Australian duo Alexandra Flood and Alex Raineri return to the Opera Queensland (OQ) Studio armed with a fresh selection of arias and songs in 'Eastern Promises’.
The performance will explore the influence of middle eastern melody on the western classical music tradition, with a repertoire of pieces from Debussy, Ravel, Szymanovski, Rachmaninoff, Glanville-Hicks and more, performed in five languages: French, Czech, Polish, Russian and English.
Alexandra and Alex will uncover the ways composers over the years have approached the female voice and framed female identity. 'Eastern Promises' is a celebration of the feminine and the virtuosity of the female voice.
Here, Alexandra Flood, who has spent years performing in Europe, chats to us about the home performance.
What will you be presenting in ‘Eastern Promises’?
Alex Raineri and I are thrilled to present a fascinating program of French, Czech, Polish, Russian, American and Australian art song. On this journey from west to east, we will uncover different iterations of the female voice and how female identity is framed by each of the composers, through their shared ‘orientalist’ lens.
Talk a bit about what it has been like to develop this show with Alex and (OQ Artistic Director) Patrick Nolan?
When Patrick asked us to inaugurate the OQ Studio Series in 2019, we realised rather quickly it would be the best fit to simply perform some of our favourite pieces, including several of the real 'hits' of the art song repertoire. The recital didn't have a specific theme. It was more like a personal playlist. But the audience responded so well because I think the love of the music just shone through. This time we wanted to do something completely different. We began with my journey home as the starting point and Alex and I looked at some of the repertoire we were interested in and the eastward-bound journey organically emerged. We then identified the clear practice of 'orientalism' and exoticism, especially in the Ravel and Dvorak pieces, and the idea of unpacking this concept developed. I came across the Glanville-Hicks pieces and Alex suggested 'The Rabbits', which perfectly tied together our homebound journey. Patrick was very supportive of this idea and was particularly interested in having us presenting Australian female composers as well as the more niche pieces like Heggie and Szymanowski. And the programme was born!
What’s your favourite thing about preparing to perform?
I love the way new repertoire enables me to explore different aspects of my instrument. Each piece of music employs the voice in a slightly different way, and it can be exciting to see how repertoire can expand one's vocal horizons. I also especially love discovering the music with my collaborator. Especially since these songs are less frequently performed, there is a certain freedom in our interpretation. We are not bound by tradition or expectations. The beauty of presenting lesser-known works means the audience arrives with open ears and we have an unbridled creative potential in interpretations.
What are you most looking forward to about performing to Australian audiences again?
I find home audiences to be especially open to hearing new things. Frequently after performances, I talk with audience members who are just tickled to have heard so many different or unknown pieces in one evening. I love that experience – bringing new or neglected songs home. I also feel very at ease working here. The artistic expectation is high, but once the recital is over everyone is happy to have a laugh over a casual drink and I love that. I also appreciate how many people want to have a chat afterwards. That's a particularly special thing.
If you could pick one main different between European audiences and Australian audiences. . . What would it be?
I think I've sort of covered this above! I enjoy performing all around the world, but I do feel so at home on Australian performances. Maybe it's because people actually laugh at my jokes!
What’s the most powerful thing about opera?
Opera is literally a combination of all forms of human artistic expression. Music, text, dance, visual art in set design. . . It is all-encompassing and there is really nothing like it. I can get lost in an opera performance in a way impossible (for me) in any other setting. I also appreciate how opera seems to transcend time and place. I have performed in many places around the world and, despite language and cultural barriers, the pure communication that is human singing means something everywhere. It unites us and reminds us what we have in common as human beings.
And how did you find your way into the world of opera?
It was a long and strange path for me. I always studied privately with a voice teacher, but my early school and academic career steered me in the direction of philosophy, creative writing and journalism. I loved studying in those fields and was starting to take my first professional steps into a career in broadcast journalism when I got the opportunity to perform 'Musetta' in 'La bohème' in Italy. I quit my job and a week after arriving in Tuscany I realised I needed to refocus – I had found my calling, clear as day. Since then I haven't really looked back. I completed another summer program in Austria thanks to the Opera Foundation for Young Australians AIMS Award, and then joined the young artist programme at the Salzburg Festival. After Salzburg I realised I needed some further training, so I began studying a Master of Opera at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Munich and I haven't looked back!
How are you hoping audiences respond to ‘Eastern Promises’?
I know Brisbane audiences love to be inspired by new music and that's exactly what I hope will happen with 'Eastern Promises'. I hope that together, we can explore the influence of middle and far eastern harmonic structures on western music – addressing some of the more problematic instances of appropriation and pondering how we can understand these works through a contemporary lens. This recital is also a journey home. We begin in France, traverse the continent and end in Australia with a piece from 'The Rabbits'. I've travelled far to be here and want to share some of the gems I've collected on my journey.
'Eastern Promises' plays Opera Queensland Studio (Brisbane) 17-18 September.