Sol3 Mio – Villa Maria Winery December 20, 2015

“Three lads from Mangere, you say?”
“That’s right.”
“Singing opera?”
“That’s the one.”
“In a vineyard?”
“And you want me to review this for The 13th Floor?”
“The very fellow.”

We’re nothing if not catholic in our tastes here at The 13th Floor. A brace of tenors and a baritone would, ordinarily, fall outside my purview, but the somewhat awkwardly-monikered Sol3 Mio are slightly extraordinary.

So off I went, camera in one hand, notebook in the other, to Villa Maria Winery in Mangere, just south of the airport, for this year’s — last year was the first — Christmas In The Vines show. The setting, among the rows of next year’s Sauvs and Pinots Gris et Noir, was ideal; the show wasn’t far behind.

As the sun sank lower in the early-summer sky, opener Anika Moa’s set complete, the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra — we’ve got a better backing track this year, one of the lads remarked later — took their places and warmed up with five minutes of Waltz Of The Fairies from The Nutcracker. Moses Mackay, and his cousins Pene and Amitai Peti, then strolled onto the stage in three of the sharpest suits I’ve ever photographed, and launched into the first half of a set that was both surprisingly varied and of a consistently high quality. Christmas cheese like Jingle Bell Rock was countered with crowd-pleasing singalongs like Delilah or Maria (the West Side Story version, not The Sound Of Music). The operatic portion of the show came from Quando Men Vo, from La Bohème, the female line being taken by Amina Edris, Peni’s fiancée, Amitai’s girlfriend Isabella Moore also joining the trio onstage.

A half-hour interval punctuated the performance an hour in. After the intermission, the crowd-pleasers continued. The song selection was quite shamelessly, and most effectively, populist — White Christmas, Thats Amore, Volare, Silent Night. And, because this is New Zealand and the shadow of things hobbity is never far away, Ed Sheeran’s I See Fire in the encore.

An odd show, then, to be sure, but was it any good? It certainly involved a shift in gears for me — the previous week I’d reviewed Ed Sheeran, who also, unsurprisingly, played I See Fire, and photographed AC/DC. So Sol3 Mio represented a quite significant departure from the week’s earlier entertainment, from content to presentation. The three singers are, obviously, enormously talented vocalists, and their setlist was clearly intended to entertain more than to educate. And entertain they most assuredly did. The music was exquisite, the singing was better than three young chaps in their twenties have any business being able to pull off, and the audience — there were around seven thousand enjoying last night’s show, apparently — were glad to be there. It wasn’t just a concert, of course — it was an event. Seats were set out in a paddocked-off area in front of the stage, but maybe two-thirds of the audience were on rugs, or their own folding chairs, or just the grass, on the embankment that forms a near-perfect little amphitheatre at Villa Maria. Picnics were laid out on the grass, overpriced bottles of wine were consumed. And Sol3 Mio delivered. Not just outstanding singers, Peti, Peti and Mackay, much like opener Anika Moa, have an effortless charm and stage presence, bantering and bickering between themselves. They clearly enjoy what they do; their audience enjoyed it, last night, even more.

Which makes this morning’s news a little harder to report. The trio will be, at the end of March, as their upcoming tour concludes in Christchurch, be going their separate operatic ways, for at least a couple of years. I’d recommend seeing them while you can.

Steve McCabe

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Steve McCabe:

Set list
Intro: Waltz Of The Fairies
Winter Wonderland
Jingle Bell Rock
Little Drummer Boy
Quando M’en Vo
E Il Sol Dell’Anima
O Holy Night

Dream Chaser
Silent Night
White Christmas
Beauty And The Beast
Can’t Help Falling In Love
That’s Amore
Ten Guitars
I’ll Be Home For Christmas

Fix You
I See Fire
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas