Meet Belle Voci - Chester’s operatic duo

Sophie Rohan (left) and Emily Burnette of Belle Voci

Sophie Rohan (left) and Emily Burnette of Belle Voci - Credit: not Archant

Belle Voci is their name...Italian for beautiful voices. But one half of the Chester operatic duo once feared her beautiful voice may have deserted her forever, writes Howard Bradbury

Ladies in red, Emily Burnette (left) and Sophie Rohan of Belle Voci

Ladies in red, Emily Burnette (left) and Sophie Rohan of Belle Voci - Credit: not Archant

Belle Voci are truly on song. Sophie Rohan and Emily Burnette have singing engagements booked in for years into the future. They are a much-loved feature of opera dinners in Cheshire restaurants and farther afield. They’ve performed at swanky establishments such as the Royal Automobile Club in London and this month launch their first CD.

Belle Voci’s formula of popular opera songs and youthful glamour has proved such a hit as wedding entertainment that the pair have now set up an agency, taking on six other girls to meet demand, with plans to add boys to their books next year.

It’s a remarkable success for Sophie and Emily’s two-year partnership. Even more remarkable that just before they forged that partnership, Emily feared her singing voice had gone forever.

The pair, both 25, grew up vaguely aware of each other on the Chester singing scene. Sophie attended The Queen’s School, Chester, and started singing lessons aged 11.

Belle Voci at Bolesworth

Belle Voci at Bolesworth - Credit: not Archant

‘The first time I realised I wanted to pursue it as a career was when the Queen’s did a production of My Fair Lady. I was 15 and playing Eliza,’ said Sophie.

‘I wasn’t sure exactly which path to take; it was a toss-up between going down the musical theatre route or going straight to a conservatoire and doing some opera, which I didn’t feel I was ready for, so I went to London and did a course at the London School of Musical Theatre.’

Emily came to singing aged eight as a chorister at Chester Cathedral.

‘A scout came to my school, Saighton Primary, and went round the classroom asking us to sing our names. I sang my name and got into the choir,’ says Emily. ‘I loved it. I was there for ten years in total, and head chorister for the last four. It was five days a week - very intense.’

Belle Voci's album cover

Belle Voci's album cover - Credit: not Archant

After attending Abbey Gate College, Chester, Emily went to Durham University to study music, but spent much of those three years wrestling to regain her singing voice.

‘Nobody could tell me why or how, but I would sing for an hour and then the next day I would wake up completely husky and unable to sing any more. I spent all my choir savings trying to find somebody who could fix me. I saw eight different specialists who all had their own ideas, but none of them actually fixed me in the end.’

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Resigned to never singing professionally, Emily got a job as a paralegal at Dyne Solicitors in Tattenhall and prepared to study for a law degree in Chester.

But then her voice returned, for reasons she still does not fully understand.

‘I had to start again, literally lying on the floor and learning how to breathe, then sitting up, doing some scales, then lying down and breathing again. It was a slow process,’ she says. ‘I’m glad it happened, in a way. It’s made me stronger; I know my limits.’

When they are not on the road, home for Sophie is Upton, Chester, while Emily lives at her mother’s sheep farm at Shocklach.

‘It’s pretty idyllic - a little patch of paradise about four fields away from Wales in a sleepy little village which doesn’t even have a local shop,’ says Emily. ‘Growing up it was a nightmare, but now it’s lovely.’

Sophie and Emily met up when both were working at the Yew Tree Inn in Bunbury.

Belle Voci performing at La Popote restaurant, Marton.

Belle Voci performing at La Popote restaurant, Marton. - Credit: not Archant

‘We said, why don’t we do some gigs together, maybe a couple of weddings for a bit of cash while we’re doing other things,’ says Sophie. ‘We contacted a local restaurant, Piste in Tarporley, and asked them how they felt about putting on an opera dinner. We’d sing a couple of songs in between each course and then do a finale. It was a success.’

Emily says: ‘We like to sing opera classics - the cheesy stuff, and then pepper it with songs nobody has heard of. Particularly in the opera dinner setting, we might do Time To Say Goodbye, that everybody’s heard of, then put in a Mozart aria that maybe nobody’s heard of, but because they are still within their comfort zone and because we’ll sing Somewhere Over The Rainbow after it, they are open-minded to it.’

They have recently recorded eight of their most popular songs for a CD, launched at Oddfellows Hotel, Chester, on September 8th.

For the next year, Emily will be fitting her Belle Voci duties in between postgraduate music studies in London. After which, they have wedding bookings stretching up to three years into the future. Getting hitched is, it seems, an ever bigger production these days, so an opera duo is de rigueur.

‘We went to one wedding and the bride had rainbow flowers and her bridesmaids were each a different colour of the rainbow,’ says Emily. ‘There were coloured ribbons everywhere. It was like a My Little Pony party. Often there are three best men standing at the altar, and the hats get bigger all the time!’