The cast, orchestra and crew have flown home, the set and costumes are in storage, and the final tragic chords of La bohème have finally ebbed away…but there are people all around Queensland whose lives have been changed by this extraordinary project. For all involved in Project Puccini it has been a life-changing experience, and as Creative Director of Open Stage and the Assistant Director of La bohème I’ve had a front row seat.
From the beginning this project has been about people. Eight community choruses of 36 adults and 12 children were auditioned, developed and trained on the Gold Coast, Ipswich, Toowoomba, the Fraser Coast, Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville, and Mount Isa; people aged 7 to 86 from all kinds of backgrounds, and in some cases whole families, committed almost three months of their lives to learn their roles in La bohème; people drove 400km round trips to attend every rehearsal; people rehearsed in hi-vis clothing because they’d just walked out of a mine; 384 people committed themselves to something that for most of them was out of their comfort zone…and they didn’t give up when the going got tough.
When I visited each of the centres to take the first staging rehearsals there were moments when I wasn’t sure if we were going to be ready. Had we bitten off something too big for the first attempt at such a project? But when I returned for the final rehearsals with the full company, orchestra, set and costumes, the magic really started to happen.
The Local Chorus Masters and Rehearsal Coordinators made sure that everyone had learned their words and music, moved like well-oiled machines, and sang far better than any of us could have imagined. While they perfected their ensemble singing with conductor Guy Noble, they put up with me going on about not standing in straight lines and making sure their faces and voices went out into the auditorium like they’d been doing it all of their lives. Then they put on the costumes – magic…then they sang with the principal singers and Queensland Symphony Orchestra for the first time – more magic…and by the time they sang for their communities at the performances I thought that most of them were about to explode!
384 people across Queensland had engaged in a project that expected excellence, and the sense of pride that came from that was palpable not only from the participants, but also the audiences. Families, neighbours and members of the community came to see their own on stage in an opera. Many had never engaged with opera before, and those I spoke with after the performances had no idea that they would be so moved.
Now that Project Puccini is finished we are looking at how we can follow it up. It’s a hard act to follow, but we’re hoping to create another Project in 2016. The journey has only just begun.