When the residents of Goldington Avenue stepped out of their front doors to take part in the weekly Clap for Carers last week, many of them won’t have been expecting to be serenaded by a professional opera singer.
Bonaventura ‘Bon’ Bottone has lived on Goldington Road for 39 years and during his career has performed at the world’s greatest concert halls and his performances have received international acclaim.
When a neighbour asked him to sing at the weekly #ClapForCarers last Thursday, Mr Bottone humbly accepted and the video of him singing Puccini’s Nessun Dorma has now been shared hundreds of times on social media.
“I was asked by my neighbour if I would sing something not only to applaud the NHS, which of course is paramount, but to bring some cheer to the residents of the Avenue given the restrictions we are keeping,” Mr Bottone told the Bedford Independent.
“I felt that as I was invited to sing it was not going to be seen as me imposing on the NHS.”
As communities readjust to life in lockdown, the Thursday night celebration and ‘thank you’ to frontline workers has become a time for neighbours to come together and chat or exchange a wave over the road.
“The NHS hurrah on Thursday night is well attended by our residents who are clearly socially distancing but showing solidarity with the support for our care workers,” said Mr Bottone.
“When we come outdoors to clap for the NHS it certainly helps to break the feeling of isolation and see the street come alive with familiar faces.
“One neighbour said how she found the sound of silence during the day and night very disconcerting. The applause and social connection on a Thursday night helped to relieve this sense of change in our world.”
We asked if Mr Bottone’s neighbours already know about his profession, or whether they were surprised to hear him sing.
“Some of the residents know that we are musicians as we have lived here for many years and we have made friends in the road.
“Some new residents did express surprise and one lady’s husband returning from work expressed disappointment at missing the singing having been told by his wife how much she enjoyed it.”
Asked what he was missing most about life under lockdown, Mr Bottone said,
“I had become completely accustomed to being free in daily life to be in company without concerning myself that I may be contracting or passing on a potentially fatal virus.
“In a couple of words. My freedom.
“My wife and I love to walk in all the parks and open spaces we have here in Bedford. In fact, we enjoy the fact that the river and the gardens are so gloriously presented throughout the year and it has been a main reason to live in Bedford.
“I came to sing here when I was a student at the Royal Academy of Music to sing in Handel’s Messiah at the Bunyan Meeting Chapel in 1979.
“I was at once captivated by the Embankment and when my wife and I married in 1973 I brought Jennifer to Bedford to look for our first house. We chose a house in Bower Street which was our home for eight years.”
Why did you choose Nessun Dorma to sing?
“I chose Nessun Dorma as it is well known. It was used as the football world cup anthem in 1990 and the aria itself is from Puccini’s Opera ‘Turandot’.
“Its setting is at night as the population of Peking wonder if Turandot will find the name of the stranger before dawn breaks.
“This is not a love song but a song of suspended hope, I felt that it fits the situation as we are in lockdown and have to wait for the moment to be free once more.
“The final words that Calaf sings is ‘Vincerò Vincerò’, meaning I will overcome (win). He stands to be executed if Turandot can find out his name before dawn breaks.”
And what is your favourite part to sing?
“I have sung over 100 operatic rôles all over the world and at every stage of my career I enjoyed each one,” said Mr Bottone.
“I love to sing and to be asked is a joy. When I was young I had the young parts [including] Alfredo in La Traviata. I played that opposite my young wife Jennifer who sang Violetta.
“Jennifer had to expire in my arms in the opera. I cried my heart out as I sang over her as she laid lifelessly in my arms. Each one is a story in itself and a memory that brings so many wonderful things to mind.”
So, has last week set a precedent and will all your neighbours be expecting another performance this Thursday?
“Watch this space…”