Tarja: Act 1

The ex-Nightwish star live in Brazil.

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There’s nothing the prog world loves more than a bit of drama, and Tarja Turunen delivers it by the bucketload both on stage and off. It’s been seven years since the soap opera-worthy fallout between the Finnish soprano and her not-so-merry men of Nightwish, and while that had fans of symphonic prog concertos watching the sequins and feathers fly both parties have settled into a truce: the band subsequently took a more metallic yet bewilderingly fantastical path on last year’s Imaginaerum; their former leading lady has survived the aftermath by going it alone.

It is said that the caged bird won’t sing, and while Turunen might have belted out the tunes while with Nightwish, her solo output has seen her less restrained and experimenting with all the styles her versatile range allows: everything from collaborations with rock gods Scorpions to medieval musical merriment with Van Canto via Marillion-style ballads.

Three adored and courageously uncompromising full-length solo albums in and we come to this, the long-awaited live album and DVD. Act 1 was recorded over two nights in the Teatro El Circulo in the city of Rosario, Santa Fe, in her adopted homeland of Argentina. The setlist runs the gamut, from her more pompous compositions (Anteroom Of Death, with which she opens the show with typically over-the-top flair), to stripped- back rock anthems such as Dark Star and My Little Phoenix.

When she comes into her own she truly shines, and beautiful ballad Into The Sun really raises the goosebumps. That said, live albums highlight every weakness and flaw and at times Turunen still displays too many moments of the unhinged diva, the voice soaring beyond prog perfection and into an am-dram cacophony. Add to that the covers of Bon Jovi’s Living On A Prayer and Whitesnake’s Still Of The Night, which smack of the crazy-lady auditions that plague TV talent shows, and Act 1 falls slightly on the side of uncomfortable car-crash listening.

However, Turunen is undeniably an astonishing talent. When she plays it down, as on the sumptuous Lost Northern Star and 2011 single Underneath, or beats Nightwish at their own game with an impeccable rendition of Gary Moore’s Over The Hills and the chart-topping Nemo, then we’re transported to the Teatro El Circulo to join in with the standing ovation she deserves.

Every first act surely leads a second or third before the final curtain falls, and this recording gives us a tantalising glimpse at the heights Turunen is capable of scaling. Let’s hope the interval between this and Act 2 is not a long one.