There are many who could not envisage enjoying an evening in which a specialist Baroque orchestra attempted to perform over a foreground of acrobats undertaking breathtaking leaps, flights, swings and falls. Yet this is the third time the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra (ABO) has combined its historically-informed resources with contemporary circus outfit Circa, and a packed audience in Sydney had clearly come back for more of this fusion.

Circa
© Keith Saunders

I first saw Circa's artistic director Yaron Lifschitz combine serious music with his troupe in 2013 when the Debussy String Quartet gallantly played Shostakovich in the midst of acrobatic action. Now, the ABO's Paul Dyer has constructed a 21-work pasticcio of music from Naples, Florence, Rome and Venice by composers known and unknown – from Corelli to Landi and two Anonymous – and Lifschitz says he's attempted to create “a lost Fellini movie” around it.

Bravest man of the night, though, would have to be the Milanese baritone Renato Dolcini, flying all this way to be potentially outshone. In fact, he was as Felliniesque as anyone, suavely styled and coolly heroic in singing uninterrupted as the Oohs and Aahs of the audience responded to amazing feats occurring all around him. For his efforts, he was rewarded with a clear field for Vivaldi's "Gelida di ogna vena" from Farnace, with its borrowings from the composer's L'Inverno, when he revealed the benefits of his early training with Cecilia Bartoli.

Renato Dolcini
© Keith Saunders

It was almost impossible to identify the music being played as the program, with some wonderfully learned notes, was unprinted for COVID reasons. But it was pleasing to have confirmed after the fact that the Anonymous' Tarantella del Gargagno was the standout in the folksy Neapolitan bracket; and that the other Anonymous' Pizzica di San Vito was a dance traditionally done by two men together, one pretending to be female!

Does the Circa troupe of 13 attempt to respond to such associations, or even to the rhythms of the music? Certainly the breakneck speed of the violins or the calmer sounds of the theorbos influenced their pace – and each acrobatic set was fitted to each work's duration. But just as the acrobats took turns showing off their skills, the demands of the music meant that concert-mastering was spread around four violinists: Shaun Lee-Chen, Matt Bruce, Ben Dollman and Matt Greco. This underlined for me areas where musicians and acrobats have surprising affinity. Both require astounding precision, great feats of physical control and, when one man is carrying four of his fellows, a command of balance that is surely only matched by the needs of an orchestra.

Circa
© Keith Saunders

Included as a character by Circa was a would-be conductor. After losing his fight with a recalcitrant music stand, he attempted to wield his baton in earnest. The band was unimpressed, responding positively only when a woman took over. As the baton passed back and forth, the precision with which the ABO responded appropriately was evidence of the skills of Dyer, the real conductor.

*****