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Performing in Prosecco land

A huge thank you to James Gilbart for this beautiful piece all about our trip to Italy this week. It is well worth reading to the end, so put your feet up, grab a glass of Prosecco (it only seems right) and immerse yourself in the summary of another hugely enjoyable inChoir holiday!

Performing in Prosecco Land

We knew we were in the right hotel in Treviso when we saw a sign in the lobby which declared ‘Sally Lockhart Meeting Room’, the intensity of the hubbub issuing from it and the profusion of red folders. Yes, a total of 53 assorted InChoir members were on the rampage in Italy and within an hour of arrival, were marshalled by Sally, Mark and Jude into a two-hour-long rehearsal (“where’s all this prosecco we were promised?” grumbled the baritones – “we want gin now!” gasped the sopranos). Half-way through this slightly wobbly singing session, a bemused hotel manager peeped round the door and politely pointed out that our backing track was being blasted out into the lobby, deafening the front desk staff and their prospective customers.

Singing is thirsty work and after the last croaked note, there was a stampede to the bar where a rather overwhelmed barmaid tried to serve us but was hampered by her abilities on the till and a lack of change. She redeemed herself when said she’d enjoyed the InChoir performance that had penetrated the wall behind her.

The following morning found us in another lengthy but less wobbly rehearsal (Mark and Jude are hard taskmasters). This time, a mysterious hand holding a mobile phone appeared round the door – maybe recording further evidence of our insanity. During some free time, the intrepid Mr Hepple set out to walk the moderate distance into Treviso. He wasted no time in fraternising with the local ‘ladies’ (of an accommodating disposition). He says he was propositioned but his long-suffering wife, Sue believes he’d reverted to his standard behaviour for a Friday morning in Crawley. A price of €13 was mentioned but it seemed they didn’t do discounts for coach parties…

One of our trusty and tolerant Italian coach drivers (where does Sally find them?) took us to explore the nearby town of Valdobbiadene (we had trouble saying that even before we’d drunk anything). After that, we stopped at a glorious sunny spot high on a hillside among vineyards. This was the ‘Hostelry Without a Host’. Apparently, the founder started inviting his mates round for alcoholic picnics which became so popular that they even continued when he wasn’t there. He simply left out food, drink and some rustic furniture for all-comers. It was slightly confusing that a host was actually there for our visit but the prosecco bottles were sold from a machine. Some of the InChoir party were distressed to find that this machine wouldn’t accept their credit cards – never get between a soprano or indeed, an alto and her prosecco!!

We proceeded to the Bortolotti Estate winery where we tasted three different proseccos. We learned that good prosecco is made mostly from the glera grape, it can be stored in huge fermentation vats under pressure for months but once bottled, it must be drunk within a year – so drink up! The good stuff is labelled DOCG (guaranteed origin). Dinner was at the same estate where all of the InChoir party and our hosts sat around a very long table. This table could not only have accommodated a cricket pitch but would have given the bowler space for a run-up. Once seated, we, of course, had to have a rousing rendition of Asimbonanga with Tony calling and Mark gesticulating along (apparently, it’s called ‘conducting’ but nobody watches him do it). At this point, our hosts may have wondered whether they were entertaining a day trip from a lunatic asylum but they humoured us anyway. Whilst waiting for the bathroom, several ladies were warmly embraced (and pinched) by some overly amorous Italian men – strangely they seemed to enjoy it – sopranos are like that.

The following morning found us at the pretty Bellendaprosecco estate (more drink so soon?!). We hoped that choosing a place with such a name wasn’t some kind of comment from Sally…. This place was also set among lovely Italian scenery and we sampled three more delicious proseccos. We were each given a very attractively presented packed lunch which we all sat down to eat on a sunny roof-top deck enjoying the mountain scenery. This gathering prompted another inevitable rendition of Asimbonanga. In that beautiful location, it was akin to a new take on The Sound of Music. After that, we explored the pretty town of Conegliano and later, dined in Treviso. The restaurant had a disconcerting glass floor with a river rushing beneath it. Mark said he saw an otter - we thought he was hallucinating again but we were told later that there was an invasion of coypu in the area. The food was wonderful and abundant. A group of ladies from Tunbridge Wells (no names, no pack drill) took an ardent shine to a handsome waiter whose safety, we feared, was in jeopardy.

The big day of our concert began with a walking tour of Treviso. We were met by three charming singers of the Coro Getsemani choir who were highly knowledgeable and guided us round the characteristically Italian town. One of our guides had actually restored some of the frescos we saw on the buildings. A highlight was the tiny Chiesa Santa Lucia in which the walls and ceilings arecovered with a riot of breath-taking ancient colourful frescos. After all that walking, our hosts provided a very welcome and delicious food tasting lunch which amounted to what my northern relatives would call ‘a right good spread’ that was much enjoyed by all.

At the Teatro Eden in Treviso we experienced the strangest InChoir practice session ever. Yes, we’ve all sung in the shower before but surely not with 50 other people all packed in with us. In that white-tiled room we waited for the sound checks to happen…and waitedsome more. When some hunky Italian men from the Stella Alpina choir arrived, Sally was seen running after them. It wasn’t clear whether she was pursuing an organisational matter or if it was lust. 

When finally, on stage and the show had started, Mark and Jude successfully coaxed us through Baby Love, Mr Blue Sky, This Is Me etc. In Mark’s Anglo-Italian mash-up of Sound of Silence we even managed to sing c’e-rascrito-to le par-o-le di pro-fe-ti are written on the subway walls…” without tripping up!! Mark was afraid that Simon & Garfunkel’s lyrics may have been lost in translation but the audience seemed to tolerate our attempt at singing in Italian. 

Stella Alpina, an all-male voice choir sang some beautiful traditional Italian songs such as Mani di Luna, Laila Oh and Monte Grappa. Their soloists could do amazing things with their voices that we InChoirers can only dream about. Coro Getsemani sang a delightful mixture of gospel and pop songs such as Route 66, Go Down Moses and Lean on Me which included contributions from some seriously talented soloists. 

At the end we joined forces with Coro Getsemani to sing The Shoop Shoop Song and just about held it together! After this, we were all joined by Stella Alpina to sing Signore delle Cime – a kind of local anthem which tested our Italian and the sopranos’ upper end. This was followed by an address from the Mayor of Treviso (quite an honour!) and the exchange of gifts. We thought it was all over but then we were invited to close the show with (you guessed it) Asimbonanga - so our inebriated practices weren’t wasted after all! The day concluded with much pizza and beer back at the hotel with members of both Italian choirs.

On our final day we were whisked off in a private boat and marvelled at the spectacular Venice waterfront which looked ravishing in the golden October sunshine. At St Marks Square, some of the group took the guided walking tour around the key sites (Basilica San Marco, Doges Palace Rialto Bridge and much more) whilst others did their own thing (probably involved imbibingmore prosecco…). Later, it took a total of nine gondolas to transport the entire InChoir party on a magical ride down some of Venice’s tiny and charming canals. The ability of the gondoleers to avoid falling in, duck underthe many low bridges and prevent collisions is remarkable. Those hoping to see Mark attempt to conduct a further performance of Asimbonango from a gondola and take an early bath were disappointed – he stayed quite dry. 

After that, it was boat, bus and plane home. Overall, another excellent InChoir excursion that packed such a lot in to five days! Congratulations to Sally, Mark and Sue for organising a trip that involved such a lot of fun, frolics, food, drink, good cheer and, oh yes, even a little singing!