Chester choir A Handbag of Harmonies has returned from a successful five day tour of theatres and schools in the Lombardy region of northern Italy.
The visit forms the first part of an exchange between the city’s choir and Coro Calycanthus based in Treviglio near Milan who will visit Chester in December.
The choir was led by musical director Matt Baker who is also artistic director of the city’s Theatre in the Quarter.
The exchange happened as a result of a chance visit by one of the members’ of the Italian choir, Patrizia Martini, who saw a performance by A Handbag of Harmonies when she visited Chester with her school group over a year ago.
They were very impressed and approached the choir in order to explore the opportunity of an exchange which led to a committee made up of choir members being formed to organise every detail of the trip.
Matt Baker led the programme of performances in Italy which included the rendition of a specially composed greeting song entirely in Italian, written by Chester resident Chiara Lisowski and composed by Mr Baker.
The choir performed at theatres in Romano and Treviglio and were given full civic receptions by the local dignitaries in each town.
Matt said: “We have really worked exceptionally hard to prepare lots of new material for our visit to Italy. The work certainly paid off as we were simply blown away by the huge audiences and the standing ovations at every performance we gave. They were particularly thrilled with our Italian song and with our attempts to address the audiences in Italian.”
Matt also led a workshop for 200 Italian students at a school in Treviglio. The students were treated to a performance by the Chester choir which included a lecture on the historical and musical contexts of each piece of music.
However, the highlight of the whole programme was getting all the students and the 60 strong choir to learn and perform a piece together in under 30 minutes.
“It was a total triumph; ” said Matt. “I have never experienced anything quite like it; not only were the teenagers wildly applauding after each song, but they were up on their feet performing a British pop song, with harmony and choreography, within 20 minutes, alongside the women from Chester. It was simply breathtaking to experience their sheer joy and enthusiasm.”
The Handbags were joined by their host choir in a combined performance at the city’s new theatre Teatro Nuovo. This was to mark the Italian choir’s 10th anniversary and the British choir’s 15th anniversary.
The performance was totally sold out, with standing room only. The mayor of the town presented gifts to the choir and announced: “This is the best performance we have ever had in this theatre.”
Choir member Claire Smith said the Chester visitors were looked after exceptionally well throughout their stay, which included trips to Verona, Bergamo and Lake Garda, as well as being guests at two prestigious dinner events.
“We have a very hard act to follow when we welcome the Italian choir to Chester this December; their level of hospitality was astonishing. However, we hope that the Italians will be thrilled with their visit to our city, particularly at such a special time of year, in the lead up to Christmas.”
Matt Baker concluded: “We return to Chester each about a stone heavier with all the Italian food, but full of wonderful memories of such an unforgettable time. We feel very proud to have been ambassadors for Chester, and have been part of a joyous trip filled with music and friendship.”
Coro Calycanthus will visit Chester from December 4–7 this year. Details of their performances will be available in the autumn.
Matt added: “I really hope the people of our city will be supportive of the Italian choir as much as we were supported over there.”
In the meantime, anyone who wishes to be part of a taster day with A Handbag of Harmonies earlier in the autumn can visit their website www.handbagofharmonies.co.uk .