Mad Madge: 101 Places You Shouldn’t Sing In (but we did…)

Mad Madge: 101 Places You Shouldn’t Sing In (but we did…)


As I climbed the steel ladder lashed to the side of the toilet block, heels slipping on the rungs, I wondered why I had ever thought that “go-anywhere opera’ was a good idea.

The brief had been simple; a covered market wanted us to christen their new toilet block. (“Sing some Puccini,” quipped the booker). The concept was fine until we realised that the only way onto the top of said facility was via a temporary ladder, for us in full regalia, the pianist and the digital piano.

Once up there, we couldn’t be seen from the ground either, so we performed hanging off the safety rail like monkeys with one hand, desperately waving hand signals to the pianist with the other.

Over the years we’ve become used to weird venues, which often appear under the guise of ‘accessibility’.  After one particularly arduous day singing in a Birmingham shopping arcade in howling wind and foul weather, our final task was to sing in local restaurants. The Italian was fine, the Japanese more of a challenge, since we were competing with ‘cook it in front of you’ chefs armed with flying machetes and a chopping action as rapid and loud as machine gun fire.  After twenty minutes of singing against slicing and sizzling, the food Samurai won, and we gave in to the delights of tempura and teriyaki instead.

Libraries are more of a mental challenge; years of silence enforcement by shushing librarians have to be put aside as you sing as loudly as possible in venues designed to deaden sound as much as possible.  In one library, the book racks doubled as wings, and since this was the only area to change, I remembered to keep my head down so as not to be seen.  What I didn’t realise until later was that I was stripping off behind a single row of Cookery, and most of the Delia collection was out, leaving an interesting window of opportunity for the front row.

Fundraising events for charity can land you in places you never dreamed of, such as a Swindon fire station. The firemen had cleared the engine garage, and put up a stage, lighting, seating, even balloons.  We were just wondering where the fire engines were, when the call came.  Six burly firemen slid down the pole next to the stage, (just like Trumpton!), and rushed into the night, sirens blazing, minutes before we started singing.  Amazingly, they were back in time to serve baked potatoes and tea in the interval.

A more usual fundraising or party venue is the great British marquee.  One exuberant host had got every mod con for his April bash; decent lighting, good flooring, swags, flowers, flounces, and a state of the art heating system that looked (and sounded) like a jet engine.  “It’ll be fine’, the host beamed as he proudly demonstrated the full throttle setting, “So long as the wind doesn’t change direction.” Which of course it did, so everyone’s noses soon knew that the hosts did indeed run a very large pig farm…

Top 20 opera highlights by Hatstand Opera

We confess, we are suckers for those “Top 100” TV shows that list everything from gadgets to YouTube videos. So, we decided to create our own list based on our years of performing opera highlights across the UK.

This list may not have been voted for by the Great British Public, but it’s certainly heavily influenced by what we found most audiences enjoy – and ask us to sing again next time!

The figures are drawn from our performance database, in which we have recorded each performance we have sung since September 1998, and what music we sang at it. (We were performing from December 1992 onwards, but we didn’t have the software then!)

It’s interesting to see what has stood the test of time, and it’s not always what we expected either… So, here are the top 20 opera excerpts we have sung, and the number of times we have sung them!

title opera composer no of times sung
1 Champagne Die Fledermaus Strauss, J 335
2 Flower Duet Lakmé Delibes 307
3 Goodbye The White Horse Inn Stolz 294
4 Brindisi la Traviata Verdi 287
5 Quando m’en vo La bohème Puccini 235
6 La ci darem Don Giovanni Mozart 228
7 Barcarolle The Tales of Hoffmann Offenbach 199
8 O soave fanciulla La bohème Puccini 190
9 Seguidilla Carmen Bizet 174
10 Che gelida manina La bohème Puccini 171
11 Soave sia il vento Cosi fan Tutte Mozart 158
12 Prima Donna Trio The Impressario Mozart 140
13 Sull aria The Marriage of Figaro Mozart 139
14 Fly duet Orpheus in the Underworld Offenbach 139
15 Au fond du temple saint The Pearl Fishers Bizet 135
16 No I declare The Merry Wives of Windsor Nicolai 130
17 Nessun dorma Turandot Puccini 130
18 Chi il bel sogno La Rondine Puccini 128
19 Olga’s aria Eugene Onegin Tchaikovsky 127
20 Have a little priest Sweeney Todd Sondheim 118


As you can see, the top composer honour goes to Puccini with five entries, and runner-up is Mozart with four entries. We might add that we have over 1000 items on our database, so your favourite might well be in there…