The church of San Trovaso in Venice is exactly the kind where the choral works of Italian composers from Monteverdi to Scarlatti were supposed to be performed.
Just a short stroll from the windswept Giudecca Canal, it is an imposing Renaissance building distinguished by its two identical facades – one on the south side and one on the east side. This was so that Venice’s rival working classes, the Nicolotti and Castellani, who struggled for centuries, could each have their own entrance of equal importance.
The cavernous interior contains four works by Tintoretto, and the vaulted ceilings allow the mournful phrases of a Miserere Mei to linger and fade—the perfect setting for the concert that will be the highlight of my four-day singing vacation.
Lizzie Enfield went on a four-day singing break in Venice (above) and formed a 40-piece choir with other vacationers
Choral singing, with its intense breathing in close proximity in confined spaces, became a high-risk activity during the pandemic, so it was one of the last to come back — but it’s back. So what better way to celebrate the simple joy of singing with others than on one of the special holidays on offer.
You could sing songs from The Sound Of Music in Salzburg or folk songs with The Unthanks in Croatia (singholidays.com), perform the Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall with The Really Big Chorus (trbc.co.uk), or sing songs from the shows on the South Downs (hfholidays.co.uk†
There is a world of travel for all tastes and talent levels.
I am in Venice on the Glory Of Venice trip organized by the specialist holiday company Run By Singers. To enter, you must be able to sing and read music, and I can tick both boxes. Kind of…
At this point, the Catholic in me must confess: I haven’t sung in a choir since I was in college, over 30 years ago, and my music reading is so rusty it might be all rusted up. And in the coming days I will form a choir with other holidaymakers and sing music by composers with Venice in their veins: Banchieri, Foggia, Croce and even Stravinsky.
Finale: On the final night, Lizzie and her group performed for churchgoers and tourists at San Trovaso Church (above). She described the building as ‘exactly the kind where the choral works of Italian composers from Monteverdi to Scarlatti were to be performed’
After checking into the Don Orione Hotel, a former convent with simple yet surprisingly spacious rooms overlooking the cloisters, I meet my fellow choir members over dinner at the nearby San Trovaso restaurant. They come from far and wide: the United States and Canada, Hungary and Belgium, but also the UK.
Many are talking excitedly about past trips with Run By Singers and performances in iconic buildings such as the Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik and the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. These halls are one of the big draws – that and the tutelage of professional choir directors who take time off to conduct, flatter and transform a group of diverse singers into a polished harmonious choir.
Our choir director is Scottish maestro Rory McCleery, a soloist and consort singer who gives TV conductor Gareth Malone a run for his money. Befitting our environment, Rory has both the patience of a saint and the enthusiasm of a zealot. But he also has the greatest capacity for analogy I’ve ever encountered: “Don’t rush forward like the hairy fellows in the Charge of the Light Brigade,” he warns. “Don’t try to sing as William Shatner speaks.”
Lizzie’s choir under the tutelage of their conductor, Scottish maestro Rory McCleery, ‘giving TV conductor Gareth Malone a run for his money’
He finds countless ways to get us to go through the notes and phrases and has the good teacher’s trick of praising rather than criticizing: “Sopranos, that was fantastic—so great, I’d love to hear it again.” We know we’re hopelessly false, but who wants to hear that on a vacation?
At our first rehearsal, I’m afraid I’m the weakest link. I have to focus so hard on distinguishing my crotchets from my vibration that by the end I’m ready to lie down. But there’s only time for a quick coffee by the water and we’re back for two more sessions. It’s hard work, but it’s well worth it as the days go by, the notes become familiar and the music takes shape.
We had the afternoons free to enjoy the non-musical glory of Venice too – to marvel at St. Mark’s Square, get lost in the winding alleys, meander along small canals and spend an afternoon with old masters in the Academy. Not forgetting to sit with a plate of pasta and an Aperol spritz, watching the world go by.
“We had the afternoons off to enjoy the non-musical glory of Venice as well,” says Lizzie, who used the time to marvel at St. Mark’s Square (pictured)
Lizzie spent an afternoon looking at the old masters at the Accademia art gallery (above)
My fellow singers – about 40 of us traveling – are a mixed bunch: a few couples, a few friends from the choirs back home and others, like myself, who arrive alone.
But the nature of the journey creates a great sense of camaraderie. There was always someone who suggested lunch or a gondola ride.
On our final evening, we stood before the altar of San Trovaso, facing an eager crowd of churchgoers and tourists who were seduced by our diverse program of Italian music in a city where The Four Seasons is played so regularly that its appeal is beginning to fade. pale.
When we gathered for prosecco and antipasti afterwards, united by our collective effort and tremendous sense of achievement, we felt like a group of old friends.
I have visited Venice many times. It is a place that always captures the imagination as it has managed to capture that of countless composers over the centuries.
But singing their music in the setting it was written for, hearing it soar and seep into the fabric of the building and echo back through the ages made it the most awe-inspiring visit yet.
Lizzie Enfield traveled as a guest of Run By Singers. The Glory Of Venice holiday costs £895 pp for four nights B&B and two group meals (runbysingers.org†