Above: Ngaiire performs with band , SSO and conductor Nicholas Buc. Featured image: The Sydney Opera House in superbly lit gig mode. Photo credit: Jordan Munns.

Ngaiire, the precociously gifted soul vocalist and storyteller came to out attention in season 2 of network TV’s ‘Australian Idol’. The possibility for intricate vocal and interpretative nuance plus an expert, entertaining arch to soul searching song was evident in those early years of exposure.

Fast forward two decades, it is a joy to hear this natural musician released from an industry debut via rocky reality TV. Following collaborations with many of  Australia’s major musicians, producers and songwriters she is seen to comfortably command the stage of Sydney Opera House Concert Hall with Sydney Symphony Orchestra, her band members, back-up singers and a Live at the Sydney Opera House album release, celebrating her affinity with this local musical icon.

This concert marked the future-soul Stupenda’s fourth foray into performance with full symphony orchestras. Fourteen of her songs with signature searching groove and secure vocal fireworks were solidly arranged to provide contrast and proof that musicians from ‘classical’ and other genres blend brilliantly together, with shades of expression virtuosically rendered being the priority.

layered, sparkling arrangements by Alex Turley were here directed dynamically throughout with precise, consistent harnessing of elements by conductor Nicholas Buc. The new vogue versatility of the Opera House’s main stage, now also maturing nicely was a venue sans pareil, its body shrouded in black fabric flats, its inner sail shell brilliantly shivering with synergy for the the music in a light show from Matthew Tunchon, Silver Bullet Projects and Andre Vanderwert.

Andrew Bruce’s solid musical direction kept the set by orchestra-band and Ngaiire’s band in fluid, easy conversation. Her songs were presented as if they were always intended for this immense scale and plethora of textural emphasis. Bruce’s involvement in Godtet, alongside Ngaiire’s drummer Tully Ryan, made for a wonderful warm up to the event and more proof of SSO’s (or any orchestra’s) attractive crossover and collaborative potential.

Above: Ngaiire in elaborate costume performing with SSO. Here also pictured with musical director, and Godtet member Andrew Bruce on keyboard. Photo credit Jordan Munns.

Godtet is a group whose modern jazz or semi-improvised atmospheres will make you crave more after first or even repeated hearings. Bassist Jan Bangama (of local band Boy and Bear) and supersubtle feel-enhancer Dom Kirk on percussion joined the legendary drum kit layer of Tully Ryan and David Rodriguez’s eloquence-in-fragment on guitar.

These experts, whose undulations were so effectively lit in the space spoke in a tight but accessible mesh with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Bruce’s emotive ‘cadenza’ on acoustic grand piano towards the conclusion of the set was a total lesson in less-is-beautifully-more and that a single line so well contoured is breathtaking.

Ngaiire’s set contained drama, a collection of comments and tales about souls surviving and some powerhouse vocals over the orchestral tapestry that extended her songs to a stratospheric level. In elaborate, opera-worthy costumes and confident interaction with her band, slick back-up singers and the classical band, her set combined elements of all chambers within the Opera House’s greater venue rolled into one. Opera, drama, chamber music intimacy, contemporary experimentation and playfulness were rolled into one huge chunk of storytelling.

Preceded by a touching cultural pairing of the Gadigal Welcome to Country representative and Ngaiire’s PNG background, the joint excellence of this singer’s directness and the SSO’s warmth of sonic adventuring included sections for SSO alone. The Prelude (written by Alex Turley) and Interlude (by Aaron Choulai Tenenbaum) sections of instrumental music, reflecting any operatic or balletic sequence seen ot The House, were svelte segues to the lyrical moments and a chanced to rejoice in the amplified, opened up SSO. These songs without words also featured impressive soloist contributions, especially from oboe and cello.

Hearing Ngaiire’s numbers maintained the spellbinding clarity of her intonation and necessary communication of killer real-life lyrics. The orchestral support with the capability for full brass chords, strings as a rhythm section or sustained shifting sands foundation and progressively used percussion. These features  presented some big picture, big band blends full of a range of shapes at all times.

Beautiful tone-poem moments such as Fall Into My Arms and Fireflies cemented the contribution of these hits to our local music, now in a successful big-music collaboration mileu. As a special treat, Ngaire’s theatricality and ability to create comment with eclecticism went next level with her many-time collaborator Paul Mac adding layers on the Concert Hall organ. This was a magical and important element of the event, and successfully opened up every part of the venue, turning its traditions on their heads, and turning many heads from several musical backgrounds.

The big, warm sibling of Ngaiire’s 2020 Opera House Forecourt concert for The House’s 50th Birthday celebrations, this was a significant event and a night dripping with musical talent, shades of feeling and a diva’s heart of delivery-over quality-accompaniment gold. Hits such as Fall Into My Arms, Less I Know the Better and Once spoke to us with anthemic power in this package , even with audience singalong and waving of mobile lights.

Tracks such as Diggin, Glitter and House on a Rock lifted strengths towards Utzon’s inimitable venue-sky, and Glorious proved to be ten times that of the title with vocal elaboration and power befitting any Opera House guest. This special musical night flew by. Wherever the world sees Ngaiire fly in future, we hope that like another Stupenda, she remembers to call Australia home at times for reunion concerts featuring her beacon-like voice and  local orchestras.

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