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Brisbane Bel Canto – A new festival for the Brisbane stage

 Opera Queensland launches Brisbane Bel Canto in April 2024. This new, week-long festival uses the much-loved repertoire of Italian operas from the middle of the 19th century as a springboard to a festival that explores all the many wondrous colours of the human voice. 

Feb 07, 2024, updated Feb 28, 2024
Photographed by Benjamin Ealovega at Bermondsey Studio and by the Thames, London 16 May 2015, for Opera News. Commissioned by Greg Downer.

Photographed by Benjamin Ealovega at Bermondsey Studio and by the Thames, London 16 May 2015, for Opera News. Commissioned by Greg Downer.

 What lies at the heart of bel canto? Beyond its literal translation of ‘beautiful singing,’ is a profound expression of emotion through song. Bel canto singing demands a performer be at the peak of their technical ability while drawing deeply on their emotions to fully express the lives of the characters. The three great composers of bel canto were Gaetano Donizetti, Gioachino Rossini and Vincenzo Bellini, who are all featured in the festival in 2024. 

Bel canto is more than just a style; for those who delve into its depths it is a passionate addiction. With narratives often mirroring the allure and intensity of a great romance novel, its heroes and heroines are tested through navigating the complexities of love. To truly grasp the power of bel canto, it must be experienced live. Opera Queensland is giving audiences this exceptional opportunity with Brisbane Bel Canto. 

“There are few things that can connect with our emotional centre more effectively than the human voice in full flight. Opera is the artform that celebrates this energy more profoundly and passionately than any other and the virtuosity demanded by bel canto singing is the epitome of this experience. We know that audiences value the opportunity to encounter great artists at the peak of their talent, Brisbane Bel Canto creates the space for this to happen. Working with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and artists of the calibre of Jessica Pratt, we are creating a festival that celebrates the art and power of song, in a way that will resonate for many years to come.” says Artistic Director of Opera Queensland,  Patrick Nolan.

To host a festival of bel canto, you must ensure that not only the composers are fully represented, but also the world’s best bel canto voices and conductors are gathered. 

Opening and closing Brisbane Bel Canto is superstar soprano, Jessica Pratt. Pratt is widely considered one of today’s greatest interpreters of the bel canto repertoire, having adorned the stages of the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Staatsoper Hamburg and been awarded the Vienna State Opera Award. 

Audiences will have the rare opportunity to see one of the world’s top sopranos strutting her stuff as she brings her internationally renowned performance of Lucia di Lammermoor to Brisbane for the first time. Jessica is the only Australian since Dame Joan Sutherland and Nellie Melba to have sung the role at La Scala. 2 

Noted as being one of the most coveted and challenging roles in the bel canto repertoire, Pratt is a master at delivering the rollercoaster of coloratura passages and demanding key changes. Her portrait of a woman whose passion knows no limits, culminating in Lucia’s famous ‘Mad Scene’ is legendary. 

Jessica’s long-time collaborator and master of bel canto repertoire Richard Mills will conduct the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and the Opera Queensland Chorus. Joined by a cast that includes Carlos Bárcenas, Samuel Dundas, David Parkin, Virgilio Marino, Hayley Sugars and Rosario La Spina, this evocative semi-staged concert performance of Donizetti’s classic tale, directed by Patrick Nolan, opens, and closes Brisbane Bel Canto in the QPAC Concert Hall. 

“I am thrilled to be part of Opera Queensland’s Brisbane Bel Canto festival in April 2024. Bringing my signature role of Lucia to Brisbane for the first time is very exciting. The first Lucia I ever saw was at QPAC, so to be performing it in this wonderful hall feels like I have come full circle. 

In addition to our performance of Lucia, I am particularly looking forward to the “Jessica Pratt In Concert” with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra – a highlight for me! Having roots in Toowoomba and Brisbane, these performances hold a special place in my heart. I look forward to sharing this wonderful music with my family, friends and the local community.” says Jessica Pratt. 

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Jessica Pratt returns to the QPAC Concert Hall on the Wednesday night of the festival with Jessica Pratt in Concert, a special one-night-only performance of spectacular highlights from the bel canto repertoire focusing on the music of Bellini. Jessica is joined by tenors Carlos E. Bárcenas and Rosario La Spina with Richard Mills leading a full Queensland Symphony Orchestra. 

Reviewer Simon Paris had this to say about a similar concert held in Melbourne in 2023, “Pratt brought the house down several times in the evening… a meticulously calibrated performance… balancing seemingly effortless power with gorgeously controlled pianissmi.” This will be an unmissable performance. 

Thursday offers a day of rest in recognition of Anzac Day before Friday brings a double-header of bel canto activity. To honour the idea that a festival is an opportunity to nourish the five senses, Maggie Beer is curating the Brisbane Bel Canto Long Lunch, a feast inspired by music from the bel canto period. Festival goers will be treated to the voices of Opera Queensland performing songs while enjoying an opera inspired menu featuring local produce and a dessert in honour of Jessica – La Dolce, Jessica!

That evening, Richard Mills delivers Rossini’s masterpiece Stabat Mater in the Queensland Conservatorium theatre. The hour-long performance is divided into twelve movements, featuring a full orchestra and large chorus of students from Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University and four soloists, including Eva Kong, and David Parkin. 

“This music speaks immediately to the heart and soul – its profound humanity resides in both its simplicity and artifice. The operas were written for the greatest singers of the day. The vocal virtuosity is thrilling, dangerous and because there are many elements of improvisation, unpredictable. There is something about the fragility of this repertoire, it can look so simple at a glance but contains so much to discover. I am excited and honoured to be coming to share it with audiences in Brisbane.” Richard Mills 

Saturday 27 April, brings the festival full circle with the closing matinee production of Lucia di Lammermoor, offering audiences a second opportunity to enjoy the queen of bel canto in her signature role. 

Bel canto places a profound focus on the power of the human voice, and its ability to create a visceral impact unlike any other artform. To experience the exhilarating energy of opera, Brisbane Bel Canto is the perfect place to start. 

To view the full program and to purchase tickets to 2024 Brisbane Bel Canto go to www.oq.com.au 

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