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  • Helen Gramotnev


Brisbane Music Festival’s Italian Songbook is full of drama, comedy, and theatrics! This is not your ordinary opera recital, but a song collection from the late nineteenth century reimagined in a completely fresh, modern, and surprising way. Pianist and Artistic Director Alex Raineri joins Alexandra Flood (soprano) and Alexander York (baritone) in a whimsical tour-de-force culminating in a standing ovation.

The recital is built around a collection of 46 short songs by Hugo Wolf, originally written in Italian, but sung in German. We are invited into a couples’ retreat, lasting 10 days, where Maria (Flood) and Luigi (York) attempt to rekindle their relationship. With each passing day in “therapy”, the couple reveal their sweet memories, their deepest fears, and their dirty secrets. Can they survive the retreat and rekindle their passion?

The 46 songs of the Italianisches Liederbuch have no assigned order. This production transforms the collection into a complete dramatic performance, with a story that develops naturally, as if written specifically alongside these songs. Flood’s beautiful and captivating soprano is playful and enchanting. York’s powerful and muscular baritone fills the space, making us think of the great heroes of classic tales. At the same time, the singers are matched in their vocal control and virtuosity, giving a flawless performance that is both moving and thoroughly entertaining.

Raineri’s pianistic virtuosity keeps the instrument as part of the theatrical dialogue throughout the performance. Seamlessly, it blends into the musical backdrop, enhancing the voices and providing the waves for them to ride, until eventually it reveals its own individual voice. The delicate piano solos carefully tread the webs of love, giving Raineri the opportunity to show off his own lyricism as the couples’ retreat approaches a resolution. In the setting where the piano serves as the mediation table, Raineri’s narration of the performance not only ensures the audience remains firmly on the journey with the couple, but also provides unexpected comic relief in the role of a jester-like character, popping up unexpectedly to ensure the perfect balance between drama and comedy.

Overall, this is an exciting and stirring performance of classical opera, keeping the audience eagerly awaiting the verdict: will it be love or a break-up?

Brisbane Music Festival continues with Transcendence on October 28, and you can find the complete schedule of performances on the website.


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