It’s been a while. As Australians continue to deal with the onslaught of 2020, parts of the arts industry are slowly, carefully, tentatively starting to put performances on once again. I haven’t seen a live performance in almost six months, so it was with both excitement and some serious trepidation that I came to this concert, Wonderland – An Evening of Classics, the first in QPAC’s new QPAC Unlocked series.

QPAC Unlocked is a series of performances across the various areas of QPAC with a very limited number of socially-distanced audience members. As QPAC’s Chief Executive John Kotzas pointed out in his opening remarks for this concert, Queensland is in the happy position of having low enough numbers of COVID cases to be able to put on these kinds of performances.

Alex Raineri, Katie Stenzel and Samuel Piper. Photograph © Paul Dellit

QPAC also certainly knows how to entice audience members. I was keen enough for a performance full stop, but this opening concert upped the ante by putting the action not in the QPAC Concert Hall as you might expect, but in the neighbouring Lyrebird Restaurant, paired with a two-course menu and wine. With a maximum audience size of 54 socially-distanced people, the evening sold out quickly.

I’d wondered how the event would be put together – eating while the performance was going on would be a disservice to the talents of the musicians. The much more equitable solution was to begin with wine, an amuse-bouche, and later the main course, before Act 1 of the performance began.

Rather impressively, Queensland produce was the focus of both the menu (planned by QPAC Executive Chef Joshua Wilby) and the wine (paired by Peter Scudamore-Smith) – a local production for both music and food.

The first act began with the classic La ci darem la mano from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, sung with humour by both soprano Katie Stenzel and baritone Samuel Piper. Tasteful accompaniment was provided by Alex Raineri on piano; I saw him performing with another soprano late last year and there, as here, was impressed by his adept work supporting the vocal line. Solos for Stenzel and Piper by Donizetti and Rossini impressed (especially Stenzel’s powerful and perfectly controlled upper range). A trio of French works was a nice change of pace, before the first act concluded with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s If I Loved You from Carousel.

Act 2 (which followed dessert) began with a solo from Raineri of a virtuosic arrangement of No One is Alone from Sondheim’s Into the Woods, before a showcase of two works sung in English each for Stenzel and Piper. Piper’s lovely and rich timbre came to the fore in Vaughan-Williams’ Silent Noon and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific, while Stenzel sang another Vaughan-Williams piece (Dreamland), and captivated with the unusual choice of Kate Miller-Heidke and Iain Grandage’s Where? from The Rabbits.

The concluding encore piece was an amusing bit of gallows humour, yes, but perhaps it was a little on the nose. It was comedian Tom Lehrer’s I Got It From Agnes, which concludes with the lines “and if you will be my friend/then I might (mind you, I said ‘might’)/give it to you”. Nervous laughter abounded after this one.

Still, although I’m not sure about how wise the Lehrer was as a slightly nerve-wracking conclusion, this was a wonderful evening overall. It was a shining celebration of Queensland, showcasing both fine local food and wine, and starring talented local performers. We’re lucky to be able to have these concerts at all, so it’s an added bonus that the quality was so exceptional.

There’s plenty more to come in future QPAC Unlocked performances, so, if you’re ready, QPAC is back and ready to welcome you with a feast of fine performances.