Sacred Heart University’s choir performed on stage last month at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City with Pete Townshend, Billy Idol, Alfie Boe and Phil Daniels, for Townshend’s Classic Quadrophenia—an orchestral version of The Who’s conceptual double album from 1973.
The group mostly comprised the University’s select chamber choir, 4 Heart Harmony, with some hand-picked members from other SHU ensembles. Led by Thomas Cuffari, assistant director of the choral program, the choir was chosen to perform at the Met for the New York concerts of Classic Quadrophenia Sept. 9 and 10.
“I don’t think any of them have been on stage in a place like that. They were really taken aback. And to work with such a high level of performers and musicians in the orchestra was truly amazing,” Cuffari said. “As a professor and musician myself, I don’t know many people who get to perform on stage at the Metropolitan Opera House. To give that experience to our students was the best thing for me.”
The Who’s website describes Quadrophenia as “a conceptual work set in the 1960s milieu of the Mod movement…The central character of Jimmy is a disaffected youth who hates his parents and lowly job, but finds release from blue-collar drudgery with his fellow Mods, popping pills and riding motor-scooters to weekend concerts by bands like The Who. But the freedom he finds turns out to be illusory.”
The choir received Quadrophenia’s sheet music just two weeks before the performances, which left little time to prepare. Yet they rose to the occasion, beginning rehearsals even before the semester started.
Rehearsals continued during the week of the show. On Friday, Sept. 8, they took a bus to New York City and rehearsed again upon arrival. On Saturday, they entered the Met for the first time and performed a dress rehearsal with the orchestra on stage. After a brief break, that night they performed their first show—singing the full album from start to finish, in two roughly 45-minute halves.
“I’ve been to operas there before, and this definitely wasn’t your typical Metropolitan Opera crowd,” Cuffari said. “They were screaming for every little thing. People were standing and rocking it. It was a great atmosphere.”
On Sunday, the students had dinner and experienced the city before performing their second and final show.
Cuffari said he hopes this experience shapes the choristers’ self-perceptions. “Even if it’s not their major or they go into something else, singing and music can be part of their lives. This experience shows them they can’t dream too big. That’s what I hope they take away from this,” he said.