A professional opera chorus and a military brass band don’t seem a natural combo, but Opera Queensland and the Australian Army Band Brisbane have made it happen with Strike up the Chorus.
Fans of both genres were served a varied and entertaining feast under the commanding baton of Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Pickett. As well as choral pieces, the program included big band numbers and popular items for soloists, sung by selected OQ Chorus members who were able to demonstrate the chorus’s talent and depth.
Augmenting the OQ chorus were members of the University of Southern Queensland Opera Studio and the Brisbane Concert Choir, who contributed to the beautiful wall of vocal sound which projected from above the heads of the instrumentalists to a near-full Concert Hall.
Compere Jason Barry-Smith was at his suave best, adding his pleasant baritone voice to the program with such favorites as the swoon-worthy Cosi fan tutte trio “Soave sia il vento” (together with D’Arne Sleeman and Anne Fulton) and the stirring “Non piu andrai” from Il nozze di Figaro. Items such as the Figaro number (when the hapless Cherubino is being frog-marched off to army service) as well as the Soldiers’ Chorus and the Anvil Chorus from Il trovatore and the Grand March from Aida were perfect choices for the combination of singers and army band.
It does of course take a little while to become used to familiar orchestral music without the strings, but the well-executed arrangements involving woodwinds and brass instruments together with percussion worked well in these capable hands (and the band did include a couple of double bass). Less comfortable was the use of amplification of the singers’ voices, and there were some early problems with balance, contributing to the shaky start with La traviata‘s “Drinking song”. There was also a little too much self-congratulatory patter from the presenters at the expense of introducing the items for those who either didn’t have a program or couldn’t read it in the dark.
Nevertheless, the show marched triumphantly on, with such jewels as two of the top duets in the operatic repertoire for male and female voices, “Au fond du temple saint” from The Pearlfishers and “Dome epais” from Lakme, beautifully sung by tenor Mattias Lower and baritone Steven Kickbusch and by soprano Rosina Waugh and contralto Anne Fulton. To add to opera lovers’ delights was the big quartet from Rigoletto, very well performed by D’Arne Sleeman, Kylie Bailey, Robert Conaghan and Lionel Theunissen. A special mention is also owed Anita Parakh-Morgan for the richness of quality with which she performed the “Villia” song from The Merry Widow.
Particularly memorable of the non-vocal items performed by the band were the Festive Overture by Dmitri Shostakovich and the theme and variations arrangement of “Bluebells of Scotland”, featuring remarkable trombone work by Corporal Daniel Riek from Murgon. Great chorus items in addition to those already mentioned included the “Humming Chorus” from Madama Butterfly, Gabriel Faure’s “Cantique de Jean Racine” and a captivating choral arrangement of Puccini’s “Nessun dorma” by Narelle French (who took over preparation of the chorus mid-rehearsal after the sudden illness of John Dingle).
It was a jolly good night, and OQ chief executive Chris Mangin and Army Band commanding officer Major Jeffrey Cocks have reason to take a salute for the partnership which brought this original concept to fruition. It’s a nice bonus that the concert raised funds for Legacy.