This years’ wonderful series of concerts by the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra began with their program simply entitled GALA.

GALA consisted of well- known much loved opera favourites and utilised the combined forces and magnificent talents of the Orchestra as well as the Willoughby Symphony Choir and three terrific soloists.

Under the exuberant, energetic baton of Dr Nicholas Milton the Orchestra was in dazzling form. Dr Milton introduced each of the works in the program, often adding a humorous comment

The programme opened with a fast, fiery and explosive performance of the Prelude from Bizet’s Carmen.

Then came an exuberant, joyous Noble Seigneurs, salut! from Meyerbeer’s Les Hugenots, introducing mezzo Jermaine Chau in a stunning, slinky black evening gown .She entered through the audience and shook hands with people in the front row while showing off her scintillating range and coloratura fireworks.

This was followed by a thrilling, stirring Matador’s Chorus from Verdi’s La Traviata, with a whirling, triumphant finale with thye work of  the Willoughby Symphony Chorus a real highlight.

Musetta’s Waltz ( Quando m’en vo ) from Puccini’s La Boheme was next.  This piece was deliciously, flirtatiously sung by Taryn Srhoj who wore a resplendent blue dress and a glittering diamante top.

Dr Milton then introduced Michael Butchard, in fine tenor voice, very handsome in a tuxedo ,he was a perfect choice as the Duke from Verdi’s Rigoletto – he had the audience in the palm of his hand. 

This was followed by the greatly contrasting hushed, sensitive and pensive Evening Prayer from Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel , a lyrical duet for Srhoj and Chau that was simply ravishing.

The rousing Va, Pensorio ( Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Verdi’s Nabucco came next . Stirring and powerful , the Choir thundered.

Taking us through to interval there was a further selection from Puccini’s La Bohemethe enchanting Che gelida manina  superbly sung by Butchard , then the Mi Chiamano Mimi sweetly sung by Srhoj, and the sweepingly romantic duet for Mimi and Rodolfo, O soave fanciulla ending with the soaring Amor , Amor ( love .. love.. ) – very appropriate on Valentine’s Day.

Act 2 opened tempestuously with the Orchestra playing the Toreador’s Song from Bizet’s Carmen. There was a special emphasis on the trumpet leading the melody and it blazingly finished with pizzicato from the string section. Jau then joined them, in a purple dress this time, for a sultry, seductive Habanera.

A vibrant, enthusiastic version of the Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s Il Trovatore followed, with a spiky beginning . The choir went to town on this piece. Special mention must also be made of the Orchestra’s excellent percussion section.

The lush, lyrical, delicately beautiful Flower Duet from Delibe’s Lakme followed, with Srhoj and Chau voices’ swooping and soaring as they tossed rose petals onto the stage and into the audience. The two ladies exited through a spellbound audience followed by a gentle sighing pizzicato finish from the Orchestra.

The fragile, shimmering Humming Chorus from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly followed , with a heart breaking, sensitive performance from the Choir.

The great tenor showstopper Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s Turnadot was next with Butchard giving a dazzling , powerful and hypnotic performance. The strings rippled leading towards the tumultuous finale and there was rapturous applause.

Elephants, lions and tigers oh my! The Orchestra and Choir combined in a powerful rendition of the epic,  overwhelming spectacular Triumphal March from Verdi’s Aida , featuring a blazing trumpet . The audience lapped it up, enthusiastically joining the crowds praising Pharaoh.

Submitting to the overwhelmingly warm audience response the concert ended with three unlisted encores.

The first encore featured a dynamic, hot and sexy solo by Srhoj from Lehar’s Giuditta.

This was followed by a lilting, exquisite performance by Srhoj and Chau of Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffman ( Offenbach) sung as duet by Srhoj and Chau – you could almost see the Venetian gondolas bobbing.

To conclude the performance , Butchard, Srhaj and Chau led the audience in the Brindisi ( drinking song) from La Traviata. Audience response was a little confused and messy, but a lot of fun.

Running time 2 hours 15 including interval.

Willoughby Symphony Orchestra’s GALA program was performed at the Concourse on the 13th and 14th February.

If their first concert program is any measure, then the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra is set to have another outstanding year. For more information  and bookings-