Setting up at Kensington Palace, Investec Opera Holland Park singers Caroline Carragher and Sarah Minns are excitedly reading through their set list. Laughter and smiles abound as sentences such as ‘we have to start with the march’ and ‘it’s just such a powerful song’ can be heard. It is, after all, a day to celebrate.
The singers set about rehearsing their choices for International Women’s Day with Juliane Gallant on piano. The three share glances and grins as they sing and play, and as the women begin to file in, the buzz of what’s to come rings in the air. Despite the enthusiasm, the gossip silences as soon as they see the singers at the piano. They take their seats in anticipation and Juliane has to warn them that this is just the rehearsal, the best is yet to come.
Being International Women’s Day, the repertoire is music that empowers women; something that Sarah thoroughly appreciates: ‘Opera can often be mistaken as an art form with few strong female characters, but there are so many brilliant female roles to be celebrated’. Caroline agrees; ‘it was refreshing to look at opera from a perspective of strength and agency’. All three women share their enthusiasm with the audience, and as promised, Caroline introduces the first song; Ethel Smyth’s The March of the Women.
There is no cooing and awing today; the audience is engaged in the strength exuded by the singers. ‘It was beautiful in that moment: every gesture I made, every fist in the air, was reflected by the thirty women before me, we were united’, Sarah recalls. The audience is comprised of over 55s and has been invited to celebrate together by Age UK Kensington & Chelsea. Amongst the thirty people, there is only one man. He is thrilled however to be able to join in with the celebrations and throws his arms in the air alongside the women.
Carmen, Marriage of Figaro, La Bohème, and My Fair Lady follow amongst others, but it’s the discourse prompted by each that makes the event so special. Introducing each song invites discussion; the audience truly engages with the material and often ask questions once the applause has died down. ‘The reaction from the audience was just brilliant, they really responded to the music and the subject matter’, Caroline reflects. She is taken aback by their stories, their experiences and their lives – ‘these women were incredible, from their stories, to where they’ve lived, to the number of languages they speak… We got as much from the concert as they did!’
As the performance comes to a close, the performers announce the title of their final number: You’ll never walk alone. It is cathartic – from raucous applause and cheeky laughter, the audience is now captivated and calm. There is a unity at play, a true celebration and hope for the future.
‘We began as strangers but ended laughing together and chatting as old friends’. The power behind women coming together, remembering, celebrating and supporting one another is today amplified with music. The standing ovation says it all.