Jazzed-up Puccini by Sax Four Fun delights shoppers in a casual atmosphere

Georgina Benison – 
Photos by Khalid al Busaidi – 

The Education and Outreach division of the Royal Opera House Muscat were getting out of breath at the weekend with their complementary – and complimentary – presentations of wind instruments. On Saturday, the latest recital of ‘Lunch Music’ at Opera Galleria was given by the Italian Quartet, ‘Sax Four Fun’. To say it was classics jazzed up would be an understatement. This was improvised jazz with a capital J, on well known operatic arias, played by some of Italy’s best saxophonists. They approached at 12.30pm from a far corner of the gallery, playing a repeated jazz riff which made surprised shoppers stop in their tracks. Once on the temporary stage in the court, the four musicians played a beautiful arrangement of ‘Un Bel di Vedremo’ from ‘Madama Butterfly’. The popular melody was played on silky soprano by Stefano Menato, then echoed through the voices.

Saxophones sound jazzy no matter what they play, but each classical number launched into fully-improvised interpretations after an initial statement of the tune. “Quando men vo’” from La Boheme, so evocative and haunting, was followed by a wild solo on alto. The beloved theme from Tosca, ‘E lucevan le stelle’ was clearly recognisable in its popular-style arrangement. After the Puccini Entrees, on-lookers were treated to some original compositions from members of the ensemble. Alto saxophonist and composer, Fabio Petretti’s ‘TerzetTango’ speaks for itself, composed firmly in the 21st century. There were two originals by tenor player, Fiorenzo Zeni. ‘Impronte Virale’ was a lively, bluesy number featuring tenor sax, while ’Impressioni d’Amore’ included rattling the instruments’ keys, bird-song and aleatoric repeated riffs, unsurprisingly featuring virtuoso tenor solos .

‘L’air des Clochettes’ from Delibes’ ‘Lakmé’ had rich, lush harmonies followed by swinging alto solos. Having just seen Borodin’s ‘Prince Igor’ at the Opera House, it was fascinating to hear Sax Four Fun’s tight, four-part harmony arrangement of ‘Stranger in Paradise’ hot off the press. It featured Giorgio Beberi’s baritone walking-bass over a very funky rhythm! It seemed Petretti had teamed up with Verdi in ‘Viva Verdi’, opening with a long, slow tenor intro, while Johann Strauss’ style was unmistakeable in the jaunty Barcarola from his next opera of the season, ’A Night in Venice’!
The Finale was surprising: Puccini’s ‘O mio babbino caro’ is usually plaintive and melancholy, but a fine alto sax solo from Stefano and fellow musicians, followed by a light, jaunty version of the theme turned it into a credible Jazz Standard. They left as they had appeared, freely improvising to some riffs as they moved through the crowd and into another world which we were lucky enough to have glimpsed, for just one hour.