Review: Sol3Mio in Wellington

BROTHERLY BANTER: Sol3 Mio’s Moses Mackay, centre, with cousins Pene and Amitai Pati
BROTHERLY BANTER: Sol3 Mio’s Moses Mackay, centre, with cousins Pene and Amitai Pati

Michael Fowler Centre, 8 March

If it's possible to become the biggest act in the country quietly, opera trio Sol3 Mio have done just that with a huge audience for their classical crossover.

Their self-titled debut album, released in November, has outsold Lorde on its way to going sextuple platinum.

Their show on Saturday night at the Michael Fowler Centre was the fifth of a tour that sold out so quickly a trio of arena shows have been added to mop up the extra demand.

They have achieved these giddying feats through a deft combination of pure vocal horsepower and a generous, inclusive humour.

The show opens with a selection of arias, delivered in a more austere style than what is to follow. They say it's to nail down their opera credentials, which are impeccable.

Pene Pati, the group's unofficial leader, receives raves for his work with the San Francisco Opera, and purists await his brother Amitai and cousin Moses Mackay in Europe later this year.

The opera provides the aesthetic high points, plugging their masterful voices into arias which showcase their range. The other half of the show is spent on more populist material, with sometimes cloying arrangements, preying on the audience's nostalgia glands.

The crowd in Wellington was younger and more cosmopolitan than opera's core audience, and there was a big effort to make Sol3 Mio a bridge to opera for newcomers.

One of the most worthwhile parts of the show was the introductions to the ancient songs, providing scene-setting to give context to the musical drama.

That seriousness is balanced by an easy-going, effortless humour.

In between, and often during, songs, they play for laughs.

It's a combination of slapstick, shameless self-promotion (the showy, funny mopping of brows with branded tea towels) and gentle ribbing. The jokes are often improvised but, perhaps because that form of comedy is so rarely encountered in 2014, it feels surprisingly fresh.

After an opera-heavy opening hour there's a 20 minute intermission before the trio return with what they dub a "chill out" section, featuring renditions of pop songs both timeless (Cohen's Hallelujah) and tired (My Way).

It peaks with a crowd-sung take on The Sound of Music's Edelweiss which is unexpectedly deeply affecting.

That swing between comedy and naked emotion - Tell My Father had Mackay welling up - is like nothing else I've encountered on a New Zealand stage. A large part of their genius comes from expertly maintaining that balance between the songs' raw emotion and a gentle, inclusive banter .

After a proving their musical dexterity on guitar, piano and double bass, they ramp to a conclusion with Nessun Dorma and a beatific We Are Samoa, by which point it was clear this first Wellington show was on its way to becoming a triumph.

The tour shows that while this crowd might be older, they remain vast and eager. Sol3 Mio, with their perfectly pitched combination of schmaltz, sincerity and extraordinary singing, prove that a well -pitched and staged performance can pack houses with a vast audience the youth-focused music industry frequently neglects.

The album is shortly due for release in the UK and Australia. There's every reason to believe Sol3 Mio will be received as well there as they were here tonight.