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  • Nicholas Fuller


“I love singing in Armidale,” mezzo-soprano Hannah Fraser said. “It’s so nice to come back, and have the support from where I grew up.”

The Armidale-raised singer, and two other talented young musicians – soprano Michelle Ryan, and Italian pianist, conductor, and composer Alessio Nelli – will perform an intimate recital of operatic favourites at St Peter’s Cathedral Parish Centre on Saturday, December 15, at 7.30pm. It will be an evening of exhilarating singing and heartfelt melody.

Hannah, the grand-daughter of former prime minister Malcolm Fraser, recently starred as Rossini’s Cenerentola (Cinderella), at the Festival della Valle d’Itria, Martina Franca. She made her debut in Prague as Cherubino (Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro) last year. Michelle, from the Clarence River Valley, has sung Mozart, Rossini, and Bizet roles in Weimar and Prague. She is related to early 20th century diva Margherita Grandi, a noted Verdian dramatic soprano who created the title role in Massenet’s final work Amadis.

Alessio Nelli is assistant to Maestro Sesto Quatrini, a rising young Italian conductor who has worked in Paris and at the New York Met. He works permanently with the singer Arianna Silveri, evoL, Il Sinfonico e l’Improbabile Orchestra, and Sally Moriconi (SNelly duo).

This is the first time all three have worked together. Hannah and Michelle were in the same year at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. They performed together in Australian groups (including the Song Company, Voci Stupende, Cantillation, and Pinchgut Opera) before pursuing their careers in Europe. Hannah met Alessio this year at the Festival della Valle d’Itria, Martina Franca. He arrives from Europe on Saturday, and rehearsals start the next day. Hannah will bring her Cenerentola to New England, performing the heroine’s final aria “Non più mesta”. Hannah Fraser singing Rossini's "Cenerentola" at the Martina Franca festival this July. She described the experience as hugely challenging.

“I was told I was singing the role six weeks before!” she said. “I'd never sung anything like it before, and so I worked every day five hours a day just trying to get my voice to do the things that Rossini demands. Finally, I was able to do it!”

Rossini composed for agile bel canto voices that could run up and down scales, turn somersaults, throw off pinging high notes with aplomb, and sing in breakneck-speed patter ensembles. “It was an incredible feeling,” Hannah said. “I thought it was impossible, and it taught me that nothing really is – because I did it. I'll probably do it even better in the future, hopefully! It was a big achievement because of that.” She will also sing the hair-raisingly seductive “Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix” from Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila.

New England audiences will get a rare chance to hear an aria from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Huguenots, a powerful tale of religious bigotry that was the most successful opera of the 19th century. The Jewish, German-born, Italian-trained master of French opera was the most celebrated opera composer of his age, but fell victim to the anti-Semitic Wagner’s scurrilous propaganda campaign.

Michelle will sing the giddy waltz aria “Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette; contemporary Polish composer Michał Lorenc’s “Ave Maria”; and Nanetta’s enchanting “Sul fil d’un soffio etesio” from Verdi’s final opera Falstaff. Mezzo and soprano will unite their voices in the Flower Duet from Delibes’ Lakmé, five minutes of blissful soprano and mezzo canoodling that British Airways hijacked for their ad; and the famous Barcarolle from Offenbach’s Contes d’Hoffmann. They will also sing Mozart’s “Prenderò quel brunettino” from Così fan tutte, where two sisters discuss the charms of two handsome Albanians (unaware they’re their fiancés sporting false moustaches).

As well as accompanying the singers, Alessio will perform opera overtures on the piano.

They will also perform Christmas pieces, including Adolphe Adam’s “O Holy Night”.

“It seems the right thing to do that that time of year!” Hannah said. The artists will also talk about their musical journeys: how they got to where they are, the sacrifices they made when studying or leaving Australia, and the beautiful things that come out of it. Opera, Hannah said, has always been part of her life. Hannah Fraser with conductor Richard Bonynge. “I grew up surrounded by it. I was listening to it all the time when I was younger. Mum and her mother and all my relatives listened to it all the time. When I was 12, I started having classical singing lessons, and realized it was something I could do.” Favourite composers include Rossini, Bach, Handel, and Saint-Saëns. Although a mezzo, she would love to sing the Puccini heroines (all soprani). She has studied with conductors Richard Bonynge (widower of Joan Sutherland) and Fabio Luisi. Working with people of their calibre was, Hannah said, inspiring.​ Her ambition is to sing in opera houses overseas and in Australia. “It’s quite tough when you’re a young singer,” Hannah said. “You spend a lot of time doing auditions for people, and not knowing what the future holds.” She will be based in Milan next year, working and studying with Alessio – and hopes to audition for La Scala at the end of the year.

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