“The wine list was a blur. I had failed to bring my reading glasses! So, when I saw a bottle of Long Rail Gully pinot noir, I breathed out with relief,” writes RICHARD CALVER
Chief conductor Nicholas Milton is also general music director and chief conductor at the Saarländischer Staatstheater (State Opera House) in Saarbrücken, Germany, nestled on the border with France.
He became the cornerstone of an initiative of the German and Australian governments to build a bilateral cultural partnership, the culmination of which was the Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s international opera gala.
Milton brought six operatic soloists from Saarbrücken – sopranos Susanne Braunsteffer and Herdis Anna Jónsdóttir, mezzo Judith Braun, tenor Carlos Moreno Pelizari, baritone Olafur Sigurdarson and basso profundo Hiroshi Matsui.
All are full-time at the opera house, have international careers and, as their names suggest, come from different cultures – Iceland, Chile and Japan, as well as Germany.
The orchestra opened the concert in fine style with the prelude from Act III of Wagner’s “Lohengrin”. It was obvious this was going to be a highly entertaining concert of great fun.
The program romped its way through arias, duets, quartets and even a sextet at the end. All the best operatic composers were in the list, as were all the best-loved operas. There was music by Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, Puccini, and others, from operas such as “Falstaff”, “Tannhäuser”, “The Magic Flute”, “Rigoletto”, “Tosca” and more.
For each offering, the soloists had the uncanny skill, not only of singing magnificently, but sliding into their roles with ease. There were moments of nonsense, fun, sadness, romance, anger, love offered and refused, and every other mood you would expect from grand opera. Every item was rewarded with a curtain call.
I have never experienced singers who could fill Llewellyn Hall so effortlessly, even above a large orchestra. Those big European opera houses, and Germany being the home of opera, have stood these superb performers in very fine stead and Canberra was the beneficiary.
Whilst every item was a highlight, there was one piece that was very different from the rest. The hall lights dimmed almost to black and a delicate, unaccompanied soprano voice, Herdis Anna Jónsdóttir, distant and mournful, floated poignantly from right up the back. As she made her way down to the stage, singing a capella, her voice filled and echoed through the hall in awe-inspiring beauty. It was the Australian premiere of an aria from “Leonce und Lena” by German composer, Paul Dessau (1894-1979), the most contemporary of all the composers in the program.
With all six soloists on stage, this exceptional concert concluded with the toreador’s song from Bizet’s “Carmen”. Several encores (including one with audience participation) and standing ovation curtain calls resulted, leaving a smiling and very satisfied full-house audience anticipating a future such occasion.