I've just been serenaded and fallen in love. I'm not normally so easily smitten, but I've had the pleasure of attending the Independent Theatre in North Sydney: Prelude in Tea Series, and the performance by the Jose Carbo Trio: L'Heure Exquise (The Exquisite Hour) was simply divine. Performing the classical music of Verdi, Debussy, Schubert and many others, the Trio collaborated to reimagine and rewrite classical pieces - typically written for piano or orchestra - to be performed by two guitars. The result was a unique and spectacular tour-de-force event, the likes of which has never been heard before. It was a unique opportunity to experience classical music in the intimate and elegant surrounds of North Sydney's beautiful Independent Theatre, and the experience was topped off with an extensive and delicious afternoon tea.
A delectable selection of cakes was displayed on a long table in the elegant front sitting room of the theatre, and included all my favourites: lemon meringue, chocolate walnut torte, orange almond cake, and tiramisu, just to name a few. A wide selection of teas was also available, so with our plate piled high with sweets, we found a seat next to the large front picture-windows that look out onto Miller street, where statuesque plane trees were beginning their Autumnal change of colour. Once satiated, we made our way inside to the intimate auditorium of the grand old theatre.
The three gentlemen sat quietly on the small stage, and Jose began proceedings by explaining the evolution of their unique take on classical pieces that they were about to perform. This special project has been 18 months in the making, transferring every bar and phrase of music, normally suited to piano, to suit guitar. The challenge in rewriting such complex pieces was vital so that it carried the correct sound and foundation for his voice. Whilst singing he delicately made use of a microphone, unusual for opera, to highlight the delicate top notes of his voice and the technical requirements of this unusual performance.
It was a resounding success. Jose's voice was both rich and powerful, delicate and gentle, while the guitars blended to support and compliment the emotion of the pieces. The craftsmanship of the guitar-playing seemed effortless and intricate, while Jose's intense baritone voice explored a diverse range of gentle emotive top notes to forceful and demanding thrusts of classic operatic baritone.
image courtesy Jose Carbo Facebook page
The performance's first half included Madlem's Monte Carlo, a guitar duo by the emerging and extremely talented young guitarists. The fluidity and command of their instruments made their playing seem effortless and intricate, and the almost jaunty classical/jazz rendition took me on a Sunday drive through the countryside.
A brief 20-minute intermission and another cup of tea was had before the second half resumed. The guitarists opened with a spirited Spanish Dance no. 1 from La Vida Breve. Jose rejoined the duo for a series of seven pieces from de Falla, exploring what most classical music is about - unrequited love. The pieces evoked passion, sadness, love and longing, flippant bravado, and anger and grief. Jose's singing was flawless, eliciting romance, deep tenderness and resonance.
The flagship song and truly divine performance of Hahn's L'Heure Exquise is Jose's personal favourite, and his handling of the lilting and evocative top notes was nothing short of magnificent. The grand finale, Verdi's Cortigiani vil razza dannata from Rigoletto was the most challenging piece for the two young guitarists, and, according to Jose, has never before been performed on guitar. The young artists handled it with expertise and aplomb.
The recital today was their third concert in the series and as I chatted to Jose after the performance, he felt it was a better collusion than the first two, as several pieces were rearranged to allow an easier flow throughout the program. Today was a unique opportunity to experience the rich baritone voice of Jose, one of Opera Australia's favourite leading men and an enigmatic and charismatic stage presence. The acoustics of the beautiful theatre added to the performance's special gift of intimacy.
the grand entrance hall of North Sydney's Independent Theatre
Jose's debut album, My Latin Heart, was nominated for the ARIA Classical Record of the year and debuted at No. 1 on the Limelight magazine Classical Music Charts.
Andrew Blanch made his solo recital debut at the Sydney Opera House in 2017 to critical acclaim. He has won ten major competition prizes including First Place at the Melbourne International Guitar Competition. In addition to his work with the Trio, Andrew's 2018 engagements will take him on a European concert tour.
Ariel Nurhadi's diverse collaborations to date have included an opera production of Dido and Aeneas, and Canberra's 2015 Voices in the Forest with Jose Carbo and Diego Torre of Opera Australia. His first solo album will feature works by Manuel Ponce, Joaquin Turina and Alexandre Tansman, and his 2018 engagements will include a tour of Australia and New Zealand.
The trio first performed together at Canberra's Voices in the Forest in 2015.