At the start of this year, Australian soprano Eleanor Lyons was in Sydney playing Donna Anna in Opera Australia’s production of Don Giovanni. Then in early March, shortly after the season had concluded, theatres around the world began to close their doors because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lyons’ husband, conductor and pianist Vladimir Fanshil, was in Turkey at the time to conduct a concert for the Bilkent Symphony Orchestra. Two days before the start of rehearsals the concert was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns.

Eleanor Lyons and Vladimir Fanshil. Photograph supplied

Lyons and Fanshil are usually based in Vienna. “We needed to make a snap decision about where we were going to stay for my husband knew there would soon be a complete international lockdown,” says Lyons. “With all of the theatres and concert halls closed, and our daughter happily settled in a fantastic kindergarten, we decided to stay in Sydney with our families. Vladimir arrived two days before the two-week quarantine was introduced.”

Lyons has handled the theatre lockdown pretty well so far. “It has been a time of internal reflection and refining whilst the stage lights have been off. I’m sure that audiences will hear and appreciate the work that their favourite musicians and singers have been doing during lockdown. For myself, travelling less and practising more has been so refreshing and relaxing. Like many of your readers I’ve also done the wardrobe clear out and can now bake a mean banana bread!” she says with a laugh.

But of course she was itching to sing publicly again, so she and Fanshil have joined forces with two other Australians, tenor Andrew Goodwin and emerging international concert pianist Vatche Jambazian, to form LIVEATYOURS, a recital program to be performed in people’s homes. They present their first concert in a private residence tonight.

“I’m really looking forward to performing again live in our micro-concert series, especially with my husband at the piano – which a rarity as he usually conducts,” says an enthusiastic Lyons.

LIVEATYOURS offers a concert lasting 30 to 40 minutes, for a small audience in a relaxed, private setting. “We believe in the power of live performances and now that 20 people are allowed to gather [in NSW], it is the perfect time to bring music into Australian homes, while concert halls are still closed to the public. We love the intimacy of a salon setting and enjoy chatting with the audience afterwards, making it a very personal experience for all,” says Lyons.

“It’s everything you love about a classical concert and nothing you hate – no traffic, no parking, no one with a big hairstyle blocking your view! Just people you know and like in the audience, in your own home, where you can have your favourite wine listening to music on your sofa. Any repertoire request or question you have, you may simply ask the artists, and it’s 100 percent tax deductible through the Sydney Musical Promotions Trust.”

LIVEATYOURS will perform in people’s homes. Photograph supplied

If the host of the concert has their own piano then well and dandy. If not, LIVEATYOURS has partnered with Theme & Variations Piano Services and can organise to hire a piano. They have also partnered with executive chef Matt Bates (former head chef of Café Sydney) to offer catering, beverages and flowers.

The recital program consists of famous opera arias and The Mountain Maid, a song cycle for soprano and piano by Grieg that is particularly close to Lyons’ and Fanshil’s heart. They will also premiere a new piece by Elena Kats-Chernin composed especially for the occasion. “It’s a lovely light program which anyone can enjoy ­– from classical music buffs to someone listening for the first time,” says Lyons.

Fanshil first met Kats-Chernin when he was just 10 years old. The hugely popular composer wrote a piece for him then, for piano and violin, called By the Fire. “Eventually I met her too, and we worked together on an outrageous opera called George in Germany, in which I played the role of Finella, an alien opera superhero who comes to the rescue,” says Lyons.

“At the end of May we chatted with Elena about LIVEATYOURS, asked if she wanted to be involved, and the very next day she sent us the music – she is incredibly prolific! She made a few adjustments and a few days later Wandering Hearts was ready for our audiences to hear. We’re very excited to premiere this piece, a song without words, which lasts five minutes. It follows in the vein of her beloved Wild Swans ballet; uplifting, playful, comforting like a big hug and uniquely Australian.”

The LIVEATYOURS micro-concerts will be available for as many people as restrictions and space allow. “The goal is to have a live audience – even if that audience is one person! But right now restrictions in NSW mean 20 people can gather in a home, so it’s the perfect time to bring friends and family together. Because one is relaxed and literally feeling ‘at home’ the music seems different, more vivid. The ears open in a different way to deeply absorb emotions and the intimate atmosphere brings out all the subtle nuances that sitting in a large concert hall rarely can. The result is usually a feeling of euphoria for all,” says Lyons.

The suggested tax deductible donation for a concert is $1500. If the project is successful, LIVEATYOURS plans to tour regionally in July and August to places such as Armidale, Yass, Griffith, Canberra, Wagga Wagga, Merimbula and Orange.

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