A MUSICAL INTERLUDE TO CELEBRATE ELEANOR SIDGWICK, PRECURSOR OF OUR ANNIVERSARY TREE-PLANTING PROJECT

UNDERGRADUATE SOPRANO KATHERINE GREGORY, ACCOMPANIED BY PIANIST RACHEL EVANS, PERFORMS ‘OMBRA MAI FU’, THE OPENING ARIA FROM HANDEL’S 1738 OPERA ‘SERSE’ (XERXES): A LOVE SONG TO THE PLANE TREE

This beautiful aria is dedicated to the tree planted by Eleanor Sidgwick along the road she created: Sidgwick Avenue. In the first 20 years of college history, a public right of way existed that continued Newnham Walk through what are now the college gardens. Thanks to the indefatigable work of the Sidgwicks, the city council was persuaded to close it off in return for the new avenue. This allowed the college to inhabit the whole of the present site and redefined the neighbourhood. Founder and Principal Eleanor Sidgwick took charge of planting the avenue with the trees that still thrive today. The London plane tree (Platanus × acerifolia) is not only beautiful, but its bark also traps particles of pollution from the air. As part of the 150th anniversary celebrations, 150 trees will be planted by Newnham members around the world.

Handel’s aria ‘Ombra mai fu’ is one of his best loved melodies. The Italian lyrics may be translated as follows: ‘Never was the shade of a plant more dear and loving, or more gentle. Tender and beautiful fronds of my beloved plane tree, let Fate smile upon you. May thunder, lightning, and storms never bother your dear peace, nor may you be profaned by blowing winds’ (translation: Choral Public Domain Library, cpdl.org). 

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

RACHEL EVANS is a second year Classicist at Newnham College. Her main instrument is piano, in which she achieved her diploma in 2016. Rachel has also achieved grade 8 in both violin and voice, and she is a choral scholar in Selwyn chapel choir. Rachel enjoys collaborating with and accompanying other musicians.

KATHERINE GREGORY is a first-year undergraduate at Newnham, studying Theology. She is a choral scholar in Trinity College Chapel Choir, and was previously Head Chorister of Truro Cathedral Choir. She recently came joint-second in the prestigious Clare College Song Competition. 

Top image credit: Fernando Manoso