The title of this concert, part of the 4MBS Festival of Classics, was an explicit play on The Three Tenors, the concert toured by Luciano Pavarotti, Placidi Domingo and Josè Carerras several years ago.

The concert showed up the fact that countertenors inhabit a completely different world from tenors. One could be forgiven for thinking, on leaving Pavarotti and co, that the greatest achievement of a tenor was to overpower a full symphony orchestra. These countertenors sang with such softness and delicacy that the large audience in Brisbane's Baptist Tabernacle several times had to hold its collective breath.

The centre of a tenor's world is 19th century opera, but the world of the countertenor is rooted in the eighteenth century. So it was fitting that the accompaniment was provided by the Queensland Baroque Orchestra, under the urbane direction of John Foster.

What a treat it was! Each singer sang two solos, took part in 2 duets, and combined for two trios. All three singers sang with faultless intonation, and, instead of competing with each other as if singing were an Olympic sport, sang with tact and respect for each other's particular sound. In the trios, arrangements of Handel's Ombra mai fu and the exquisite Ave Verum by Mozart, they passed phrases between each other absolutely seamlessly.

Each singer has a particular colour to their voice. Adam Lopez has an astral, crystaline purity, Tobias Merz sounds like burnished silver, and Hartley Newnham like rolled gold. Lopez might more properly be described as a male soprano, as apparently he can sing higher than the top note of a piano. His rendering of Handel's dopo note atra e funesta included coloratura decorations that Handel's castratos would be envious of.

Merz has a versatile voice, with a good range of tessitura and dynamic, and melted us with a gorgeous Agnus Dei from Bach’s B minor mass. The duet he sang with Newnham, Purcell's Sound the Trumpet, was a model of blend, and unanimity of phrasing.

Hartley Newnham is a phenomenon. He started singing countertenor in the early 1960s, when hardly any Australians had ever heard of countertenors. He, along with Andrew Dalton, who was in the audience for this concert, verily pioneered the voice in this country, and besides a career in early music he has commissioned and performed music by some of Australia's leading composers.

Not many singers carry their beautiful voices into their 70s. Hartley is in his mid 80s, and his voice has lost nothing of its famous golden quality. Furthermore, in his performance of He was despised we could hear every single word. He is truly a great artist.

4MBS is to be commended for staging this unique and memorable concert.

Event details

4MBS presents
The Three Countertenors
with Queensland Baroque

Artistic Director John Foster

Venue: City Tabernacle Baptist Church, 163 Wickham Terrace, Spring Hill QLD
Dates: 1pm | 25 May 2024
Tickets: $45 – $40


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