Flashmobbing an Opera at London's Paddington Station
Monday, October 11, 2004
Evening Standard [London]
By Alexa Baracaia
It was the moment flashmobbing joined the Establishment. The bizarre fad that hit the streets of London and New York last summer became part of the BBC's arts programming last night with Flashmob ó the Opera, performed live at one of London's busiest mainline stations.
Commuters at Paddington were bemused to find a 65-strong orchestra, three professional opera singers and more than 40 amateur choristers descend on them for an hour-long operatic spectacle just after 8 pm. The show, broadcast live on BBC Three, was the first of its kind to be performed anywhere in Britain.
A contemporary take on the classical Greek tale of Orpheus and Euridyce, it featured the tangled love affair between Sally, sung by soprano Rachel Nicholls, and football fanatic Mike, played by tenor Nicholas Ransley.
A random collection of about 100 flashmobbers were summoned by text to appear at Paddington just before the finale at 9 pm and join a spontaneous rendition of "Nessun dorma". Before the event flashmobbing sites were rife with gossip, with some insisting: "I thought it was not very flashmobby to schedule a flashmob to be broadcast on the BBC ó where is the surprise?"
BBC Three controller Stuart Murphy said: "It's been nerve-racking, but the reaction has been wonderful. We worried we might get people pretending nothing was going on, in the usual London commuter way, or getting angry because their evening journey was being disrupted. But instead we had so many people standing by or actually joining in the singing. This is definitely something we would consider doing again."
One commuter, who identified himself only as Mark, 40, from east London, said: "It's unexpected but beautiful. A station is the perfect place for a romantic opera because stations are all about people meeting and leaving and coming home from long journeys. It's great to think opera doesn't have to be stuck in a stuffy building or cost £50 a seat. It brought a tear to my eye."
IT worker Liz Huntley, 33, from Reading, added: "My train was cancelled tonight and I expected the usual boring wait, but this was a nice surprise. The voices were fantastic and everyone seemed to be caught up in the whole performance. It really seemed to bring people together. There was lots of applause at the end, and a few wet eyes, I noticed."
One first-time flashmobber said: "I am a huge opera fan and saw this on the Internet, so thought I'd turn up and have a go. It's been amazing, a real coming together of people from all walks of life."
The flashmobbing craze started in Manhattan last summer, when 150 people were summoned by text and email to gather in Macy's rug department. Surrounding a £5,500 carpet, they left en masse 10 minutes later. In London in August last year, 250 people descended on a sofa shop speaking English without the letter "o". They then burst into applause and left.
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