“We are flying high and on top of the world!”
Photo: Rey Trombetta
Anita Ferguson

I'm waiting in the wings, trembling with anticipation, my pulse racing. There is no sound, save the sharp intake of breath close by. I must focus: in through the nose, out through the mouth... I was fearful, but now I cannot wait to get onto that stage! I climb the steps. We are welcomed by tumultuous applause and cheers. It's going to be all right.

We're straight into the London pieces with Hustle Bustle. I thoroughly enjoy exploring the conflict between bus passengers and climate protesters until it is resolved. We hum a sweet lullaby to a crying baby. Between each song there is a recorded sound like a speeding train and a clear voice announces the next song. The short interludes add to the anticipation of the next song.

I move as stealthily as possible into position for Standing By The Thames. It is a beauty. The layers of voices flow like the river; we ebb and flow on the waves of sound. The swell of strings is stunning - almost too beautiful to bear. I can't believe I'm singing with the BBC Concert Orchestra! They are exquisite. I am enchanted. I'm lost in wonderment and almost forget to come in. We sing:

"New horizons, new hope;
We build our lives together"

It is so poignant: Here we all are, singing together, side by side. I'm moved to tears. It is hard to sing with this lump in my throat.

Now we sing No Ordinary City. An overseas student makes his home in London and cannot go back to the country of his birth and is told at first that he must go. He is desolate. He has the arduous task of getting leave to stay. It's also a homage to London and I can hear the performers' devotion to their city. Behind us is a huge screen, telling the story in a magical, touching animation. At last, the immigration authority says yes. London's door is wide open.

The Nottingham performers move to centre stage. We all sing We're Nor 'Avin' It!. Luddites and factory owners are in conflict amid fears that machines will take away the workers' livelihoods. I wish I was one of the workers, getting stroppy with my comrades. The owners have no sympathy. This is business and about making as much money as possible. I smile as the workers sing:

"It's daylight robbery, Duck;
The factory bosses are treating us just like muck!"

It's delivered with a bounce, relishing those vowels!

We come to Everything Happens At The Clock, by Nottingham workshop leader Tim Lole. It's complex and verbose, with ever-changing rhythms but we rise to the challenge. We sing about local characters in the Vicky shopping centre and their interwoven lives. I'm especially fond of Joe Squirrel, particularly when I'm told he had been a real, well-known character in the city. We travel back to 1966, as refugees arrive from Ethiopia to a warm welcome. I make a silent prayer that today's refugees will find a safe haven. Our movements are in synch, polished by our choreographers. The audience listens intently, willing us on.

It's time for the Notts performers and singers from The Sixteen to sing of people from the city who have made an impact on its history, like Lord Byron and Brian Clough: The Museum Of Nottingham Life. They realise that the key is what is in our hearts and not our brains. We all join in at the chorus and it's a rouser. Another little belter from Nottingham!

It is time for us Manchester Streetwisers to show our stuff! We move forward seamlessly, well-schooled by our director Martin. We sing City Of Bee-ting Hearts, paying tribute to the Worker Bees which symbolise Manchester and its world-renowned industrial past. I know that composer Emily Levy is out there in the darkness, listening to her song. It's gentle and sombre, with a positive message. It is truly a thing of beauty. I love this one!

We sing Manchester Rain, by Michael Betteridge and clients from the wonderful Cornerstone day centre. Our group sing the verse and the whole company the chorus. I am Rose Autumn, a sensitive and shy soul, clinging to the past. She has a lovely bit of tune. It's clear that everyone here loves to sing that rousing chorus and I feel so proud of our city and our songs!

Each region has created their own pieces, telling stories of their own city and its unique qualities. But here we stand, side by side, singing together. We are connected by our love of music and performing and our dedication. We share a common humanity. We are all Streetwise Opera.

We come to our last song: The Spirit Of Manchester. She is an ethereal being, the embodiment of justice and fair play. My own workshop created this with Nicolas Lewis and I'm thrilled that it has been chosen as the final song. We know it inside out and give it all we've got. I'm Florence, a protestor with values that I share. She is my soulmate! I glimpse my daughter and grandkids in the crowd and young Rosie blows me a kiss. It's coming up to my best bit. It feels as though I can hear my own heart beating. I focus on our own workshop leader, Jonathan. A small handful of us step forward and sing Aquabella's lines:

"Time to play my part;
Remind them of this city's heart."

It is so touching, as that is exactly what we are doing. The whole company stand tall as we sing our hearts out: " Respect each other!". We are a tour de force. My little group sing: "Don't we all deserve the same!", louder and higher above the rest, giving it some welly!

This is what I truly believe in and I'm singing from the heart. It's a powerful message. We all reach Fortissimo. We are a wall of sound, bursting with energy and exhilaration! At the climax, we shout "Respect!", our arms raised as we punch the ceiling in triumph! I'm in ecstasy. The crowd go wild! They're on their feet and the applause is deafening, filling every corner of Queen Elizabeth Hall. We are flying high and on top of the world! I look at my fellow performers. Our eyes are sparkling and our faces aglow with so much joy and pride! We are all-powerful and we can do anything!

This feeling is like nothing I've ever felt before. I shall remember it always.

Sincere thanks to the Streetwise Opera team, our wonderful workshop leaders, the BBC, The Sixteen and 1927.

Anita Ferguson
Streetwise Opera performer

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