On 30th September a special performance of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni presented by City Music Services will be given at Denmans Garden. A clever and condensed adaptation of Don Giovanni featuring a pro-am cast of singers accompanied by piano, the opera will be performed in the original Italian and woven together with English narration. This production is intended to make opera accessible to people of all ages, regardless of their operatic knowledge.
Here Howard Charles, CEO and Founder of CMS shares his inspiration and explains more about the production and what the audience can expect.
Howard: I started CMS over 20 years ago, almost by accident. As a singer and a singing coach, I somehow found myself going into Allen & Overy’s offices to deliver some private lessons, which were clearly appreciated as nobody had the time to leave the workplace, so I would bring the lessons to them. Very quickly it became clear that there was a business model here, and I started bringing in other tutors, and CMS Ltd was incorporated.
The need for extra-curricular, and therapeutic activities in the busy lives of people working in the City and Canary Wharf was becoming very evident, and our growing range of services really supported health & well-being initiatives too.
Equally important, particularly when we started running choirs for our growing list of clients, is that singing and sharing music is about the best way I know to bring people together, from every corner of the office, regardless of the role within the firm. Now CMS delivers workshops and seminars, runs choirs and music lessons programmes, and helps firms to put on internal and external performances, including some historic projects, such as A&O’s productions of: The Magic Flute [at Glyndebourne], Carmen [at Sadler’s Wells] and Oklahoma [at Opera Holland Park].
CMS’s policy is to provide the very best professional coaches, conductors, teachers and musicians, including choreographers and theatre directors, to best facilitate amateur performances. With CMS’s recent Operas initiative, even more excitingly now, we see amateur and professional performers, singing, acting and even dancing together on a variety of stages.
The current levels of research which support the physical and psychological benefits of making music are mind blowing. The neuroscience of singing shows that when we sing our neurotransmitters connect in new and different ways. It fires up the right temporal lobe of our brain, releasing endorphins that make us smarter, healthier, happier and more creative. When we sing with other people this effect is amplified.
The science is in. Singing is really, really good for you and the most recent research suggests that group singing is the most exhilarating and transformative of all. The good feelings we get from singing in a group are a kind of evolutionary reward for coming together cooperatively.
The research suggests that creating music together evolved as a tool of social living. Groups and tribes sang and danced together to build loyalty, transmit vital information and ward off enemies. What has not been understood until recently, is that singing in groups triggers the communal release of serotonin and oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and even synchronises our heart beats. Group singing literally incentivised community over an “each cave dweller for themselves” approach. Those who sang together were strongly bonded and survived.
In her book Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others, Stacy Horn calls singing: An infusion of the perfect tranquiliser – the kind that both soothes your nerves and elevates your spirit. Group singing not only brings happiness but deeply connects people.
For us here at CMS, helping to make opera more accessible to ‘everyone’ is the aim. We want to do our bit to reduce the still often ‘elitist’ nature of opera. By sensitively condensing Don Giovanni, partly through reducing some of the more extensive set pieces, plus replacing most of the recitative with English narration, we now have a ‘pocket sized’ but coherent production of Mozart’s masterpiece, which can be enjoyed by regular opera goers, but also by people who have never previously seen an opera, even children.
With the arias, duets and ensembles still performed in the original Italian, you get to experience the opera in less than 90 minutes. We will be using this treatment on other operas soon, with the intention of having at least one new production each year.
Don Giovanni is a morality tale, making it clear that ultimately what goes around, comes around, and that this unscrupulous man will get his comeuppance! It is still regarded as one of the best operas ever written, with a brilliant libretto from Da Ponte, and tunes to die for.
In sensitively condensing this great work, plus sharing the storyline through English narration, it means that anyone can follow the story and yet still enjoy the stunning original music.
Flexibility is everything with these productions; we have set the production in an up to date context, which makes it fairly easy to fit within the confines of a small space, as we’re not dealing with huge stages and overwhelming 18th century scenery. With the public demand for accountability and moral leadership, it means that the storyline is accessible and relevant and can be experienced almost cinematically, as if you’re watching a documentary in your own living room – you can think of some very high-profile stories in the press over the last 5-10 years, in which public figures have finally paid for their sins! When performing the production in a theatre, we merely expand the existing staging, but with no need for scenery and elaborate costumes and props.
One of our singers, Don McGown, has worked professionally providing legal support for Denmans – and realising that Gwendolyn and Mike shared a mutual love of opera, they hatched a plan together to bring opera into the garden! We are looking forward to performing at Denmans – making a grand opera like Don Giovanni, accessible and relevant in a beautiful, but unusual setting. This sort of production is very much what we hope to do more of in the future!
Don Giovanni, presented by City Music Services will be performed at Denmans Garden on Saturday 30 September. For more information and to book tickets go to https://www.denmans.org/events/don-giovanni-opera/
For more about City Music Services go to https://www.citymusicservices.co.uk/
For more information, please contact Louise Campbell