In the world of New Zealand opera the name Simon O’Neill needs no introduction. In the world of New Zealand brass banding the same can be said of Woolston Brass.
Both have performed to great acclaim in the city, so not surprisingly a packed audience welcomed them to the stage at the reopened James Hay Theatre.
The concert kick started a fundraising drive for a new Woolston band hall; a significant project for a community ensemble, and especially noteworthy that Simon O’Neill donated his time (and to a second event a couple of days later in his hometown of Ashburton) to aid the cause.
The band took to the stage just a month or so after retaining its Canterbury Provincial A Grade crown at the same venue, kicking off with an energetic run through of Dvorak’s ‘Carnival Overture’ with some wonderful lyrical playing contrasting with the lightning fast filigree work.
The compere Tim Beveridge introduced the star soloist in a brace of works from Wagner’s ‘Ring Cycle’, the operas that made his name around the world. The combination may have been an unusual pairing, but it worked wonderfully well.
It was perhaps a little surprising to hear such a celebrated Heldentenor sing with the aid of amplification, but O’Neill was in wonderful voice with control across the range, his trademark burnished sound evident throughout.
The combination may have been an unusual pairing, but it worked wonderfully well.
A particular highlight of the evening was the performance of Bert Appermont’s ‘A Brussels Requiem’. Written in 2016 in response to the Brussels terrorist atrocity it was very appropriately dedicated to those affected by the events in Christchurch on March 15th.
It was given a virtuosic performance tempered with a balanced emotional core of understanding.
There was lighter fayre after the interval with Woolston taking up a different stage formation to play a number of exuberant items along with a lighter contribution from the star soloist - including ‘Londonderry Air’ and the timeless opera favourite, 'Largo al Factotum’.
As the audience dispersed into the warm Christchurch evening the talk was divided between the followers of Simon O’Neill, amazed at the playing of Woolston Brass, and the supporters of Woolston Brass, simply blown away by the quality of what they had heard from one of the world’s finest singers.
That was the almost perfect outcome to savour for an adventurous pairing of two of New Zealand’s leading musical ambassadors.