Opera duo moved to Europe during pandemic and had ‘absolute time of our lives’

Travelling to Europe during the height of a pandemic wasn’t the plan but a baritone singer says the reality of life in a country with 30,000 daily Covid cases was surprisingly normal. Kiwi duo, Angus Simmons and his wife, Anna are gearing up to perform in Nelson (Feb 2022), showing off their baritone and soprano voices that have been finely tuned after a year in opera’s birthplace, Italy.

The couple had done extensive classical and opera training in New Zealand, including completing the Dame Malvina Major Foundation Studio Artist Programme with the New Zealand Opera, but they wanted to take their development up a notch, Angus said. Both students are also alumni of the New Zealand Opera School.

And the perfect place to do that was in Treviso, Italy, where a “highly regarded voice teacher” was based, he said. The plan had always been to move to Europe in September 2020 and base themselves in Germany. “When the pandemic hit, we thought: maybe this will be a spanner”, but he said after a chat with his wife, it was decided, “if not now, then when?”

The developmental life of an opera singer is short, Angus said. The best years for development are during your twenties, and if you’re deemed to have started too late, you’re left behind, he said. The couple took the leap and were pleasantly surprised by an almost normal life. “When we arrived in Germany, they did really well, they only had 5000 cases a day, in a population of 83 million”, Angus said.

“It didn’t get in the way of what we had planned to do. We had the absolute time of our lives. Masks, social distancing and hand sanitiser were part of everyday life, but so was travelling, voice coaching, and seeing friends without the main topic of conversation being about Covid, he said.

When cases increased to 30,000 a day in winter, the pandemic wasn’t even mentioned, “you just got on with it”, he said. Angus Simmons has been singing since he was in school, but the trip to Italy gave him and his wife a chance to develop their skills ‘10-fold”, he says.

Angus and Anna didn’t catch Covid, despite living through Europe’s very loose lockdown, which Angus compared to New Zealand’s level 2 alert system. “We would have to go on the Berlin underground every day, with no social distancing” before vaccines were available, he said. “Thirty thousand cases a day, and we never got it. We wore masks, of course.”

Angus Simmons with wife, Anna, says life in Europe felt normal, despite thousands of daily Covid cases.
Despite wanting to remain in Europe, the couple returned to New Zealand to renew their visas in September with plans to go back later this year. They are currently living at Kaiteriteri.

The couple were fully vaccinated in Germany and received booster shots in New Zealand before Christmas, Angus said. He said moving to Europe was necessary, and something they didn’t regret “for a single second”. “If we had stayed in New Zealand, we would artistically be treading water. We felt that we needed to take that next step to really challenge ourselves and to develop our craft. We had to go.” “Our singing has improved 10-fold.”

Angus said he was looking forward to performing in Motueka’s Chanel Arts Centre with his wife, pianist David Kelly and flautist, Luca Manghi in February 2022. “It’s a beautiful programme and it’s nice to come back from Italy with our new voices and share them.”

Carly Gooch, Stuff NZ

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