The skies cleared for a heavenly night of Opera In The Vineyards at Hope Estate on Saturday night, October 6, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyhow.
Celebrating its 21st anniversary the event was performed for the first time indoors, in the glorious barrel room of the award-winning vineyard.
Soprano Greta Bradman, Baritone Sam Roberts-Smith, Tenor Rosario La Spina and mezzo soprano Milijana Nikolic delivered a deluxe set of adored arias and duets from across the opera pantheon.
A veritable greatest hits list, including mio babbino caro GIANNI SCHICCHI (Puccini), Au fond du temple saint PEARL FISHES (Bizet), “The Flower Duet” LAKME (Delibes), Toreador’s Song CARMEN (Bizet), Largo Al Factortum Ithe BARBER OF SEVILLE (Rossini), Brindisi “The Drinking Song” LA TRAVIATA (Verdi) and Nessun Dorma TURANDOT (Puccini).
“You may have heard them once or twice before,” host Stuart Maunder quipped between songs – perhaps at the Opera House, or at least backing an ad.
And that was true. This was an accessible package of solid-gold opera bangers, served up with witty insights from Mr Maunder about the music and those who make it, with a fundamental emphasis on fun.
And what’s not to love about rocking up to a vineyard in beautiful Hunter Wine Country just on dusk for a few nibblies and a bottle of red, the dazzling sunset reminding kangaroos it’s time to go bounding in the car park.
Concert-goers had their choice of packages, ranging from full degustation meal options, right down to gourment foodie vans and grazing cheese platters.
When summoned to the great barrel hall at 7pm, the mood was suitably bubbly, and alive, as was the music, provided with style and panache by the Metropolitan Orchestra String Quintet, conducted by the “bleeding fingers”, as MC Maunder put it, of maestro and accompanying pianist Stephen Mould.
This was an opportunity to witness amazing voices, which this quartet of stars possess in, well, I’m not sure if barrels is the right image, but they certainly sound like they’ve been matured in oak and linger long on the palate (or should that be eardrum).
Bradman is quite exceptional. The granddaughter of Sir Donald, he of the cricket field, it’s apparent the talent has transferred down the generations to she of the vocal field.
Sam Roberts-Smith is touted as the next big thing and has the looks, stage charisma and voice to make a serious impact.
Tenor Rosario La Spina began his working career as a bricklayer, and certainly belts out a wall of sound these days.
As does wife mezzo soprano Milijana Nikolic who seared on stage.
It would be impossible to pick a highlight, although the Turandot piece is a personal fave, and the British Airways ad (The Flower Duet” LAKME) never fails to move, but suffice to say, the appreciative crowd stood to applaud at the conclusion of what was an enjoyable and entertaining evening.
Opera in the Vineyards has become an iconic Hunter event and is a tribute to curator and empressario Paul Chesher, who established the concert 21 years ago.
It’s still going strong, so raise a glass and join in the chorus of well wishes for what is a great celebration of food, wine and live music in the Hunter.
Let’s hope to see it at Hope for the 25th anniversary and beyond.