From Carmen to Brindisi, balcony opera transforms life in lockdown

It’s Balcony Opera day at a block of flats in Melbourne’s north east.

“Ding, ding, ding, ding, balcony opera will commence in five minutes,” Teresa Ingrilli says, mimicking the chimes of bells, sending her audio message to the building’s text message group.

Residents venture out to their balconies, seven of them all in a row, carrying cheese and wine. One couple wanders down to their campervan parked out the front under the sky with a spread to nibble on – dinner and a show in the time of coronavirus.

Opera students Lisette Bolton and Teresa Ingrilli perform for their neighbours, including Emma Henley and her daughter Leah, 3. Credit:Chris Hopkins

Here in this Alphington street, lockdown life is transformed, moving beyond four walls, anxiety and malaise, to an open sky filled with the sound of opera’s greatest hits, from La Traviata’s Brindisi, the Jewel Song in Gounod’s Faust and Habanera from Carmen.

Ms Ingrilli, 34, and her housemate Lisette Bolton, 21, started what they call opera balcony in Melbourne’s first stage three lockdown.

Emma Henley (front) and her daughter Leah, 3. Credit:Chris Hopkins

Sometimes the housemates are in slippers, and other times they’ve dressed up and put on theme nights, with neighbours attending French night in berets.

Their audience extends beyond the line of seven units. A man across the street listens from his open kitchen window, walkers pause on their way past and the families of Ms Ingrilli and Ms Bolton watch over the internet from Western Australia and NSW.

Lisette Bolton (L) and Teresa Ingrilli perform Balcony Opera on a Saturday morning for The Age.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Leah’s mum, Emma Henley, says her daughter is now humming opera, but the best thing balcony opera has done is connect a group of neighbours looking out for each other in lockdown.

“We all need uplifting,” she says.

Ms Bolton said seeing the effect music has had on their neighbours has brought she and her housemate joy.

“Seeing how happy it makes people and how it changes their perspectives, their mood, the way they’re feeling. It’s less than half an hour, our concerts aren’t that long, but we make people’s days."

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