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  • Aria Alba

Our Story

The Story of Aria Alba – Opera for All

So, the story goes that our wonderful founder, teacher and inspiration Dr Nell Drew was woken up one morning at 4 am by the sudden idea of starting an opera company. Just like that. And here we are, 13 years on, still going strong. Of course, there ismore to it than that. Like Nell asking some friends to join her in the venture. “Just a few meetings a year - it’s not a big commitment.” Really, Nell? But Sarah, Fiona and Belle all joined Nell and helped to set up the Company.

Nell’s vision was threefold: that the Company would bring opportunities to sing and act opera to interested singers of all abilities; that it would reach out to community audiences containing people who felt that opera was “not for me” and finally; that the Company would provide a platform for young singers with professional potential to experience all aspects of opera in a safe and nurturing environment. All these ambitions have been and are being realised.  

Initially, willing recruits were found among Nell’s singing students, many of whom were intrigued by the notion and challenge of taking on the singing of opera choruses and principal roles and, eventually, performing in a complete opera.  Other recruits came from Linlithgow Rugby Club Choir (one of whom is still with us!) and, notably, the National Youth Choir of Scotland. A start was made. Some Company members were daunted by the notion of singing pieces in the language in which they had been written, an unbreakable rule for our founder.  Fortunately, an expert linguist had joined the Company and could coach members through the vagaries of the pronunciation and meaning of the words being sung. Learning was fast!

The Company cut its teeth on The Chorus of the Enchanted Islanders (from Alcina, by Handel) and The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves (from Nabucco by Verdi), learning Italian, learning part-singing, learning singing techniques and, above all, dramatic presentation.

It was soon realised that singing opera is no walk in the park – you have no book to look at, you must remember all the words, and your vocal line, and the singing techniques, and the correct way of breathing, and the dramatic direction, and all the while making the whole thing look effortless. But we got there. Our first opera was the Marriage of Figaro by Mozart. In preparation, we went off for a workshop to a grand house in Ireland, at the end of which we gave a performance, in the most realistic of settings, even to the ‘sotto i pini’ of the last Act, for the local community.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe that year saw our opera performed four times, presented to families, friends, and the roving entertainment-seeking Fringe-goer. Occasionally, we have presented opera workshops in various communities, as well as holding ‘Come and Sing’ events. In addition, each year we present a concert, usually with a specific theme, which gives us further opportunities to sing favourite arias, duets, ensembles and choruses and to reach out to new and old audiences.

Our initial experience with Figaro has been repeated in the years since, weekly rehearsals preparing the ground, the annual workshop and local open dress rehearsal (now annually in the Ardentinny Outdoor Centre near Dunoon) setting up four Fringe performances.

In 2023, our outreach ambitions saw us giving 2 very well-received performances in Melrose and we hope that this aspect of our life will expand and continue. It is always a source of great joy and pride when an audience member says: “This is the first opera I’ve ever been to and it was wonderful!” Company members have come and gone, some to greater heights. Opportunities have been given to budding instrumentalists as well as singers, lighting engineers, backstage assistants and many others.

We depend on volunteers to support us and our members and friends are indefatigable in their efforts to sell tickets, prepare props, serve interval refreshments and even take on administrative roles.

Very, very sadly, our lovely Nell died in 2022 after 12 wonderful years with us. Though bereft, we have carried on in the spirit she would have wished. Her singing and artistic direction student Jake has taken over the reins and now leads us in the next chapter of our existence.  We look forward to many more years of wonderful singing, acting and contributions to local communities. Come and see us!

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