When you think of a night at the opera, cities like Paris, Venice and Rome come to mind. Well, who needs Rome when Dundee is hosting its very first Opera Festival.
Opera Festival Scotland is taking place this week from Thursday 22nd – Sunday 25th September. The city is set to host an incredible array of operatic events, workshops and masterclasses with the pinnacle being a performance of Verdi’s Aria at the Caird Hall on Friday night at 7.30pm.
The whole festival is a celebration of music and has community spirit at its very heart with many community singers getting involved in the event. After months of rehearsals, each of these performers can’t wait to be part of the inaugural festival – and part of something really special and unique to Dundee.
One of the community singers is Jessica Anderson from Edinburgh. An Early Years Practitioner, Jessica’s husband is from Dundee, so she feels very closely connected with the city and can’t wait to sing in the choir for Aria along with many local performers.
“I first began singing in choral groups through church and met Michael Jamieson, the director of Opera Festival Scotland, through choirs,” says Jessica. “He started to do big charity events via the opera route and I really enjoyed them, so I did one in 2017. Then Covid happened.”
Feeling quite bereft not being able to sing in groups for such a long time, Jessica was quick to come on board when Michael told her about his plans for Opera Festival Scotland and that he wanted her to be part of it. “He told me that we were going to do Aida. My first thought was that this is a whole new level and scale. Then he said ‘we’re going to have a score. I’m not going to ask you to memorise the score, but you might have to memorise the score. Also, it’s in Italian.’ I said I’d give it a go!”
Since then, Jessica has been thoroughly enjoying meeting with other community singers to rehearse for this week’s big performance. “I’ve met up again with all the people that I met in 2017 and they haven’t changed a bit. They’re all lovely. Most of them are from Tayside Opera and you just get a really nice feeling when you’re with the chorus. I feel like I’m in familiar territory again.”
And it’s not just her fellow singers that make the experience extra special, but the warmth from the Dundee audience too. “Everyone is very friendly and supportive. When I’ve sung in Dundee before, you feel like you’re singing to your friends. You don’t feel like you’re singing to people with any pretence or any airs or graces. Everybody feels very approachable, so can just be yourself.”
As Jessica and her fellow chorus members prepare for their performance on Friday, for first time opera goers, she believes you will be so glad you came to experience live. “You will not believe the power of the chorus. It’s beautiful and it’s like nothing on this earth. Nothing can match it, being part of something so big.”
As Opera Festival Scotland founder and director, Michael Jamieson has been passionate about getting the local community involved. “That’s what the festival is all about,” says Michael. “Having lots of local singers participating directly has been really important and we’ve even had people who are from Dundee originally returning to the city to perform which is fantastic too.
Michael came up with the idea for the festival four years ago. “I work in events and I was running a few big concerts in Edinburgh. I love opera, so I thought, well, there must be something missing in the opera world in Scotland. And so the biggest part was that there’s no singing competition for professionals in Scotland, but there’s also nothing for amateurs and I wanted to create that neutral ground for singers because there’s a lot of great amateur opera around in Scotland.”