Jessye Norman, live shower songs and a 600-voice Carmina Burana to star in new NSW festival.

Opera legend Jessye Norman, the St Petersburg Chamber Choir and a specially installed shower in Martin Place for wannabe amateur vocalists are set to vie with jazz, gospel and beatbox in the latest festival to hit New South Wales. Arts gurus Leo Schofield and Jarrod Carland, the brains behind last month’s highly regarded Brisbane Baroque, today launched their latest idea, Sydney Sings, to take place over ten days from July 28 to August 7. “Never before have we had a festival celebrating the voice,” said Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism and Major Events Jonathan O’Dea, introducing the creators of the event.

Designed to fill what Schofield described as “a fallow period” in Sydney’s arts calendar, the festival came out of conversations with Destination NSW’s CEO Sandra Chipchase. With many events exclusive to Sydney, the organisers are hoping that 11000 interstate visitors will deliver $5 million of revenue. Venues for the various events include City Recital Hall, Government House, Sydney University’s Great Hall and St Patrick’s Cathedral in Paramatta.

Introducing the launch, Schofield described singing as the only art form able to encompass all of the emotions, with his intention being to create a unique festival that embraced events ranging from England’s legendary Three Choirs Festival to a good old singalong around a bonfire. “Someone once described my ideas as high brow, middle brow and no brow,” Schofield joked, and that description, he said, pretty much summed up his ambitions for Sydney Sings. In a demonstration of that hoped for vocal diversity, opera singer Amelia Farrugia performed Bernstein’s stratospheric crowd-pleaser Glitter and be Gay while Sydney Philharmonia Choir’s VOX presented Sally Whitwell’s arrangement of Rufus Wainwright’s The Tower of Learning in front of a packed pink-floodlit foyer at Sydney’s City Recital Hall.

Headlining the classical side of the programme will be one of opera’s greatest ever Divas, Jessye Norman, who will conduct a rare public masterclass. Last seen in Sydney in 1975 when she was accompanied by Geoffrey Parsons, Norman will be interviewed live by ABC Classic FM’s Christopher Lawrence. One of classical music’s most outspoken artists, Norman will “have much to tell us of the art of singing,” said Scofield.

The closing event is set to be a massive 600-voice staged performance at the Homebush Arena. In an attempt to rival his “Tin Symphony” for the 2000 Sydney Olympics Opening Ceremony, Nigel Jamieson (who was also Artistic Director of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the Melbourne Commonwealth Games) will stage his latest spectacular with Sydney Youth Orchestra and soloists from Opera Australia.

In a bit of fun and games, the organisers are inviting “talented amateurs to burst out of their showers”. Monday to Thursday at noon, vocal hopefuls will compete for the title of Sydney’s No 1 Shower Singer, performing live under running water in the middle of Sydney’s Martin Place. Although dress codes were not discussed, the winner of the final Friday sing-off stands to win a bathroom makeover.

Other choral highlights will include a rare confluence of all of the choirs that make up Gondwana Voices, including the brand new Gondwana Indigenous Choir, the debut of the St Petersburg Chamber Choir performing Rachmaninov’s Vespers at midnight in the Sydney University Great Hall, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs with a  Dan Walker new commission and a concert inspired by Louis XIV’s Versailles to be held in St Mary’s Cathedral.

Contemporary vocal highlights will feature the Soweto Gospel Choir, street harmonies and beatbox from UK a capella choir Gobsmacked, Australia’s own beatboxer Tom Thum beatboxer performing with Omega Ensemble and conductor Gordon Hamilton, and a 25th Anniversary concert by the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir.

Solo vocal performances will include up and coming Tyrolean-born tenor Martin Mitterrutzner singing Mozart arias with the Camerata of St Johns, countertenor Carlo Vistoli who thrilled Brisbane audiences at this year’s Brisbane Baroque, and the Australian debut of jazz sensation Cécile McLorin Salvant whose blend of laid back showtunes and French chansons have seen her referred to as the “outstanding jazz singer of her generation”.

Sydney Sings runs from July 28-August 7. Tickets go onsale tomorrow.

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