I have to admit, being a devoted early music fan, that generally the words “coloratura soprano” fill me with fear – I’ve seen too many sopranos waver all over the pitch, some with little regard for diction. What a wonderful surprise it was to hear Alexandra Flood’s clean, clear voice effortlessly alleviate all of my (completely unfounded) worries!
This recital kicks off a new venture for Opera Queensland, consisting of vocal recitals in the Opera Queensland Studio in the Conservatorium. It’s an intimate space and a fine concept, although it’s clear that it wasn’t really designed for performances, given that the loud rumble of air-conditioning became distracting from time to time. Still, there will be plenty of fabulous singers performing there in 2020, so good news for Brisbanites.
Flood’s been doing a remarkable number of performances overseas (and lives all the way over in Paris, apparently), but this recital is her Opera Queensland debut. This recital was mostly focused on the big hitters of lieder favourites, though with some French and Italian left-turns throughout. Regular readers may have noticed my preoccupation with the organisation of a program, since it really does make such a difference. In this case, there wasn’t a specific theme, but the pieces nonetheless flowed together easily and naturally.
The concert opened with two favourite songs by Richard Strauss – Ständchen (Serenade) from his Op. 17, and the Freundliche Vision (Welcome Vision) from Op. 48. Flood gave these beautiful works a subtle reading, which was nonetheless full of strength.
Schubert’s Liebesbotschaft (Message of Love) from Schwanengesang followed. Here, Raineri’s accompaniment was delightfully sensitive, with the flowing demisemiquavers of Schubert’s piano part illustrating the text perfectly.
Selections from Hugo Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch were given a strong performance, and it’s clear that Flood and Raineri make an excellent duo with, rapid vocal melismas being caught perfectly by Raineri.
The music of Alexander von Zemlinsky doesn’t show up all that often in performance, which is a real pity given the quality of his work. His Op. 6 Walzer-Gesänge nach toskanischen Liedern (Waltz-songs on Tuscan Folk Lyrics) were a real highlight of this performance; the fifth of these, Blaues Sternlein (Little Blue Star) was a gentle masterpiece, with the audience collectively holding their breath for the final pianissimos.
We moved to France for the next two songs. Claude Debussy’s Nuit d’étoiles of 1880 was his first published composition at the age of only 18, and even then sounding confident in his compositional style. There’s several acrobatic leaps in this song that can so often derail singers, but Flood easily vaulted up to her higher range smoothly and easily. This was paired rather neatly with Notre amour from Fauré’s Trois melodies, Op. 23.
Franco Alfano’s Sette Liriche are interesting works. Alfano’s best known for completing Puccini’s Turandot, but his original works show up only very rarely, perhaps due to his political affiliations during the war. These were powerful and unusual pieces, sung with decisiveness by Flood. She’s apparently involved in a premiere recording of the set, which should be well worth keeping an eye out for.
Finally, Rossini’s Soirées musicales concluded the concert. This was where Flood’s coloratura skills really kicked into high gear. La pastorella dell’Alpi showed off her pitch-perfect upper range, and a flashy tarantella concluded the program.
Percy Grainger’s A Sprig of Thyme was the encore, and was an impeccably well-chosen piece to end the evening on. I’m keen to hear more of Flood’s work. Her website makes mention of her love of 20th and 21st century repertoire (and her numerous premieres), so I’d love to hear her sing some contemporary works as well. She’s apparently been performing Jake Heggie’s Songs and Sonnets to Ophelia recently, so something for next time, perhaps?
Flood’s singing was pure and strong and her storytelling compelling from start to finish, while Raineri’s accompaniment was thoughtfully balanced throughout. A finely-judged recital of sensitivity and taste, and a pair of talents to watch.