popping in to listen and enjoy a moment of calm before their work began again.

7th May - St Mary’s Convent Chiswick (16 in audience)

St Mary’s is one of my favourite concerts for two reasons: 1) they are a 20 minute cycle from my house and 2) they have dogs! These will feature in our second report on St Mary’s but for this one we were blessed with a big audience (same as last year) that came out to listen to our music making. One woman I chatted to was Jennifer, who used to play piano as a child; sadly her mother put a stop to it when she came into the piano room and saw her reading with one hand and playing with the other...! Jennifer told me the piano was meant to be a distraction. I told her the piano needs to be used and she said she would have a go when it’s quiet. Kaoru Wada, Mimi Doulton and I entertained the audiences with Gilbert and Sullivan, Donizetti and Mozart. This is a point I always like to highlight in these reports: our concerts allow young musicians to practice pieces they may be doing elsewhere - for example Mimi had the chance to perform Mabel (from Pirates of Penzance) to St Mary’s before she sang it on tour with the Merry Opera company, allowing her a great opportunity to sing it in a very positive environment... and, obviously, it was flawless!

7th May - St Mary’s Convent Chiswick (16 in audience)

 

St Mary’s is one of my favourite concerts for two reasons: 1) they are a 20 minute cycle from my house and 2) they have dogs! These will feature in our second report on St Mary’s but for this one we were blessed with a big audience (same as last year) that came out to listen to our music making. One woman I chatted to was Jennifer, who used to play piano as a child; sadly her mother put a stop to it when she came into the piano room and saw her reading with one hand and playing with the other...! Jennifer told me the piano was meant to be a distraction. I told her the piano needs to be used and she said she would have a go when it’s quiet. Kaoru Wada, Mimi Doulton and I entertained the audiences with Gilbert and Sullivan, Donizetti and Mozart. This is a point I always like to highlight in these reports: our concerts allow young musicians to practice pieces they may be doing elsewhere - for example Mimi had the chance to perform Mabel (from Pirates of Penzance) to St Mary’s before she sang it on tour with the Merry Opera company, allowing her a great opportunity to sing it in a very positive environment... and, obviously, it was flawless!

8th May - Campden Coffee Morning (28 in audience)

 

 

 

 

“Such incredible music!”
- An anonymous (by request) audience member

This was a new partner for See Golden Days. We arranged a concert to take place with charity ‘Open Age’ who provide coffee morning socials with activities such as art, craft and music. Their members had never had opera singers before, so we suggested a concert to them and encouraged them to share the event to other charities and institutions. We were overwhelmed by the numbers as usually this group is around 10-14. A quote from the coordinator, Bee:

They really enjoyed it! I think they also rather enjoyed hearing about the singers’ journeys to this point in time.
Thank you again.

- Bee Burgess, Outreach & Support Service Manager

Regular Opera Prelude singers Becca Marriott and Ricardo Panela sang beautifully a mix of opera and jazz. These two have an incredible range of musical styles - for example, Ricardo in 2019 completed a tour of Phantom of the Opera! - and Becca is in the process of creating a brand new opera company.

21st May - Cadogan Hall (40 plus in audience)

 

This was one of the few See Golden Days concerts I was unable to oversee personally and it was a rather unusual one for us. We worked in collaboration with Peggy Coles in creating this concert for Dementia Action week, and I have Peggy’s comments below:

This had to be one of the top magic moments in my dementia career-we all had goosebumps on our arms AND on our legs. I was dancing to ‘I could have danced all night’ while setting up the tea/ coffee kindly provided by Cadogan Hall.
We had old and new faces, visiting fine art students from Minnesota, Chelsea Pensioners and even Brian, one of the original participants of Creating with Dementia’s art workshops. Walter’s front of house was extra-excellent as he coordinated over 40 lift rides into the venue and down to the Caversham room level.
The music was memorising, particularly for a pensioner who conducted during the entire concert

We are ALL so grateful to Age Unlimited’s generous donation which directly supported this event.

I was unable to discern numbers from Peggy but I am led to believe the Cadogan room was full to bursting so that would be 40 plus. We are so glad to have created this concert and pleased it has touched so many local charities. I am also still awaiting photos...

8th July - Kensington activity Group (12 in audience)

 

This was another opportunity to join forces with ‘Open Age’ who proved wonderful partners and also brought many people to our Christmas concert (see below). This time we helped them with a library group activity as an opportunity to actively engage with our singers or listen quietly. We were very happy with the result although I would have liked to see larger numbers and I have suggested we not do this event next year. We’re always keen to ensure we hit high numbers of involvement and this didn’t make my requirements! However, Mimi Doulton and Xavier Hetherington wowed the crowd with Kaoru Wada playing the piano with a mix of beautiful opera, folk song and jazz standards.

Comments from Ewa Donnachie, outreach and Engagement coordinator:

I was delighted to hear all the positive feedback from the Opera Prelude performance at Kensington Library earlier this month. I had the pleasure of witnessing one a performance in the spring at our other group in St George’s church.

24th September - Royal Hospital Chelsea (24 in audience)

 

“I normally hate opera, but your concert has changed my mind!”
- Michael, A Chelsea Pensioner (who is a fan of Metallica!)

 

Our second trip to Chelsea this year, and this time with new performers and music! My friend George was once again in attendance, waving his arms for all they’re worth! One of the aspects of SGD I don’t often comment on is the tea and talk after the concert... one of our key goals is to create ‘inter-generational dialogue’ allowing the audience to communicate and share with the younger generation. In the pictures below you can see some of that joy and sharing. Laurie, Jessie and Humphrey performed beautifully, and this concert we included a piano solo from Laurie, which the pensioners said was a nice addition

to the normally vocal only concert. Also, the duet from Don Giovanni (of which I have a video if you wish to see!) was a popular piece that day. I was so proud of our performers bringing their fantastic singing voices to this community of military veterans.

Quote from Julie Bailey, head of activities at RHC:

Many thanks for this. The Pensioners do so enjoy your concerts

“Can I take them home with me?!”- Phoebe Haines, our mezzo soprano!

15th October - Octavia Housing, Leonora House (12 in attendance)

 

 

Octavia housing is an establishment that specialises in dementia and Alzheimer’s care. As a result some of the audience can be highly vocal in their praise or criticism! Claire Ward, Kaoru Wada and I performed a selection of calmer and softer pieces of music to ensure a serene atmosphere that was really well received. I met a lovely lady called Karie (I may have misspelt this, she had a thick Jamaican accent) who told me all about her love of music and how at home they would sing and dance all the time...

she was so happy to hear live music, and was singing along to many of Claire’s pieces!

 

‘A very big thank you to you and your team for the wonderful performance yesterday. The feedback from residents and staff has been fantastic and they can’t wait to see you all again.’ Poola Gosavi, activities coordinator for Octavia. 

 

 

22nd October - Ellesmere house (30 in attendance)

This was an interesting concert! Again, sadly, the piano had not been tuned this time around either... I have now politely suggested we return only when the piano has been tuned and tested by me! I got chatting this time with Hazel, who told me she was married to a trumpeter who played the London premiere of West Side Story! I was amazed by this as, by complete chance, we had a piece, Maria, from that musical in our programme that day... fate clearly wanted to send Hazel some happy memories. I was also kissed on the hand repeatedly by Mandy; I’m told this is the highest compliment she gives! If you’ve read my previous reports you’ll remember a man called Patrick from Ellesmere. I was delighted to see he was there and enjoyed the performance greatly. He struggles to play as his hands shake too much but he was so happy to hear our songs.

I was also really happy to see so many staff members turning up to watch - we make it very clear that the concerts are relaxed and people can come and go as they please. This means staff were listening during their breaks and left with smiles on their faces. It’s a lovely thing to be able to add a little happiness to care workers’ days.

 

 

12th November - St Mary’s convent Chiswick (26 in attendance)

 

Now I know we’re not supposed to have favourites... but look at the dogs! We were delighted to be serenading not only humans but also dogs at this concert! Trudi and Bartie are the two resident pooches at St Mary’s, and it really shows how wonderful dogs can be with those who are lonely or in need. Couple it with some live music and that is a great afternoon! Phoebe Haines and Mimi Doulton excelled and pulled in one of the best crowds See Golden Days has ever had at St Mary’s, a 10 person increase from the concert earlier this year! Maria Levandovskaya was our pianist today and excelled with some beautiful playing including a Brahms intermezzo solo number.

7th November - Christchurch centre, Henley (35 audience)

 

A wonderful trip to Henley on a cold November morning! We got Henley into the Christmas spirit early this year with a festive themed See Golden Days. Sadly I was unable to attend

this performance, but Fiona Hamilton (our founder and director) had this to say on the concert:

‘I remember John at the concert... widowed 18 months ago. He and his wife used to go to the opera and loved it. He is obviously shattered by her death and clings on to the memory of music they shared together - this was his second See Golden Days concert and he sobbed his way through various numbers, stuffed himself and left with a bag quite literally overflowing with cakes and goodies.’

- Fiona Hamilton

Leila mentioned to me there was one lady attending who was 100 and had sung on the stage with an amateur Gilbert and Sullivan company! I’m a huge fan of their work and how many people their operettas bring into classical music. We had so many Opera Prelude regulars and some people literally off the street (encouraged in by our volunteers!). Valeria Alesia, who is almost 90, said that there was nothing to do on a Sunday afternoon in Henley so our concert was just the ticket. It was a fabulous event with a great turnout.

 

26th November - Holy Trinity Sloane Square (75 audience)

 

What an incredible ending to our 2019 See Golden Days year! This concert was filled with wonderful friends and newcomers alike, including people from Open Age, Octavia, Chelsea Pensioners, Dementia Action and several residential establishments. We were so pleased to bring our four soloists and choir to entertain these wonderful people. This year we again welcomed back the Memory Lane Singers, who sang for us last year. They are an elderly amateur choir, who perform their own concerts in care homes in north London. They were so eager to come back we couldn’t say no, and they dazzled our audience with their enthusiasm, joy and voices. Ricardo Panela, Rosie Clifford and myself made us three of the soloists and we had hoped that Francesca Chiejina would join us but was sadly unwell (November is a nasty month for singers!). However, we were very pleased that Christine Buras was able to step in at the last minute and perform all of Francesca’s pieces! Memory Lane did their own sets and we had a mix of Christmas music and opera, culminating in all four soloists and choir singing ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year’ together in joyous harmony.

IN CONCLUSION

 

On behalf of the 19 performers (up from 16 last year), 13 concerts (up 1 from last year) and 320+ audience members I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to Age Unlimited for all your support. Our artists appreciate the wonderful performance opportunities the scheme delivers, and the residents appreciate our artists’ incredible concerts. Art is a transformative thing and we are helping in our own small way, thanks to your support. See Golden Days is going to go from strength to strength this year. As you also know we are delighted to have been supported for 2020 by the Rothschild Foundation, allowing us to extend the See Golden Days concert series into the area surrounding Waddesdon Manor, with 4 concerts scheduled for this year. This wonderful series is growing and it couldn’t have been made possible without you and the team at Age Unlimited.

My thanks and wishing you a very happy 2020!

Alex Haigh
Director of Outreach Opera Prelude

ABOUT US >

Age Unlimited provides support for the two most marginalised groups in the UK: young people growing up with no prospects, and the very elderly who have lost any hope that they will be treated with dignity during their remaining years.

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Avebrick House, Pewsey, Wilts SN9 5NT

E: info@ageunlimited.org.uk

Charity No: 1137423

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