Opera review: Ferruccio Furlanetto In Concert, Melbourne Recital Centre

A world-class performance that is a bitter reminder of Opera Australia’s slim pickings in Melbourne this year.

In an attempt to appease Melburnians after snubbing the city in its 2023 season, Opera Australia brought out a proverbial big gun by presenting Ferruccio Furlanetto In Concert

But an unstaged recital of a world-famous bass opera singer was not enough to put bums on seats. This is hardly surprising given bass roles and arias lack mainstream recognition, but it also hints at a frayed relationship between Opera Australia and Melbourne audiences.  

Furlanetto began the recital in a standoffish and unceremonial fashion with the first song cycle, Brahms’ ‘Vier ernste Gesänge’ (Op. 121), a dirge in both senses of the word. Despite Furlanetto exhibiting constant technical control and moments of masterful vocal finesse, the pieces in the first act were often dour. This choice of repertoire exposes both the works offered to bass singers and Furlanetto’s creative preference. 

Thankfully, the songs and Furlanetto’s performance became more animated as he worked through the extensive program. It’s a huge testament to his skill that, at the age of 73, he can deliver such a robust, generous program with gusto and technical prowess. His breath control particularly engineered moments of awe, including at the end of Rachmaninoff’s ‘In the Silent Night’ (Op.4, No.3) where, almost indescribably, Furlanetto finished his breath but continued his last note, which carried like smoke circles through the auditorium for a few thrilling seconds.

Furlanetto’s accompanist, Natalia Sidorenko, brought a great variety of dynamics and timbre out of the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Steinway piano. Her artistry worked in harmony with Furlanetto, adding an engaging depth of sound to his performance.

The second act presented a succession of opera arias, from The Magic Flute to Don Quichotte, and was a further evidence of Furlanetto’s jaw-dropping vocal stamina. Though present in the first act, Furlanetto’s talent for evoking different characters was on full display as he moved between each aria. Witnessing such a master of technique and performance, however, only served as a reminder of what Melburnians are missing out on – not only Furlanetto in a staged production, but also any staged production at all. 

This was particularly poignant when watching Furlanetto perform ‘Madamina, il catalogo è questo’ from Don Giovanni, which is due to be performed in Sydney this year. It was a surreal experience trying to sear Furlanetto’s perfect performance into memory while simultaneously grieving that his performance was contained to a recital hall and that a staged version, with any bass singer but preferably Furlanetto, may elude Melbourne audiences for years to come. 

Read: Exhibition review: Archiving the Ephemeral, Abbotsford Convent

Bringing Furlanetto, an operatic craftsman of the highest order, to Melbourne is a rare treat, but in leaving the city out of its staged season for 2023 (and potentially years, as the State Theatre renovations commence next year), Opera Australia looks poised to lose Victoria’s opera faithful.

Ferruccio Furlanetto In Concert
Melbourne Recital Centre
Performer: Ferruccio Furlanetto
Associate Artist: Natalia Sidorenko
Tickets from $49

Ferruccio Furlanetto in Concert was performed in Melbourne on 22 April. It will tour to Sydney on 27 April 2023 at City Recital Hall.

Jenna Schroder is an emerging arts critic, with a background in dance and voice, and an organiser at the Media, Entertainment, Arts Alliance. Outside of her union activism, Jenna can be found performing at The Improv Conspiracy, around the Melbourne comedy scene and producing independent work across multiple platforms. Twitter: @jennaschroder00