Australian soprano Alexandra Flood and her compatriot, pianist Alex Raineri have been invited to compete in the live rounds of the 2018 International Hugo Wolf Competition. The prestigious Stuttgart-based competition – focused on Lieder, the French mélodie and other national forms of art song – is frequently seen as a stepping stone for young singers and pianists to launch international careers. Long the majority preserve of German speakers, Flood and Raineri, who will compete against 37 other hopeful couples next month, have been advised that to date they are the only all-Australian pairing to make it through to this stage of the competition.

Alexandra Flood in concert in Mallorca

“As is the case with most information in modern life, we found out via email,” Flood tells Limelight. “It was very early in the morning Melbourne time and it was a very nice spot of news to wake up to. I actually first found out by reading an excited message from Alex, in which he simply wrote ‘OH MY GOD’!”

Flood, born on Phillip Island in Victoria, and Brisbane-born Raineri met in 2015 when both were featured artists at the Bangalow Music Festival run by the Southern Cross Soloists. The soprano – a former Limelight Rising Star – relocated to Europe in 2014 where she’s worked steadily at important venues including as a young artist at the Salzburg Festival, making her mark in roles from Blonde in Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Bregenz to Violetta in Amsterdam and Norina for Opera Krakow, alongside Polish baritone Mariusz Kwecień. Australian audiences last had the chance to see her earlier this year as Jemmy in Victorian Opera’s acclaimed William Tell.

Raineri, a former winner of the Kerikeri International Piano Competition and the Australian National Piano Award has performed with the Queensland, Tasmanian, Darwin and West Australian Symphony Orchestras and is now a core member of SXS where a recent concert with Flood as guest artist was a sold-out affair. “I’m really looking forward to shifting from a chamber music setting to working with Alexandra in the context of a more musically intimate duo partnership,” Raineri says.

Alex Raineri

Many stars had to align for the pair to enter the Wolf Competition, which like many international contests requires candidates to submit a recording for initial consideration. “Having studied German Lieder as part of my degree at the Hochschule für Musik in Munich, the Wolf Competition was well known to me. It was a matter of the right timing and the right partner,” says Flood. “Knowing we were going to have some time to work together this year, Alex and I started talking about applying. We planned a recording session, rehearsed, decided on our extensive competition repertoire (almost 30 songs!), collected the relevant biographies and forms and four months later, here we are.”

In fact, the pair had just a 24-hour window with Raineri flying down to Melbourne to put together their video entry, which featured music by Schubert, Wolf and Strauss. “We wanted to find works that were musically and emotionally appealing to both of us, whilst also displaying the breadth of what we have to offer as a duo,” Raineri explains. “Wolf’s Verbogenheit and Schubert’s Fruhlingsglaube are both beautifully set texts, which comment on the inner psychosis on the protagonists, representing rapturous longing and hesitant optimism respectively. Our Strauss selections were two songs from the Five Lieder Op. 48, the first work that we performed together back in 2015.”

Tricky though the timing was to get their entry together, getting to Stuttgart may well have proved trickier, were it not for some generous philanthropic support. “We were overwhelmed with the positive response and desire from the music community to assist us,” says Flood, explaining how the Lieder Society of Victoria, the Robert Stolz Viennese Music Society and the Youth Music Foundation came onboard, along with several private donations. “We are also waiting on the outcome of a few grant applications, so fingers crossed.”

Australian audiences can catch Alex Raineri in solo recitals in Brisbane and Melbourne this November and as curator and performer for six concerts (including multiple premieres of contemporary pieces) at Brisbane Music Festival in December. He also also releasing a pair of solo albums – Transfigurations and Inventions – which will include six world premiere recordings.

Alexandra Flood as Violetta. Photo © Jeroen van Zijp

Flood will be harder to catch at home, but she has gala concerts coming up in Lisbon, Minsk and Lucern, will be performing Gretel in Hänsel und Gretel in Germany, and will be competing  in the International Bordeaux Médoc Singing Competition in November. She will also be making her first studio recording of Italian Art Song by Franco Alfano in Germany with Deutschland Radio.

Assuming all goes to plan, the pair will come together again for the Wolf Competition in Germany this September. “The world of competing outside the solo piano sphere is quite unknown to me, but I look forward to a competitive standard which inspires the best from both of us,” says Raineri. “It’s a huge honour to be the first Australian duo accepted into this competition and I look forward to flying the flag!! [Do we have] a secret plan to win? We will distract the other duos with Tim Tams…”

“The competition will be fierce, I am sure, but if our objective in Stuttgart is to fully immerse ourselves in Lied culture and learn as much as we can about the art form, we will leave as winners regardless of the outcome,” reckons Flood. “Otherwise, yeah, Tim Tams.”