The Singing Estate: Tuesday March 6

the singing estate (2/4) 19.15–20.00

This four-part series follows renowned conductor Ivor Setterfield as he selects singers from the Blackbird Leys housing estate in Oxford and transforms them into a classical choir. A brand new programme catching up with the singers today will air at the end of the series.

The series follows the journey of 40 amateurs who have just ten weeks of training before performing at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall. In tonight’s second programme, Ivor realises that with only six weeks’ rehearsal left before their big performance, his fledgling choir are still having difficulty singing together – most of them haven’t grasped that Ivor’s conducting is meant to help them do this. “I think they think I’m just waving my arms around for my own pleasure,” sighs Ivor. He decides that a crash course in classical singing is needed, and invites his choir to Italy. It soon emerges that not all of the choir can go, and a fierce battle breaks out between the seven available understudies, or ‘covers’, for the vacant places.

Twenty-year-old Candice, whose mother Julie is also in the choir, is desperate to go, and has been spending all her spare time rehearsing.To her delight, Ivor tells all four female covers that they can come – but there’s disappointment for the three men, as all the choir’s basses can make the trip and there’s no room for them. This is a particularly hard blow for John, who has never been abroad in his life. He gets up early to wave the choir off, and stares despondently after the coach as it leaves the estate. “And then there was one,” he says sadly.

The choir’s three-day Italian tour kicks off in Milan with a trip to the famous Scala opera house. Ivor has instructed the choir to meet him outside at 3.55pm, and while most of the group can’t wait to get inside, Ivor seems to have disappeared. He has heard that several choristers have opted for a more familiar cultural experience, and has headed off to McDonald’s to bring them back. He is not pleased by this unprofessional start, but presses on with the tour. The Scala is of about the same size and splendour as the Royal Albert Hall, and the singers are quickly overwhelmed by the building and how much work they will have to put in to be good enough to perform in such a venue.

At dinner that night, Ivor springs a couple of surprises on the choir, beginning with a performance by Franco, a renowned Italian tenor. The choir are amazed by his singing, and give him a spontaneous standing ovation. “I could have cried,” says oldest chorister Eric, “because it was so emotional.” Ivor’s second surprise comes as more of a shock: he wants them to sing classic Italian song ‘O Sole Mio’ with Franco to an Italian audience in their second stop of Verona.

However, things are not going smoothly – less than 24 hours after they left the UK, the choir are beginning to get on each other’s nerves. Ivor has put Cindy in charge of organising everyone, and it is clear that some people resent being told what to do. To make matters worse, their best soprano Seema has come down with a stomach bug and will be unable to sing. The choir have only been allowed 30 minutes’ rehearsal in Verona’s classical amphitheatre, and Ivor is keen to get going. His choir, on the other hand, are busy taking pictures, and seem undaunted by the size of the space they will have to fill with their voices.

When he eventually leads them through ‘Zadok the Priest’, he is considerably unimpressed with their efforts. “Horrific,” he tells them. “Absolutely horrific. We’ve gone huge paces backwards.” They are devastated by his criticism and vow to redouble their efforts, but can a choir beset by infighting – and still recovering from a late night on the Italian vino – learn to sing together in just one afternoon? And will their performance be up to the high standards Ivor is expecting?

About the author

  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Three
  • ITV1
  • ITV2
  • 4
  • E4
  • Film4
  • More4
  • Five
  • Fiver
  • Sky1