Luca Manghi is in rehearsal week for tonight's Flautissimo concert, one of the regular chamber music evenings sponsored by Auckland's Dante Alighieri Society. The dapper flautist is Italian-born and says he came to New Zealand 10 years ago to have a bit of fresh air away from Europe.

There must have been something special in our troposphere as he stayed on to become a treasured contributor to this country's music scene.

Being Italian, Manghi cheerfully admits that "opera is as much part of our daily life as religion," and tells me how he joined Parma's opera house orchestra as a teenager.

"I remember playing for the 70th birthday of the great soprano Renata Tebaldi and, when she came on stage, I almost fell out of my chair," he laughs. "It was as if I'd seen the Madonna and, right away, I became a devoted opera fan."


In New Zealand, Manghi is often enlisted to swell the ranks of Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra or the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, playing Zemlinsky with the APO last week, and joining the NZSO for its 2015 Wagner Gala. He and his partner, pianist David Kelly, founded the Dante Alighieri Chamber Music series four years ago to provide an opportunity for more chamber music in Auckland.

As a soloist, Manghi's happiest, one suspects, going Baroque with Rita Paczian's Bach Musica NZ.

"I'm not sure whether playing this music with a golden flute seems quite right," he says. "But when I retire, I'll have the time to master a Baroque traverso instrument.

"My own wooden flute is rather low in pitch for modern tunings. Intonation is good when the atmospheric temperature's right, but it's hard to be that warm in New Zealand concert venues."

Manghi's Quays CD, released by Atoll Records in 2012, is a gem. It combines the music of the two countries he calls home: New Zealand, with works by Gillian Whitehead, Michael Norris, Ben Hoadley and Chris Adams, and Italy, drawing in Scelsi, Pilati and Ferrari.

New Zealand music "reflects my idea of this country," he tells me. "You can sense the spaces, the skies and, being a flute player, the birds."

He singles out Gillian Whitehead, whose Hineraukatauri for flutes and taonga puoro, included on the Quays album, can be also be sampled on YouTube.

Manghi was also one of a trio providing music for Carol Brown's dancers in Whitehead's Out the window breath bone feather, at the Pah Homestead for the 2015 Auckland Arts Festival.

"Gillian guided us through the improvising of the piece so beautifully," Manghi remembers. "It was such a liberating experience."

"The society is keen to promote language and culture so we make sure there is always some Italian connection."

Kiwi rugby legend Sir John Kirwan is the society's president, having been a supporting member for a number of years. The fluent Italian speaker holds NZ and Italian passports and his wife, Fiorella Tomasi, teaches at its Dante Italian School.

Tonight that Italian connection comes through music by Giulio Briccialdi (1818-1881) and Ernesto Kohler (1849-1907), both celebrated Italian flautists, even if Kohler spent most of his career in Russia. Manghi and his three flautist colleagues, Clare Penny, Christine Kim and Tjasa Dykes, tackle Kohler's ambitious Grand Quartet.

He runs through the work, movement by movement, likening it to a symphony. The second movement, "a bel canto aria with accompaniment," sounds as if it might have the spirit of Bellini and Donizetti in its pages.

Set in the Dilworth Senior College Chapel, a quirky 1959 piece of architecture, described by Peter Shaw as "riffing on aspects of Selwyn Gothic," Flautissimo promises to be a concert with a difference.

What: Flautissimo
Where and when: Dilworth Senior College Chapel, 2 Erin Street, tonight at 7pm