No doubt about it, Christine Brewer is a trouper.

Replacing an indisposed Deborah Voigt at extremely short notice, the American soprano sang Richard Strauss and Wagner in Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Diva concert.

Four Strauss Lieder offered the sort of repertoire with which Brewer feels extremely comfortable, even though the voice has not quite the lustre of a singer in her prime.

The opening Befreit had a rhythmic looseness that might have fazed a less experienced conductor than Tadaaki Otaka, but smaller forces, including a delicately lyrical violin solo from Dimitri Atanassov, ensured that suitable rapture was dispensed in the following Morgen!


The passion that Brewer brought to the second verse of Wiegenlied was in keeping with a song which the singer feels is more than just a mother-and-child lullaby. A momentary glitch early on was forgotten as Strauss laid out orchestral enchantment all around.

Closing the evening, Brewer took on the great Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde, waiting on stage while the orchestra gave a stirring account of the Prelude to Wagner's opera.

In concert, with playing of this stature, one was even more aware of the finesse of the scoring and, thanks to the piece's extensive use on the soundtrack of Lars von Trier's recent film, Melancholia, it provided an effectively ominous introduction to Isolde's leavetaking.

For a woman who puts great store on building a rounded character throughout a staging of the whole opera, Brewer gave us a magisterial farewell, only slightly marred by the occasional blowsy top notes.

Completing the first half of the concert, Otaka had us on tenterhooks with the fluttering anticipation in the opening pages of Strauss's Death and Transfiguration.

The work's inevitable narrative soon took hold, with shapely woodwind playing and, at the other end of the decibel spectrum, a thrilling workout of the great Ideal theme.

Immediately after interval, before the tragedy of Tristan, Wagner's more modest Siegfried Idyll, despite smaller forces, brought forth just as volatile, if happier, emotions than the earlier opera.

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
When: Thursday