Wednesday, August 24, 2016
It will be no surprise that your alte Jungfer (pictured) is particularly fond of the music of Richard Strauss, having made my debut on Planet Earth just in time for a Met performance of Arabella. 12 years later, when I was permitted to select an opera for my first visit to that hallowed hall, it was Der Rosenkavalier. That Herb Graf production of Arabella (in English), which originally starred Eleanor Steber but also served as a vehicle for Lisa Della Casa, was retired just before I could have seen it, but I grew up with the Georg Solti recording on Decca, and it jumped to the front of my wish-list of operas to see (I played the Act I duet between Arabella and Zdenka till the LP wore out). I had to wait until Otto Schenk brought his usual hyper-traditional approach to the Met for Kiri Te Kanawa in 1983. I’ve subsequently seen several other productions, most recently in Budapest and at Wiener Staatsoper, but the one which most lingers in my mind was Marco Arturo Marelli’s for Oper Graz in 2008, a gorgeous production (he designs as well as directs) which captured the essence of the Ringstraße and the Prater without Schenk’s literal-mindedness. This week’s performance comes to us from last summer’s Münchner Opernfestspiele starring Kammersängerin and Parterre favorite Anja Harteros and Bayreuth’s latest Holländer, Thomas J. Mayer, conducted by the eternally scrumptious Philippe Jordan. Speaking of Bayreuth, for those of you whose time zones prohibited sane listening hours for the live broadcasts of the first week of the 2016 Festspiele (or who just can’t get enough Wagner), all seven operas have been uploaded to my Mixcloud page. You know where to look!
I won´t mince words: the most important tenor chamber recital in more than four decades. Jonas Kaufmann, a week after the ill-planned ending of the Barenboim Festival, came back for a song session (mainly Lieder) with his longtime accompanist, Helmut Deutsch. And this time he sang a perfect programme with groups of songs by Schubert, Schumann, Duparc, Liszt and Richard Strauss. This was at the Colón on last Sunday´s afternoon and for the Abono Verde. He had the support from the beginning of an anxious, knowledgeable and packed audience, who grew more and more enthusiastic. What happened after the last note of Strauss was an euphoric delirium as an incredible string of seven encores, proof not only of generosity but also of joy and gratitude, allowed us to hear him in opera and operetta. Kaufmann had conquered Buenos Aires with the highest vocal art; he demonstrated that, here as in Europe, the audience discriminates and not only reacts to tenors with splendid high Cs. Kaufmann is a linguist: Munich-born, his Italian is quite good and his French admirable. His memory is faultless: I followed with a score the majority of the songs and his always clear diction never missed a syllable; and, like that ideal baritone, the young Fischer-Dieskau, he gives dramatic sense to all he sings without ever going overboard, and the musical values are exact, following carefully every nuance indicated by the composer. By the way, if you are intrigued by who sang an impeccable recital more than forty years ago, he was Nicolai Gedda, but he did it at the Metro, not the Colón. His stance is revealing: he stands close to the piano and he concentrates totally in the song, scarcely moving, giving occasionally emphasis with the hands with sober gestures. His timbre is particular, hardly the typical tenor; it is never totally open. Don´t expect from him the stratospheric highs of Alfredo Kraus, he of the purest bel canto. But Kaufmann is the consumate master of the chiaroscuro, his breath control is amazing, and no other tenor in my experience has his ability to sing "piano-pianissimo" a "normal" high note and grow it to "forte". A special paragraph on the Viennese Helmut Deutsch, the veteran and still wonderful accompanist, whose work throughout was simply ideal. Mind you, he was the accompanist for twelve years of Hermann Prey, the only baritone that could match Fischer-Dieskau. Later, at Munich, he was professor of vocal interpretation for 28 years and taught and accompanied not only Kaufmann but first-rate artists as Diana Damrau and Michael Volle. He has recorded over a hundred CDs. Nobody has told me but I have no doubt that the programme was designed by both singer and pianist. It was unfailingly right. The Schubert started with two joyful pieces: "Der Musensohn" ("The Son of the Muses", on a Goethe text), all merry jumping, and the famous "Die Forelle" ("The Trout"). Then, the delightful watery "Der Jüngling an der Quelle" ("The young man at the source"), sung subtly and softly (but his projection is such that you hear him well if you are in the Gallery). And that "Lindenbaum" ( "Linden tree") whose melody seems folkish but is part of the stark "Die Winterreise" ("The Winter Voyage"). Then came the Schumann group, a selection of the "Twelve poems by Justinus Kerner" Op.35, very attractive and with the best schumannesque style. Of the chosen five I would single out the dramatic power of "Lust der Sturmnacht" ("Lust of the stormy night") and the Romantic impulse of "Stille Tränen" ("Silent tears"). Kaufmann gave us each mood with moving sensibility. And then, the so special case of Henri Duparc, born in 1848 and by 1885 no longer a composer after having produced some of the most exquisite "chansons d´art"; a strange mental condition cut off his creativity until his death in 1933. The four sung by our tenor are gems: the exquisite "L´invitation au voyage" ("The invitation to travel") on that often quoted text by Baudelaire that includes "order and beauty, luxury, calm and lust"; the dramatic "Le manoir de Rosemonde" ("Rosemonde´s country house"); the "Chanson triste" ("Sad song"), which mirrors that feeling admirably; and "Phidylé", a love song. I have long believed that these songs had their definitive interpretations by baritone Gérard Souzay; now I realize that a German tenor can be just as persuasive. But the best was yet to come. Most know Liszt´s "Petrarch Sonnets" in their piano transcription, but they were born as elaborate, refined songs. You will never hear them in such subjugating interpretations as Kaufmann gave us: with unbelievable feats of subtle vocality he went higher and sweeter, and higher...until you were convinced that this was an unmatched experience. And then, the Strauss group, in which I have my sole complaint: "Ich liebe dich" and "Freundliche vision" were changed and we were not told. Anyway, the expansive writing let him free his voice in "Heimliche Aufforderung" ("Secret Invitation") and the final "Cäcilie", and the composer´s humour came forward on two Von Schack songs, Op.19, where the tenor showed that he had also mastered that style. The encores were a separate recital and destroyed any doubt that might be left. For once in your life you heard the final phrase of Bizet´s "Flower aria" from "Carmen" and the Verdian "Celeste Aida" as they are written, ascending to a pianissimo; but his Radames lacked no power. Then, Verista expression in "L´anima ho stanca" from Cilea´s "Adriana Lecouvreur"; a Refice song, "Ombra di nube". "Nessun dorma" from Puccini´s "Turandot", where the tenor showed the solidity of his means and the audience officiated admirably as choir in the fragment where Calaf doesn´t sing. Then, like a born Neapolitan, "Core ´ngrato" ("Catarí") by Cardillo. And finally, that glorious Lehár aria from "The Land of Smiles", "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" ("Yours is my whole heart"), as beautifully sung as Tauber. Please come back with an operatic recital with the Colón´s Orquesta Estable! For Buenos Aires Herald
Since it began last fall, “Trove Thursday” has regularly featured works from off-the-beaten track. However, today it instead offers Puccini’s Madama Butterfly with an unexpected heroine: the electrifying Julia Varady, seduced and abandoned by the suavely ardent Giacomo Aragall. A celebrated Mozart and Verdi singer, Varady didn’t seem to perform much Puccini. Wikipedia lists Liù as part of her repertoire but that might have been during the early years. Other than Cio-Cio-San and a late performance of Edgar for French Radio, her other major Puccini role was Giorgetta in Il Tabarro which proved to be more important to the soprano personally than musically. A new production of Tabarro and Gianni Schicchi was mounted at the Bavarian State Opera in 1973 and her Michele was Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau whom she married four years later. They were together until his death in 2012. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=3LB_Byr_oQ4 As far as I can discover, the vibrant Varady sang opera just twice in the US—Donna Elvira at the Met in 1978 and Fiordiligi at the Washington Opera with Daniel Barenboim in 1983. The Met announced her return in 1994 as Wagner’s Senta so I, of course, bought a ticket for the first performance—which I then immediately gave away when she withdrew a few weeks before the premiere. But by then I had already heard her under the most expected circumstances. In the fall of 1989, Armin Jordan and L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande were touring the U.S. with two soloists, Varady and pianist Martha Argerich. Both appeared in New York, for example, but most other cities just got one or the other. To my chagrin Argerich was announced for Cincinnati where I was living at the time, but I still obediently planned to attend as I knew she was an extraordinary musician unlikely to appear again locally anytime soon. But secretly I still hoped that I would be hearing Varady instead. When we arrived that Halloween evening, I discovered my “treat” was no trick—Varady’s name had been posted on the marquee outside Music Hall—Argerich had withdrawn! That evening the soprano sang a most unusual Vier Letzte Lieder, raw and intense, vigorous and inward; it was very different from the more ethereal interpretations I preferred at the time. But I was still extraordinarily grateful to have heard her just this once, particularly as I knew she had a growing reputation for canceling nearly as often as Argerich! Over the years I made do with Varady’s numerous commercial recordings and the many pirates that circulated of her live European performances, particularly her marvelous Verdi portrayals. My favorite of her collaborations with her husband is surely the most unexpected: Cimarosa’s delicious Il Matrimonio Segreto conducted by Barenboim in which her delightfully waspish Elisetta spars wittily with the sparkling Arleen Auger and Julia Hamari as her sister and aunt. Later in her career, the recording company Orfeo began releasing an essential series of operatic recitals of arias by Tchaikovsky, Verdi (two volumes), Richard Strauss and Puccini that I recommend to anyone interested in the soprano—most though are now out of print. Still active as a teacher, Varady turns 75 next month. Puccini: Madama Butterfly Bavarian State Opera, Munich 16 October 1980 In-house recording Cio-Cio-San: Julia Varady Suzuki: Gudrun Wewezow Pinkerton: Giacomo Aragall Sharpless: Raimund Grumbach Conductor: Francesco Molinari-Pradelli “Trove Thursday” offerings can be downloaded via the audio-player above. Just click on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory. In addition, Butterfly, as well as Beethoven’s Leonore from last week, and all previous fare remain available from iTunes or via any RSS reader.
Thanks to the generosity of a parterre reader, “Trove Thursday” presents a rare recording from the famed Carnegie Hall series curated by Matthew Epstein to commemorate Handel’s tercentenary: Tatiana Troyanos and June Anderson in Ariodante conducted by Raymond Leppard. For more than 60 years, New York City has been fortunate to host organizations dedicated to showcasing prominent singers performing less-often heard operas in concert. From 1950 to 1970, there was the American Opera Society, and right after its demise Eve Queler founded Opera Orchestra of New York. Each season both groups would feature two or three operas, most often chosen according to the availability (and whim) of its featured stars. However, in the mid-1980s Epstein and Carnegie, partnering with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, attempted something different—an annual series of operas-in-concert focused on a single singer or composer—or both. The first season featured Marilyn Horne in three serious Rossini operas: a “pirate” recording of the 1982 opening night La Donna del Lago is still available from its posting here last fall. French operas by Offenbach, Thomas and Massenet starring Frederica von Stade followed, while the fourth and final season spotlighted rarely mounted operas by Richard Strauss. Handel’s 300th birthday fell during 1984-1985, and its three programmed masterpieces (with a bonus of Alessandro imported from Stephen Simon’s Handel Festival in Washington, DC) became among the most eagerly awaited events of the season. Horne’s first-ever Orlando opened the series and a recording of it can be found in a “Trove Thursday” posting from February. The legendary Semele with Kathleen Battle, Horne, Rockwell Blake and Samuel Ramey, presented on February 23rd, the actual birthday, was broadcast live on NPR, so recordings of it have always been easy to find. But this stirring Ariodante seemed to disappear, and until I listened to today’s superb-sounding recording I hadn’t heard it since the concert I attended over 31 years ago. Troyanos first sang the demanding title role written for the great castrato Carestini in 1971, replacing Shirley Verrett during the opening weeks of the Kennedy Center. Her wonderfully fresh and eager portrayal opposite a high-flying Beverly Sills was captured by a “pirate” and has long been easily available. Unfortunately, its much-cut and transposed musical edition makes the entire performance an unsatisfactory representation of this great opera. I recall two jarring aspects of that evening at Carnegie in January 1985, both attributable to Troyanos. Ordinarily when a female singer performs a male role in concert, she appears in a chic pants-suit, but Troyanos grandly entered instead in an elaborate concert gown. And while the rest of the cast sang from memory, she often had her head stuck in the score placed on the music stand in front of her. Even with this aid, she still got lost during one of her duets with Anderson madly flipping through the music to find her place! Ariodante remained in her repertoire for several more years; she sang it in Geneva and then at Santa Fe in 1987. Beginning in the early 1980s Troyanos also took on the title role of Handel’s Giulio Cesare (she had already recorded Cleopatra in that immensely lugubrious Karl Richter set years earlier). She performed Cesare in San Francisco, Geneva and in an ill-starred run at the Met opposite Battle. The last time I heard Troyanos in person was in another trouser role: a concert of Mozart’s Mitridate, Re di Ponto at Alice Tully Hall in the summer of 1992, about a year before her tragically premature death. That sadly off-form Farnace is not how I want to remember her. However, this absolutely note-complete Ariodante is a particularly gratifying souvenir of a fascinating artist. This opera’s rewarding title role, recorded by Janet Baker (also with Leppard), Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Anne-Sofie von Otter, retains its allure for star mezzos. Alice Coote sings it this fall in Toronto in Richard Jones’s Aix production, while Joyce DiDonato who recorded the work in 2010 with the late Alan Curtis returns to it next year for an extended world tour with The English Concert which visits Carnegie Hall in April. And Cecilia Bartoli who has never before sung a Handel hero appears as Ariodante at next June’s Salzburg Pfingsten Festival in a new staging by Christoph Loy. Handel: Ariodante Carnegie Hall 27 January 1985 In-house recording Ginevra: June Anderson Dalinda: Erie Mills Ariodante: Tatiana Troyanos Polinesso: James Bowman Lurcanio: Neil Rosenshein King of Scotland: Dmitri Kavrakos Odoardo: Frank Lopardo Orpheon Chorale Orchestra of St. Luke’s Conductor: Raymond Leppard “Trove Thursday” offerings can be downloaded via the audio-player above. Just click on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory. In addition, this Ariodante, last week’s Leonora and all previous fare remain available from iTunes or via any RSS reader.
Conductor Carlos Kleiber was born on July 3, 1930, in Berlin, where his Viennese father conducted the Berlin State Opera. The elder Kleiber, opposed to the Nazi regime and its restrictions on performances of modern musical works, left Germany in 1935 and moved his family to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Carlos Kleiber learned English from his American mother and from English-language schools in Argentina and New York. His father discouraged Carlos’ interest in music, so he studied chemistry at a college in Zurich, but he had begun to compose music at age 9 and by 20 was studying conducting in earnest. “What a pity he is musical,” his father wrote in a letter in 1954. Mr. Kleiber, who lived most of his adult life in Zurich surrounded by thousands of recordings and books, was fluent in six languages and had a strong interest in literature and politics. Mr. Kleiber died on July 13 2004 in Switzerland. As a conductor, he demanded double or triple the typical number of rehearsals. And he rarely announced what he would conduct in advance, deciding on repertory when he showed up for rehearsals. Despite his vast knowledge of the music repertory, he only conducted a handful of symphonies, concertos and operas. In my view, his somewhat limited conducting repertoire led to his amazing excellence. I treasure listening to his interpretation of the Brahms symphonies and a few symphonies by Mozart. He is amazing in leading Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. And one of his greatest strengths is the style he brings to the music on Johann Strauss. As one watches old rehearsals, you can see Kleiber’s whole body moving elegantly with the rhythm of a Strauss waltz, or with the music of Die Fledermaus. Let me show you how Carlos Kleiber conducted Strauss:
August 18, 1991. First performance at the Colón of the revival of Mozart´s "The Marriage of Figaro" in a new production by Sergio Renán. An Argentine-Spanish cast except for the Countess: a beautiful young American called Renée Fleming at the start of her international career. With a crystalline lyric soprano timbre and impeccable line, she proved to be a charming actress as well. Unfortunately, that was her only operatic role in BA. We missed her in such operas as Massenet´s "Thaïs" and Dvorák´s "Rusalka", but especially in Straussian parts (the Marschallin in "Der Rosenkavalier", Arabella, the Countess in "Capriccio"), for she was a leading interpreter of all the mentioned operas. It´s useless to speculate about the reasons, but the Colón has had strong ups and downs and established artists want reliable theatres. After two decades, she finally came back during the García Caffi years; however, it was for a recital. It was quite successful and varied, and the voice was still in good condition. And now she came back, inaugurating the so-called Abono Verde. This time the charm and the savvy are still there, but her career has entered the autumnal phase, as demonstrated by what´s happening at New York´s Met, her home for so many years: last season she didn´t sing a difficult opera but an operetta, Lehár´s "The Merry Widow"; and now she has announced her goodbye to opera, with May 2017 performances at the Met of "Der Rosenkavalier" (fortunately it will be seen here on the Met´s direct transmissions at the Teatro El Nacional organized by the Fundación Beethoven). In this recital she was admirably accompanied by Gerald Martin Moore (debut), an expert singing teacher who has worked with Fleming for many years (and with several other famous artists) and has prepared operas for the Met, Covent Garden, Opéra Bastille, La Scala, and such festivals as Glyndebourne and Aix-en-Provence. What a coincidence that his first name and his surname should be the same as those of the ultra-famous Gerald Moore, the greatest accompanist during golden decades. Anyway, G.M.M. gave precious support during the Colón evening. I have my reservations about some of the choices in the programme. First, I was sorry that there were no Lieder, not even from Richard Strauss. Second, I believe that singers in recitals should stick to their sexes: a woman should sing texts clearly designed for women, and a man those that are evidently masculine; self-evident, the reader may think, but often disregarded by artists; and there were several instances in this case. Third, she is a singer for joyful or melancholy music, but not for stark drama: the terrible content of "L´altra notte in fondo al mare", from Boito´s "Mefistofele", in which the mad Margherita , imprisoned, says that she was wrongly accused of killing her baby and her mother, needs a true tragedian such as Callas was. Finally, there was a bit too much Broadway in her gestures on certain pieces, in themselves rather crossover. A moot point is whether you like or not that artists should speak to the audience; I think it is a wrong trend, concerts are just that, music played or sung. She talked a good deal in a very American way (like Joyce Di Donato). She started with, yes, "Porgi amor", the initial aria of the Countess in "The Marriage of Figaro", in evident reminiscence of her Colón debut; the result was tasteful but the voice was not settled yet. Two Händel arias followed: a fast, humoristic one from "Agrippina", early and Venetian-influenced; and the lovely "V´adoro pupille" sung by Cleopatra in "Giulio Cesare in Egitto"; she did well in both. Then, two welcome Massenet items: "C´est Thaïs, l´idole fragile" from the homonymous opera (neglected by the Colón since 1952), and the sad "Adieu, notrre petite table" (with its previous recitative) from "Manon". She felt quite comfortable in both. Saint-Saëns wrote 120 songs but they are little-known; "Soirée en mer", strophic, on a Victor Hugo text, seemed to me beautiful and fluid; both artists were fine. And then, a tribute to that delicious 1930s singer, Yvonne Printemps: the sensual "Je t´aime quand même" from the operetta "Les trois valses"; in it Fleming waltzed, singing with abandon. The pithiest part of the night was the fine selection of Neo-Romantic songs by Rachmaninov, who deserve wider recognition; of the five songs I mention three: "Oh cease thy singing, maiden fair", an orientalised melody (I have the recording of tenor John McCormack); "Lilac" contrasts a fast piano segment with an airy soprano tune, and "Spring waters" is expansive and better-known as a Russian miniballet. Fleming was really good in all this group, her voice firm and brilliant. Apart from the Boito, the Italian pieces were light and though agreeably sung not idiomatic: "O del mio amato ben" (Donaudy), "Aprile" (Tosti) and "Mattinata" (Leoncavallo). I liked Fleming in the famous song "Estrellita" by the Mexican Manuel Ponce (the tune fits her like a glove) but she was over the top in "La morena de mi copla" by Carlos Castellano Gómez. Encores: lovely in the "Moon aria" from Dvorák´s "Rusalka" and melting in "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini´s "Gianni Schicchi", but not convincing in "I could have danced all night" from Loewe´s "My fair lady" (Julie Andrews was the right one for this). A nice sweet evening. For Buenos Aires Herald
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