I always feel a sense of anticipation when invited along to the inaugural performance of a new group, wondering what the standard will be like and how it will fit into the local theatre scene. In this particular instance, though, I already knew those answers as although Viva Voce is new, its ‘leaders’ and the majority of its performers have been together for quite some considerable time but have now broken away from their original parent society, P&P Productions.
What a splendid evening the aptly named Sound Bites proved to be, and a highly original one at that. Plays or concerts with a break for supper in the interval are quite common these days, but I have never before come across a situation where the food and drink was tied so closely with the numbers sung by this superb choir, which is conducted by Jean ‘The Boss’ Chambers and accompanied by Mary ‘Magic Fingers’ Potter.
Once settled at our tables, having bought our drinks, the evening opened with the ‘Viva Voce fanfare’, a number specially written by Mary Potter, before launching into ‘The night they invented champagne’, ‘The days of wine and roses’ and the drinking song from The Student Prince. We then moved onto our soup course before being treated to the likes of ‘Food, glorious food’, ‘The teddy bears’ picnic’ and a most unusual John Rutter piece, ‘Banquet fugue’.
By this time it was perfectly clear that despite a mere thirteen weeks’ rehearsal period, Viva Voce is up there with the best of them: well-balanced harmonies, wonderfully clear diction, excellent vocal control and happy, smiling faces. Attention to detail always makes such a difference too, and the singers’ matching outfits and folders bearing the Viva Voce logo, plus the logo beamed onto the back of the stage, were noticed and remarked upon by all around.
After our main course Jean thought we might be feeling sleepy, which after the vast amounts of food provided was a distinct possibility, so a gentler mood prevailed with ‘You raise me up’ (a rare chance to hear Jean, a former professional singer, singing a solo line), Mozart’s beautiful ‘Ave verum’, Rutter’s ‘The Lord bless you and keep you’ and Howard Goodall’s ‘The Lord is my shepherd’. The latter being the version used as the theme tune to The Vicar of Dibley, it seemed only right that, as in the TV series, Geraldine (Maxine Davenport) and Alice (Sharon White) should have one of their little chats. Both ladies caught the characters perfectly and this little piece about an inflatable school with an inflatable headmaster and inflatable pupils was just gorgeous.
There was still more food to come – various delicious desserts – before the singers moved on to show tunes, which included the beautifully performed ‘What I did for love’ from A Chorus Line, then coffee, after which the final section just had to include ‘Coffee in a cardboard cup’ (70, Girls, 70). Ours wasn’t, as it happens, but I don’t think anyone has yet written a song entitled ‘Coffee in a china cup’.
It was a privilege to be at this highly successful inaugural concert and I certainly look forward to Viva Voce’s future offerings. You can catch them next at their Concert of Christmas Songs and Carols, part of the Christmas Tree Festival at St Aldhelm’s Church, Branksome, on 9 December.