Australian countertenor Max Riebl has died at the age of 30 on Saturday 30 April of cancer.
Over the course of his career as a countertenor from Melbourne, Riebl made a significant contribution to Australian early and contemporary music. He studied baroque performance in Switzerland, at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and his career spanned the world’s concert halls, from opera houses to clubs and festivals. Riebl worked nationally with Pinchgut Opera, Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, the Song Company, Orchestra Victoria, and Adelaide Baroque and performed in Australia’s premier concert halls including Melbourne Recital Center and Sydney’s City Recital Hall. His international career highlights included performances at the Vienna Concert House, Musikverein and the Royal Albert Hall. Reviewers described his voice as luscious, divinely bright, mellifluous and otherworldly.
A versatile singer, Riebl recorded albums with Australian jazz/funk band The Cat Empire, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and featured in the soundtrack for the critically acclaimed Australian film Remembering the Man.
Until 2021, Riebl had a full performance schedule whilst living with cancer. His final social media post on April 28 summed up his career and expressed his hopes for the future:
“Hundreds of solo shows around the world. Orchestras, Operas, Renaissance ensembles, Evensong, cabaret and theatre. Spectacular venues. Thousands of hours of practice, radio interviews, photo shoots, extraordinary musicians. Hundreds of hours of travel, uncountable pieces learned and sung. Dozens of competitions. Thunderous applauds. Silence and contemplation. Recording sessions. Sleepless nights. Hotel rooms. Loneliness. Laughter. After parties. Tension. Freedom. Bach, Monteverdi, Vivaldi and all things contemporary. Airports. Sacrifice. Sets, costumes, suits worn to a thread and stained with sweat. Difficult to quantify. Difficult to understand. An intense, unbearable and mesmeric series of experiences and memories. Some of the greatest and most honorable people I have known. You know who you are and I’ll never forget you.
“To those unaware, I have been diagnosed with an incurable cancer. The fight has been brutal and relentless and current symptoms make performing and touring impossible at this time. Nothing is set in stone, miracles happen, but for now, thank you for your support, your kindness and appreciation. May the music go on and may the musicians of Australia continue in their brave pursuits, against the odds. With Love. Max”
Riebl’s passing is greatly mourned by his family and friends. Musicians around Australia paid tribute to his contributions to the music world.
Paul Dyer, co-founder and artistic director of Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Choir said:
“Max was my friend with the voice of an Angel.”
Dyer shared: “I first met Max when he was 16 years old whilst working with the Boy Trebles at his school in Melbourne. … I worked with him and mentored him from age 17.” Dyer introduced Riebl to American singer/guitarist Eva Cassidy and along with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra recorded her version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.. “Little did I realize that Max would die of cancer at the same age as Eva, both singing this beautiful song . Max was loved by the ABO choir in a special way. He performed hundreds of concerts with us over 13 years. His last words to me recently were, ‘Paul, it’s been an honor’.” Dyer will play at Riebl’s funeral service.
In a social media post, friend of Australian Brandenburg Orchestra Alexander Freeman described “Max Riebl was nothing short of an enigma. A strong and charmingly confident yet sensitive artist, his voice was supremely crafted, rich and beautiful. … Despite his enormous talent, his main devotion was to his family and friends. Max, you’re a massive loss to all who have known you. You can’t be forgotten, to the contrary your legacy will be the inspiring and humbling strength you showed to the end, which came far too soon. To those who didn’t know Max, please listen to this rendition of a famous song that inspires hope — performed with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra”.
According to Antony Pitts, artistic director of the Song Company: “Max Riebl sang with us for just a short time, but in that time demonstrated both excellence in his unique artistry and also an equally beautiful sense of commitment”. Pitts shared his favorite memory : “I remember the sweet smile he’d give me after singing his cover version of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill, at least that is, when we’d done a good job that night.”
Pitts concluded the statement: “Our hearts go out to his family. May the precious love they shared, and about which Max spoke openly and beautifully, sustain them through the days ahead.”
And for Erin Helyard, Artistic director of Pinchgut Opera: “Max Riebl will be counted among the great countertenors. He was a singer of translucent, burnished tone and vivid, athletic coloratura.”
Riebl is survived by his wife and two young children.
EDITOR’S NOTE: 3 May 2022: This article was updated to include additional reflections from Paul Dyer. It also amended the reporting of the gender of Riebl’s children.