Left – Tenor Kang Wang
One advantage of a concert of highlights (arias, of course) from Puccini’s operas is that one doesn’t have to wrestle with the problematics of his plots – the orientalism, in Said’s sense, of Butterfly and Turandot (how can that possibly be a Chinese name?) or the underlying fascism of Tosca. But it has its subtler disadvantages. It is awkward enough to go to a performance of La boheme where the audience is all either well off or plain rich, and try to empathise with the artists starving in a Paris garret. But to hear the end of Act I sung as it was last night by singers dressed in extremely gorgeous outfits, complete with elaborate jewellery, is – well, you come away feeling you’ve had chocolate all evening.
Did I say a disadvantage? To hear these singers, all of them good, take the audience on a journey through the best bits of Puccini’s operas from first to last, in the capable and sympathetic hands of the conductor Marco Zuccarini – it would be churlish to complain. A team of young singers was joined by veteran tenor Simon O’Neill, who finished the evening with a classic performance of "Nessun dorma", and elsewhere demonstrated that if you were as experienced as he is you don’t have to sing from memory. No fewer than four sopranos contributed to the delights of the evening. Emily Burke’s warmth of tone in "Tu che di gel sei cinta"; Ariya Sawadivong’s delicate tracery of sound in "Vissi d’arte"; Kiandra Howarth’s silvery performance of "Si, mi chiamono Mimi"; something to treasure in each of them. Simon Johnson who stood in at short notice for David Wakeham who was sick, sang an aria from the early opera Edgar with an attractively grainy baritone.
But for me, and for the audience as a whole, the most exciting performances came from the tenor Kang Wang and the soprano Milica Ilic. Kang Wang has an immensely flexible voice than can nevertheless cut through a full orchestral sound (and the conductor Zuccarini gave little quarter to the singers) without seeming to strain; and he has a disarming engagement with the characters he is portraying that immediately communicates to his audience. Milica Ilic, who was at her best in the first of Liu’s arias from Turandot, combines an exciting vibrancy of sound with extraordinary emotional depth – one of those voices that, as T. S. Eliot would say, vibrates in the memory. With both of these singers you hang on their every note. I am sure they both have glorious futures.
Although the printed program kindly informed us who the assistant marketing agent was, and who had generously given between $500 and $999 to help the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, it was nowhere stated that the QSO was actually performing, and not one member of the orchestra was named. I found this astounding. Every one of these nameless musicians, I would bet, have given their life to making music, and played beautifully last night. Don’t they deserve a mention?
Queensland Symphony Orchestra presents
The Puccini Experience
Conductor Marco Zuccarini
Venue: QPAC Concert Hall
Date/Time: 8pm, 1 October, 2011
Tickets: $85.00 – $59.25