Monaco

February 28 - March 2, 2014

For the second consecutive year the Treorchy Male Choir was invited to entertain Their Serene Highnesses Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene of Monaco at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo. Due to the Choir's remarkable performance in March 2013, Mark Thomas - the President of the Monaco Welsh Association - invited the Choir to headline his St David's Day Dinner. Prince Albert and Mark Thomas, who are close friends, were both awarded Honorary Membership of the Choir in recognition of their kindness and generosity. With such a firm relationship secured and due to the demand of the audience following the magnificent concert the previous year, Mark worked closely with Secretary Selwyn Jones and his deputy Ron Evans to make sure the welcomed return to Monaco was successful one. Without hesitation the Choir accepted the royal invitation and sixty choristers, along with Conductor Jeffrey Howard and Accompanist Helen Roberts, undertook another unforgettable visit. What made the second tour of Monaco all the more successful was the fact that choristers enjoyed an extra night's accommodation and plenty of time to enjoy the sights and sounds of this incredible principality. They were also treated to a once-in-a-lifetime visit to the private quarters of the Prince in his Palais overlooking the breathtaking beauty of Monaco, making this a very special tour indeed.

Hotel de ParisHotel de ParisOn Thursday evening the choristers made their final preparations for the journey to Monaco, filled with excitement and nervousness at fulfilling a second consecutive St David's Day performance for the royal couple and a whole host of multi-millionaire guests. The double-decker Ferris coach left Treherbert at 10.15pm and snaked its way through the Rhondda, eventually reaching the North Terminal of Gatwick Airport at 4.30am. At 6.45am choristers made their way to Departure Gate 56 in the North Terminal for the Easyjet Flight to Nice, approximately 1.5hours away. Following the usual process of claiming luggage and leaving the terminal building at Nice Airport, the choristers were greeted by a local coach driver who escorted them to his vehicle. For the next forty minutes the choristers were treated to the beautiful French countryside as they journeyed towards Monaco. With so many familiar sights before them after the previous trip, it was a joy to witness the sheer amazement in the eyes of those choristers who hadn't undertaken the previous trip. Finally the coach made its way downhill along the coastline and the sheer magnitude of Monaco was spread before them.

This epitome of wealth and glamour on the French Riviera, Monaco is a legendary luxury travel destination that offers spectacular Belle Epoque hotels, Michelin-star restaurants, concentrated designer shopping, and first-class cultural and sporting events (including the Formula 1 Grand Prix). Monaco is a synonym for prestige. A place where the international elite gather, a harbor for the most beautiful yachts, a prestigious destination, and home to some of the world's most celebrated events Nestled between Italy and France, on the Côte d'Azur, the Principality of Monaco offers guests more than 300 days of sunshine each year. Although the fabulous climate is a primary attraction, people are also drawn to the region's warm engaging colors, the variety of its surroundings and the friendliness of the people.

Once again the men of Treorchy enjoyed the beautiful sights before them as the coach travelled through Monte Carlo before threading its way along one of the many famous streets to the accommodation for the weekend. It was with sheer astonishment that they were taken one of the most prestigious resorts, the Fairmont Monte Carlo, an island unto itself situated in the most exclusive part of the world. Opened by Princess Grace in 1975, the Fairmont was home for the Treorchy Male Choir for the duration of their stay and it proved a most luxurious accommodation.

The Choir gathered in the foyer of the Fairmont at 4pm and were welcomed by Honorary Member Mark Thomas who explained the format of the next few hours. CSadly a heavy rainstorm hampered the trip somewhat and many choristers were left a little worse for wear as they boarded the public transport buses which headed upwards to the medieval section of Monaco and their destination – the Prince's Palace, the official residence of His Serene Highness Prince Albert II. It was with great delight that the Archivist of the Palais, outlined the history of this impressive stately home for the benefit of the royal guests. The Prince's Palace is built on the site of the original fortress and ramparts erected by wealthy Genoese merchants in 1215. The palace has been in use for more than 700 years and the courtyard is opened to celebrate important events such as Grimaldi weddings, births and the annual children's Christmas party. The Grimaldi ruled the area first as feudal lords, and from the 17th century as sovereign princes, but their power was often derived from fragile agreements with their larger and stronger neighbours. Thus while other European sovereigns were building luxurious, modern Renaissance and Baroque palaces, politics and common sense demanded that the palace of the Monegasque rulers be fortified. This unique requirement, at such a late stage in history, has made the palace at Monaco one of the most unusual in Europe. Indeed, when its fortifications were finally relaxed during the late 18th century, it was seized by the French and stripped of its treasures, and fell into decline, while the Grimaldi were exiled for over 20 years.

In the water chamber below the Prince's PalaisIn the water chamber below the Prince's PalaisAlthough the stately rooms of the palace are open to the public, the Choir was in the remarkable position to have been invited into the very private section of the building. This is an honour bestowed on very few people and choristers were aware of how significant it was for the Prince to allow them into those sections of the palais. The Choir, dressed in uniform blazer and greys with a clip-on official tie, were joined by Welsh rugby heroes Jonathan Davies and Scott Gibbs and their partners for the exclusive tour, which began in the beautifully ornate Saint Jean-Baptiste Chapel which takes its name from the prophet who announced the coming of Jesus Christ and who baptised him. The choristers were left awe-struck at the beauty of this building as they heard a full history of the Grimaldi household from the palace archivist.

Then they were informed that it was the Prince's express wish to hear the Choir perform in another area of the palace which is also totally off-limits from the general public. The Choir was ushered through the Main Courtyard , which has always held a special place in the hearts of Monaco's people, since it has traditionally been the setting for major events. Every summer, it plays host to concerts by the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra. It is through the Main Courtyard, covered with a subtle geometric blend of pebbles and stone flagstones, that the inner Palace is accessed. A special calm reigns over these places, probably in honour of the grand marble staircase that lies at its centre. It was Prince Louis I in the 12th century who decided to build the staircase based on the double revolution staircase at Fontainebleau.

In the middle of the 16th century, under the flagstones of the Main Courtyard, a huge tank measuring 1,500 cubic metres for collecting rainwater was sunk into the rock. This system was designed to supply the Palace and city with water for almost a year in the event of a siege. This was the cathedral-like room that the Prince requested the Choir's first performance of the day. One by one the choristers navigated the circular stone staircase into the very bowels of the palace. The incredibly eerie, medieval catacomb with its huge vaulted ceiling, offered the most remarkable, haunting acoustics. In the flickering light Prince Albert II appeared and with Mark Thomas at his side, was introduced to Conductor Jeffrey Howard. With a nod of approval, the Choir launched into a rendition of “Gwahoddiad”. The incredible wave of sound was deafening in such circumstances as each note bounded off the walls of the underground chamber. High above guests later said it was like hearing the ghostly music of medieval monks haunting a ruined abbey. Clearly impressed with the acoustics of this section of the palace, the Prince congratulated the Conductor before meeting the Choir, shaking many hands and chatting merrily away as they returned to the Main Courtyard and the night sky above.

A presentation to Prince Albert IIA presentation to Prince Albert IIDuring the 19th and early 20th centuries, the palace and its owners became symbols of the glamour that were associated with the French Riviera. Glamour and theatricality became reality when the legendary film star Grace Kelly became chatelaine of the palace in 1956. It was with her husband, Prince Rainier III that changes were made to the private apartments of the royal couple with the creation of a Bavarian-style bar, dance hall and sports room where they could comfortably entertain and relax amongst contemporary furnishings, art and ornaments from all corners of the world. It was here that Prince Albert hosted a social evening for the Choir as royal guests of Monaco. Choristers were incredibly honoured by this kind invitation as they settled into their surroundings with free refreshments and food galore.

A super service from white-uniformed waiters in the intimate the Bavarian Bar, which included a roaring fire and chimney in the centre surrounded by walls filled with shields and memorabilia. It was very pleasing to see the Choir's shield on the wall and also the framed Life Membership Certificate from the Choir to Prince Albert from the previous visit. Choristers were invited into the dance room to entertain the Prince once more. On this occasion they performed “Myfanwy” which received the royal approval. On behalf of the Choir Dean Powell spoke to the Prince and thanked him for the very kind invitation to perform at the Palace and for the wonderful welcome they had received. He explained that the Choir had only once performed in a Royal Household until today, that being Windsor Castle 119 years ago in 1895 for Queen Victoria. The Prince responded with his thanks for the performance and presented the Chairman with a beautifully illustrated guide to Monaco. In return the Chairman and Secretary made presentations of tankards and a Choir CD to the Prince and Mark Thomas. For the next two hours the choristers relaxed in the bar. The drinks flowed freely as the Choir spoke with the Prince, Mark Thomas, Jonathan Davies and Scott Gibbs in the private royal rooms. A lapel of the Monaco Coat of Arms was also presented to every chorister. It was an unforgettable opportunity to have been invited as the special guests of the Prince of Monaco whose gracious disposition, kindness and humour endeared him to all who had the distinct honour of meeting him.

At 7pm it was time to leave the royal household for a return journey to the Fairmont Hotel where choristers changed into their casual wear and reunite at the McCarthy's Irish Bar a short distance away on the Rue Du Portier. It was here that the first night of celebrations took place with plenty of drinks, laughter, conversation and of course the necessary singing until the early hours of the morning! It was amongst this relaxed atmosphere that choristers mingled with local residents and tourists to the area. Also many of the choristers who recently joined the Choir were able to get to know one another, share a drink and indulge in their other favourite passion – an informal sing along!

Outside the Hotel de ParisOutside the Hotel de ParisHappy St David's Day one and all! Many choristers were sat on the seventh-floor terrace of the Fairmont for breakfast this morning as they planned how to spend their day before the evening performance. Some choristers relaxed in the surroundings of the luxurious hotel for the day, catching up on some much-needed sleep after such a busy day and night before.

It was also an opportunity for the Treorchy men to see parts of Monaco they had failed to visit on their previous trip owing to such a shortage of time. Armed with their trusty maps and guide books the choristers took full advantage of the excellent public transport in Monaco and visited many of the top tourist attractions that this remarkable principality has to offer before returning to the resort for a restful few hours in preparation!.

After such an enjoyable and relaxing day in millionaire's paradise, the choristers met in the foyer of the Fairmont Hotel at 5.45pm. Dressed in their tuxedos with the added accessory of a Marie Curie Cancer Care daffodil on the lapel, the choristers walked the short distance to the entrance of the Hotel de Paris. This grand dame of Monaco was the venue for the evening concert in aid of Princess Charlene's Foundation to support young people with training and swimming. On the steps of the hotel the choristers lined up for an official tour photograph and then made their way to the Le Salle Empire Ballroom, whose surroundings continued to inspire and leave the singers awe-struck at the sheer beauty and magnitude of the palace-like interior. A jewel of Monaco's deluxe hospitality brand, the five-star grand hotel stands across the square from the renowned Casino de Monte-Carlo and from the window of the ballroom the sights had to be seen to be believed. All manner of sports cars from Ferraris and Lamborghinis pulled up outside the building as glamorous couples wearing elegant suits and dresses stood on the red carpet. Amidst this atmosphere of wealth and opulence the Choir mounted the stage in the ballroom for a short rehearsal before Jeff Howard and Mark Thomas. The ballroom was filled with large oval dinner tables, all lavishly decorated for the 190 guests that would attend this evening's event, each paying in the region of £400 per ticket. The most expensive tables, where the royal couple sat, cost £20,000 each to hire with all proceeds going towards the Princess' Foundation.

With rehearsals over it was time to enjoy a delicious meal in the servant's restaurant above the ballroom and with everyone suitably refreshed the time came to relax in the Debussy Salon for the evening. Boxes of beers, wine and water were delivered to the Choir's private ante-room. An air of trepidation hung over the room as the Treorchy men awaited the signal for their first performance. At 8pm they marched into the foyer of the Hotel de Paris and as with the previous year stood on the marble staircase and awaited the arrival of Prince Albert II accompanied by his wife Princess Charlene. With the flash of paparazzi cameras, the royal couple walked into the foyer and the Choir, under the direction of Jeff Howard, burst into an unaccompanied rendition of “Men of Harlech”. It certainly raised the roof and won the obvious approval of the Prince, who wore his Welsh dragon tie with pride. The royal couple and guests stood in the front line of the Choir for an official photograph to be taken before they departed for the ballroom and the start of their meal, which consisted of lobster, shoulder of lamb with sping vegetables, apple crumble and home made petit fours and chocolate from Hotel de Paris with Champagne Mumm Cordon Rouge or Chablis Domaine William Fevre. Unlike the previous year, there were no celebrities at this event, except Scott Gibbs and Jonathan Davies – who gave a formal speech at the dinner which was sponsored by McLaren. Unfortunately Dame Shirley Bassey was unable to attend after injuring her hand in a fall earlier in the week. With a few hours to relax, some choristers went outside into the square to view the expensive sports cars up close, whilst others relaxed in the Debussy Salon to await their call.

St David's Day ConcertSt David's Day ConcertThis came at 10pm after the first course and main meal were concluded. One by one the choristers marched into the ballroom to rapturous applause before climbing on stage to face their audience. Smiling faces and warm sparking eyes were all they could see from this enthusiastic audience of fun-loving Monaco residents and guests. With the drop of a hand Jeff Howard led his musical troops into “Cwm Rhondda” and with the rousing final repeat chorus resounding around the room, Prince Albert led the first of three standing ovations of the night. It astonished the Treorchy Choir that they had received a standing ovation after only the first song! From there the Choir knew they not only had to maintain this high standard of performance but improve on it.

Master of Ceremonies Dean Powell stepped forward to welcome the royal audience and with a smile and a quip on the triumphs of Welsh rugby which received an enthusiastic response, the Choir's programme continued. “Llanfair” was followed by a beautiful performance of “Myfanwy” and “Gwahoddiad” before Dean again addressed the audience. He thanked Mark Thomas and the Royal Couple for their warm welcome and congratulated the Princess on her Foundation which again received loud applause and cheers. The Choir then embarked on the lively performance of “You Make Me Feel So Young”, which was very well received and a tribute to the 100 th anniversary of the birth of Dylan Thomas with “Sunset Poem” to Troyte's chant sung to the words of the “Eli Jenkins Prayer” from Under Milkwood. To conclude this section of music Dean Powell performed the solo item in “Unwaith Eto'n Nghymru Annwyl” and for the second consecutive year the Choir received another thrilling royal standing ovation for their rendition of this beautiful piece of music. It was with a feeling of deep satisfaction and sheer exhilaration that the Choir retired to the Debussy Salon for another hour to relax and contemplate the achievements of the night so far.

Hotel de Paris, Monte CarloHotel de Paris, Monte CarloAt 11.20pm the Choir returned to the ballroom to find the St David's Day Dinner party was exactly that – a party! The dinner guests were obviously having a wonderful time in the company of the Royal Couple and the Choir walked on stage to the warm welcome of Mark Thomas who thanked them for being the stars of the show. The evening had also involved a silent auction and a staggering £75,000 was made from that alone. Without any introduction Jeff Howard then led the Choir into the Prince's favourite Welsh song, “Sospan Fach” which saw Prince Albert II beat time on the table and sing along. All the Welsh people present were soon to join in and the rapturous applause was breathtaking. The Choir followed with “We'll Keep a Welcome” and military march of the “Men of Harlech”.

Unbelievably, this resulted in yet another standing ovation led by the Prince and the prolonged applause and demands for “more” were deafening. With this in mind it was decided to dedicate a song to the Princess and as she came from South Africa Dean announced the final item would be “Senzenina”. With Ray Daniels as soloist, the item was performed without a conductor and again resulted in a standing ovation. The audience was overwhelmed by the performance of the Choir and they were also moved by the reaction of the audience itself. In conclusion the entire ballroom erupted into song with “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” before the choristers marched off stage to the sound of “More!”, “More!” Without returning to the Debussy Salon, the choristers mingled in the audience, getting to know some of the diners and having the opportunity to thank the Prince and Princess once again for being such wonderful hosts. Both of whom happily had their photographs taken with members of the Choir and relaxed in one another's company.

It was amid such a warm and inviting audience that the Choir settled around one of the many large dining tables and were served with free drinks until 2am in the morning. With so many Welsh millionaires around them, the Choir soon responded to the many requests and performed another selection of songs which roused the passions amongst all of the exiles present. From Welsh hymns and folk songs to showtunes, operatic anthems and even “Flower of Scotland” for those who had come from the highlands, the evening was a tremendous success. A bottle of Penderyn whiskey was presented to Dean Powell for the Choir raffle. With the conclusion of the bar it was decided to take the party elsewhere and many of the audience joined the Choir as they travelled back to McCarthy's Irish bar. It was astonishing to see the reception of the bar staff who, knowing the Treorchy Choir were guests of the Prince, rushed out onto the street to welcome them, holding the arms of the veteran statesmen and not only assisted them into their seats but also brought them drinks to their tables! It was amid this warm welcome that the end-of-tour party continued with drinks and plenty of songs. Some of the new-found friends also sang their favourite songs, supported by the Choir while the many Welsh choral tunes were given an “airing”! Also joining them was Mark Thomas himself who took part in the fun of the night and the proceedings that ensued. When the 5am “bell” came for “stop tap” the choristers returned to the Fairmont hotel with a dozen or so retiring to the bar with Mark for a few more drinks. As the sun came up over the Mediterranean they visited the seventh floor restaurant and enjoyed breakfast together before finally reaching their beds for 9am – with less then three hours before they needed to check out of their rooms!

Preparing to march on stagePreparing to march on stageAt 12noon on Sunday choristers checked-out of their rooms with some facing the painful truth of their room bill, which came to as much as £30 for a bottle of water, biscuits, crisps and chocolate no less! The luggage was presented to the concierge and several hours of leisure time were enjoyed. Some choristers took the opportunity to enjoy their last few hours of sightseeing in Monaco, although evidently this would not be their last trip as plans were already being discussed for a return in two years time no less! At 2.15pm the choristers boarded the coach and it was time to return to Nice Airport for their Easyjet flight to Gatwick. The take-off time of 4.30pm saw the Choir make the 1.5 hour journey back to the UK. Unfortunately the journey was not without its problems as high winds caused extensive turbulence on board the craft and the landing was anything but peaceful! The pale-faced choristers collected their luggage and after confusion over the location of the coach, were finally on board and headed for home, reaching Cardiff at 10.30pm. It was the end of another truly unforgettable visit to Monaco that had been organised so impeccably by Secretary Selwyn Jones; Assistant Secretary Ron Evans, who sadly couldn't undertake the trip and Mark Thomas himself. The Choir had indeed done themselves – and Wales – proud. It was a weekend where many new friends were made and the reputation of the Treorchy Male Choir was certainly enhanced. Wonderful memories indeed. We will be back!

To view the full tour report click here

Concert List

February 28 - Prince's Palais, Monaco
March 1 - Hotel de Paris, Monaco