St Andrew’s Church, Shottery (October 1)

Jonathan Veira is an opera-singer with a long and proud CV of international appearances, including gracing every major opera company in the United Kingdom. But there is much more to him than that.

When I arrived at the architecturally fascinating (altar in one corner, congregation arranged in a reverse L-shape) St Andrew’s Church on Saturday evening I became part of an audience buzzing with excited anticipation, their conversations almost drowned by some jazzy more-than-“background” music, voice and keyboards.

And then a huge presence burst onto the altar, larger-than-life, wise-cracking and greeting, seating himself at the Roland electric piano, accompanying himself with brilliant keyboard skills as he launched into a bouncy “I got plenty of nuttin’”, jazzy with skat embellishments but also showing off his operatically long-held, crowd-pleasing notes. This was Jonathan Veira, his bass tones sometimes as chocolatey as Barry White, other times as nobly resonant as Paul Robeson, his dynamic range able to whip up the crowd but then suddenly hushing them with the minimum of volume through the generous potpourri of offerings.

Veira is an immensely talented musician, not only as a consummately gifted singer (his Doctor Bartolo patter-aria from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro was a technical marvel), but also as an exuberant pianist; he left us wondering whether or not he was equally as adept on the chromatic harmonica.

Many of the offerings were backed by tracks recorded during lockdown by his brilliant little filial combo, and of course there was the incessant spitfire of jokes, observations, reminiscences and spoofs.

Things became more serious when he revealed his long battle with threatened kidney failure, and how his beloved wife Sue had miraculously been able to donate a kidney last year. And then the real meat of the evening took over, when Veira told us about his faith, his desire to spread love and charity, and urging us to do the same. He promised we would find friendship and support in church (sorry, not always the case: I have encountered standoffish pillars of the church who have no wish to have their personal space invaded), and regaled us with a lengthy sequence of hymns in unusual arrangements, gospel songs, and personal affirmations.

For some this extended the evening to a taxing length, even more so when Sue took up a lot of time[cm1]  pre-interval advertising the merchandise – books and CDs – on sale; highly successfully, in fact, as the queues for Veira’s signature were even more thronging than those for the excellent home-made nibbles served with wine. But there was a risk of an overloading of the message as some present grew fidgety and impatient for this unique evening to come to its conclusion.

Christopher Morley


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