Friday, May 26, 2006

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Things have settled down a bit since the free-for-all of the first Saturday or two after the Met season ended.

Some stations will be carryong the Metropolitan Opera's Volpe Gala.

Others are continuing with WFMT's Opera Stage Series (called by some European Opera), which this week will carry Wagner's Tannhauser, with Nina Stemme, Stephen Gould, Kristinn Sigmundsson, Dietrich Henschel, John MacMaster and Ulfried Haselsteiner, Ulf Schirmer, conductor. WICR and WMCE will be carrying, from the same series, a rebroadcast of Puccini's La Fanciulla del West from Covent Garden with José Cura, Mark Delavan and Andrea Gruber, Antonio Pappano conducting.

NPR World of Opera is airing a Glimmerglass performance of Haydn's Orlando Paladino with Lisa Saffer, Paul Austin Kelly, Danielle Martin-Floyd, Nicholas Phan, Troy Cook, John Tessier, James Valenti, Brenda Patterson and Craig Phillips Guido Johannes Rumstedt conducting. Some NPR stations will be carrying a performance from Berlin of Schubert's Alfonso and Estrella with Dorothea Röschmann, Kurt Streit, Christian Gerhaher, Jochen Schmeckenbecherj and Hanno Müller-Brachmann, Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting.

Tune in to WHRB for a nine hour Dame Joan Sutherland Orgy.

BBC Radio 3 airs a performance of Mozart's Il Re Pastore from the Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House, with Peter Bronder, Katie Van Kooten, Ana James, Anna Leese and Robert Murray, Edward Gardner conducting.

Radio 4 Netherlands offers Kraus' Proserpina with Alexandra Coku, Johanna Stojkovic, Silvia Weiss, Johannes Chum and Nikolai Borchev, Christoph Spering conducting.

Klara is carrying a performance of Bellini's Norma with Edita Gruberove, Sonia Ganassi and Zoran Todorovich, Friedrich Haider conducting.

France Musiques offers a Paris performance of Mozart's Nozze de Figaro with Christiane Oelze, Heidi Grant-Murphy, Lorenzo Regazzo, Christine Schäfer, Helene Schneiderman, Roland Bracht, Burkhard Ulrich , Eberhard Francesco Lorenz and Cassandre Berthon, Sylvain Cambreling conducting.

DR P2 is carrying a performance of Paisiello's Barber of Seville from Brussels with Stefano Ferrai, Elena Monti, Luciano di Pasquale, Giulio Mastrototaro, Filippo Morace, Nabil Suliman and Donal Byme, Rinaldo Alessandrini conducting.

MDR Figaro is rebroadcasting a performanc of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess from Washington's National Opera with Indira Mahajan and Angela Simpson, conducted by Wayne Marshall.

Norwegian stations NRK Alltid Klassisk and NRK P2 are both airing a performance from Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa of Vivaldi's Orlando Furioso with Ann Hallenberg, Elena Belfiore, Laura Aikin, Annarita Gemmabella, Christophe Doumaux, Vito Priante and Franco Fagioli, Alan Curtis conducting.

Radio Oesterreich International airs a performance from Vienna of Gounod's Romeo et Juliette with Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazon and Eijiro Ka, Bertrand de Billy conducting.

Sveriges Radio P2 will be carrying a performance of Puccini's Turandot with Turid Karlsen, Tomas Lind, Ann-Marie Backlund and Mats Almgren, Chritian Badea conducting.

WCNY will be reairing the Metropolitan Opera National Grand Finals Concert.

Dwojke Polskie Radio will be airing a performance of Massenet's Cherubin from Teatro Lirico Cagliari with Michelle Breedt, Patrizia Ciofi , Carmela Remigio, Giorgio Surjan , Teresa di Bari , Alessandra Palomba and Nicola Ebau, Emmanuel Villaume conducting.

Espace 2 continues with the Chatelet Ring, this week airing Siegfried with Jon Fredric West, Volker Vogel, Jukka Rasilainen, Sergei Leiferkus, Kurt Rydl, Linda Watson, Qiu Lin Zhang and Natalie Karl, Christoph Eschenbach conducting.

Radio Tre (RAI) will carry a performance from Milan of Monteverdi's Orfeo with Emanuela Galli, Mirko Guadagnini, Gloria Banditelli, Cristina Calzolari, Salvo Vitale, Cristina Calzolari, Matteo Bellotto, Vincenzo Di Donato, Annamaria Calciolari, Giovanni Caccamo and Makoto Sakurada, Francesco Micheli conducting.

Happy listening on this Memorial Day Weekend...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A new Don Giovanni

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni - Peter Mattei
Leporello - Gilles Cachemaille
Donna Anna - Carmela Remigio
Donna Elvira - Véronique Gens
Don Ottavio - Mark Padmore
Zerlina - Lisa Larsson
Masetto - Till Fechner
Commendatore - Gudjon Oskarsson
Académie européenne de musique d´Aix-en-Provence
Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Conductor: Daniel Harding
Virgin Classics 7243 5 45425 2 7

Harding's conducting is amazing. For me, he is now up there with
Oestman, Mackerras, Jacobs and Gardiner as one of the
preeminent Mozarteans of our time. He has the knack for
coordinating the recitatives with the set pieces to make one
narrative flow. There sometimes seems to be no caesura
whatsoever between the one and the other.

The one moment where I really found myself questioning this approach
was in the transition from the conclusion of the terrifying trio and
chorus culminating in the Don's damnation to the opening of the final
sextet. I could swear there was literally no break at all between the
final damnation chord and the opening chord for the sextet. I could
swear it was all one note with no space at all. I doubt there is any
sanction for making this musically continuous in any edition of the
score, but I'd be delighted to be proved wrong on this, because
everything else that Harding does is simply so captivating. One
has to be dazzled by the sheer sleight-of-hand on display.

He has also worked out every scintilla of the phrasing scrupulously
with each of his soloists. The quicksilver coordination of the myriad
cues in this sinuous approach and the subtleties of tempo and dynamics
flow perfectly but with a feeling of the utmost dramatic spontaneity
at the same time. Another surprising aspect to this reading is how
little of it is played for laughs. For one thing, Elvira's suffering
is presented absolutely seriously, for a change. The "forces of
darkness" aspect in this work are not laid on that forcefully (as in
the classic '53 Furtwaengler/Siepi/Schwarzkopf/Arie on GALA). But one
is never in doubt that this is a high-stakes drama where intense
suffering is involved. The straighforwardness, clarity and lack of
wallowing in this reading make the intense feelings painfully human
and real rather than overly melodramatic.

Mattei's Don is, if anything, even more multi-faceted than when I saw
him, undoubtedly due, in part, to the more mercurial conducting (at
the Met, we got stuck with Cambreling in the pit, which he was
(IMO) of his conducting must excuse me, but I really found
him badly de-energized, I'm afraid). In this set, Mattei is
particularly good at showing the lively sense of humor this character
has. At the same time, like the ingenious Siepi (on stage), Mattei is
excellent at limning the cruelty undergirding the humor. This is a
Don who is at his most amused when others are at their most
uncomfortable. Sometimes, it can be hairraising, but never
unplausible or over the top. Mattei's deft sense of true style never
leaves him. He is Siepi's truest successor, IMO -- and he is, in
addition, a baritone (unlike Siepi), who may therefore be closer(?) to
the way the original Don (a twenty-three-old youth) sounded......?
Sometimes, I wonder when I have heard such a complete assumption. Not
only does the voice "face" seem entirely apt, but when has the elusive
combination of the suave seducer and the cruel tormentor with an
deeply unsettling sneer under the smile ever been so tellingly depicted?

Harding and Mattei dominate this set, but the others are worth a word
or two. Cachemaille's Leporello continues being as stylish and
charming a reading as under Oestman. Again, he is not always played
for laughs either. But wit is not absent -- rather absorbed into the
true humanity of the role instead. Gens's fine Elvira, expertly
vocalized and painfully credible, completes a satisfying trio of
principals. It's a boon to hear a set where (as I always hope for)
the Don, Leporello, and Elvira make the strongest impression. They,
to me, are the chief pillars of the drama, and very few sets succeed
in placing the emphasis squarely around this three-sided tension that
frames Da Ponte's story.

I am not as taken with the other two women. While it is refreshing
to hear an Anna who is recognizably a lighter and a younger persona
than Elvira for a change, Remigio's Anna lacks the elegance and ease
of many of her colleagues. Larsson's Zerlina is somewhat preferable,
but she certainly takes a lot of time reaching her stride (although a
commercial release, this is based on a live performance). Some
audible tension and lack of flow mar her performance. Disappointing,
since I have admired her singing on other occasions.

Some have written of their admiration of Mark Padmore. He, too,
I feel, is uneven. Certainly, the "Dalla sua pace" is well sung,
with a cool, translucent tone and excellent line. But elsewhere (and
not just in the "Il mio tesoro"), more forceful utterances adversely
affect his pitch in the mid-range -- that is, he will attack certain
mid-range notes recognizably flat, and then, if given time inside a
note, the note will "click in" correctly. Pretty disconcerting.
Let one rather obvious example suffice: When opening the "Il
mio tesoro intanto", the ..."tan"... of "intanto" is attacked slightly
flat, and he doesn't really seem totally back in key until ..."to".
He's almost back in the saddle already for much of the second
half of the ..."tan"..., but the ..."to" is just that much more finely
tuned, and consequently a bit of a giveaway. This is an odd kind of
problem that might ultimately be due to too much tension. Hard to
say. It's a shame, since the voice itself is so lovely, and Padmore
really does his job in making Ottavio as human and well-rounded a
character as anyone else in the opera -- such a rare thing in an Ottavio.

As with other sets I've heard, Masetto and the Commendatore are not
given to the same bass (the same singer sang both parts at the world
premiere), which up-ends so many of the inspired parallels Da Ponte has
set up between the Don's confrontations with first one and then the
other. It also up-ends the vocal contrasts and parallels that seem
intended in Masetto's own confrontations with various characters (but
all this is for another "article"). Fechner's Masetto is
accomplished enough, but Oskarsson's Commendatore strikes me as
sometimes weak and tentative, which is unfortunate, considering the
masterly control shown by the other artists in the trio and chorus
encapsulating the Don's ultimate damnation.

I feel this set goes quite high in the Don Giovanni discography. For
one thing, its combination of potent conducting and a consistently
masterful trio for the Don, Leporello and Elvira already place it in a
very special class. The only sets that combine just this essential
quality alone are, I feel, the first of the two sets featuring
Furtwaengler/Siepi/Edelmann/Schwarzkopf ('53 [GALA] with Arie's
Commendatore instead of the past-it Ernster on the '54 [EMI]), the
Walter broadcast from the MET ('42) with Pinza/Kipnis/Novotna (even
though Kipnis has a few severe memory lapses) and the Klemperer
with the potent trio of Ghiaurov, Berry and Ludwig. Casting
throughout these three is exciting and strong, so the Harding cannot
compete with these.

However, I find the Harding just slightly more satisfying as a whole
than any of the others. And yes, that includes the Oestman, the
justly famed Glyndebourne, the Kubelik, the Fricsay, the Krips, the
Giulini and the Maazel (starring the magnificent Ruggero Raimondi).
These are all sets that I still much admire. But it's the combination
of so many positive assets together in the Harding that make it
slightly superior to these others (for me, anyway). Sure, there are
places where Oestman may be more sheerly beautiful, the general
consistency of ensemble in the Glyndebourne may be slightly greater,
and the same may be true of some of the supporting singers in the
Kubelik, and so on. But in the Harding set, the structure of the
drama and its arch is so clearly shaped and with such consistently
potent artists at its center that its virtues as a whole now surpass,
in my mind, many of these other sets.

Three cheers for Furtwaengler, Siepi, Walter, Pinza, Klemperer,
Ghiaurov -- and Harding and Mattei.

Geoffrey Riggs

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

ATTENTION! Verismo-era aficionados!

An alert here for Boito's sadly underappreciated masterpiece, Nerone. Premiered posthumously in 1924 after the composer's death in 1918, this work has been staged occasionally throughout the past century, but it is not yet a staple item. My feeling is, frankly, that one day it may become just that. I find that it carries strong emotional insights in its music into what it means to inhabit a world where horrible cruelty and incredible generosity exist side by side. That is just part of this work's tantalizing power.

Well, for me, the finest extant performance of this opera is the one featuring Picchi and Cavalieri, a "live" broadacast from the '50s. Fortunately, tonight, at GMT 0100/EDT 9:00PM, KCSC is airing this superb performance over the Web. I hope many of you can tune in. As always, I look forward to reading any reflections here on what you have heard.

Best to all,

Geoffrey Riggs

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Who's Airing the Volpe Gala and When?

We have been madly sifting the schedules (such as they are) for all the Met Stations. So far we have come up with the following additional listings for the Volpe Gala:

Tonight - WQXR and WUOT.

This Sunday and next - BBC 3 will be running it in two 2-hr parts.

On Tuesday night/Wednesday early morning - WNED (Tuesday Night Opera).

Friday Night (early Saturday morning) - KXPR will be running it as part of their Friday Opera.

Saturday, May 27th - the following will be carrying it as part of their regular Saturday Opera: CBC 2, KBYU, Espace Musiques, WOMR, XLNC1, WRTI

Friday, June 2 - WABE

Thats it so far. It looks as if some of the Met stations will be carrying it in their usual Saturday afternoon slots next week, but most stations don't have their schedules up yet that far ahead, so stay tuned....

I will update this info on the blog through the week.

UPDATE Friday 5/26/06: the stations listed in Purple are new listings since I originally posted this

Happy listening,

Saturday, May 20, 2006 - Part III

Here's even more of today's live offerings:

  • Dwojke Polskie Radio - Bellini's Norma, with Edita Gruberova, Zoran Todorovich and Sonia Ganassi; Friedrich Haider conducting.

  • Espace 2 joins NRK Alltid Klassisk in airing the Chatelet Ring cycle, but here we have Die Walkuere instead, again with Jukka Rasilainen and Mihiko Fujimura; joining them are Linda Watson, Peter Seifert, Petra-Maria Schnitzer and Stephen Milling, again under Christoph Eschenbach.

  • Radio Stephansdom - Or we can hear a classic performance from the Ring cycle at Wieland Wagner's Neu Bayreuth of the 1950s: Wagner's Siegfried with the young Wolfgang Windgassen, joined by Astrid Varnay, Hans Hotter, Paul Kuen and Gustav Neidlinger, all under Hans Knappertsbusch's gentle baton (1956).

  • WOMR - For those unable to catch today's earlier rerun, here again is the Opera Stage/European Opera presentation of Verdi's Ballo in Maschera at Carnegie Hall, with Salvatore Licitra, Michele Crider and Dmitri Hvorostovsky; Robert Bass conducting.

  • WDAV - Finally, at the end of today, you can catch a rerun of NPR World of Opera's presentation of Rossini's Viaggio a Reims, with Inva Mula, Sara Mingardo, Patrizia Ciofi, June Anderson, Raul Gimenez and Ruggero Raimondi; Maurizio Benini conducting.

Happy listening,


Saturday, May 20, 2006 - Part II

Here's more of today's live offerings:

  • WQXR - ALREADY STARTED(!), Master Mozartean Sir Charles Mackerras leads the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Chorus in Mozart's masterpiece, Clemenza di Tito, with Rainer Trost, Hillevi Martinpelto and Magdalena Kozena.

  • KBYU - A rebroadcast of this year's Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finals Concert.

  • NRK Alltid Klassisk - They begin their airing of the Chatelet Ring cycle, with Das Rheingold, featuring Jukka Rasilainen, Sergei Leiferkus and Mihiko Fujimura, under the baton of Christoph Eschenbach.

  • WABE - You can again catch the Opera Stage/European Opera presentation of Verdi's Ballo in Maschera at Carnegie Hall, with Salvatore Licitra, Michele Crider and Dmitri Hvorostovsky; Robert Bass conducting.

  • Still more to come! Again, stay tuned.

Happy listening,


Saturday, May 20, 2006

Here's a lineup of special live offerings for this afternoon:

  • DR P2, Latvia Radio Klasika, Musiq3, France Musique, RDP Antena 2, Radio Slovenia Tretji, and Radio Tre (RAI) - Verdi's Simon Boccanegra from Opera Bastille, featuring Carlos Alvarez, Ana Maria Martinez and either Neil Shicoff or Stefan Secco, depending on which source one trusts; Sylvain Cambreling conducts.

  • There is also another Simon Boccanegra over
  • Radio 4 Netherlands with Andrzej Dobber, Angela Marambio and exciting up-and-coming Alfredo Portilla in the cast, conducted by Ingo Metzmacher.

  • France Musiques - From last year, a Rome Opera performance of Rossini's Semiramide, with Darina Takova, Daniela Barcellona and Michele Pertusi, under the baton of Gianluigi Gelmetti.

  • You can again catch this month's superb Boris Godunov, a production based on the original shorter version, over
  • KLARA, with Jose Van Dam, Vsevelod Grivnov and Anatoly Kotscherga, conducted by Kazushi Ono.

  • NPR World of Opera - A performance of Schubert's Alfonso und Estrella, with Dorothea Röschmann, Kurt Streit, Christian Gerhaher, Jochen Schmeckenbecher and Hanno Müller-Brachmann, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.

  • Sveriges Radio P2 - A rerun of this season's broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera of Massenet's Manon, with Renee Fleming and Massimo Giordano, conducted by Jesus Lopez-Cobos.

  • The Opera Stage/European Opera series presents a Covent Garden Fanciulla del West, with Andrea Gruber, Jose Cura and Mark Delavan, under Antonio Pappano.

  • BBC Radio 3 - A rare chance to hear Vaughan Williams's Sir John in Love, with Andrew Shore, Jean Rigby, Alastair Miles, Marie McLaughlin, Sally Burgess, Nicholas Folwell, Robert Tear and others, conducted by Oleg Caetani.

  • We also hear the same Shak[e]speare story over CBC TWO - this time, Verdi's Falstaff from Vienna, with Ambrogio Maestri, Krassimira Stoyanova, Jane Henschel, and Daniele Gatti conducting.

  • More to come in a follow-up posting. Stay tuned.

Happy listening,


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

When's the next swan?

There was negative function at the Met's Lohengrin this past Saturday, May 6. The swan did not arrive for Lohengrin's first entrance. Remember Leo Slezak's quip when the same thing happened to him? "When's the next swan?"

Even in Robert Wilson's highly symbolic staging, there is still a solitary wing that appears along with Lohengrin for his "Nun sei bedankt" (Act I). Not this time. This time, our Lohengrin, newcomer Klaus Florian Vogt, walked on as a pedestrian without any wings. Instead, his singing had the wings: This may be the most effortless assumption of Wagner's Swan Knight in my lifetime. It is not as strenuously virile as some. It does not aspire to imitate the trumpet. There is not a hint of Siegfried or Tristan in the sound. But every note -- in fact, every word -- fills the entire auditorium with the utmost clarity and without a hint of strain. It is astonishing.

In Vogt, we hear a sound like a lyric tenor, but with a consistent fullness and ring worthy of a spinto -- a good spinto. He is never covered by the orchestra. At the same time, there are exquisite phrases of a deeply personal kind and also with juice and a real shine to the tone -- and with a liquid legato. Vogt's sound doesn't blast through the orchestra with sheer heft. It floats uncannily over everything. One is dazzled and disoriented listening to him. The tone is not merely extremely lovely. It also seems closer to the ear than common sense expects. -- And one is bewildered at how such a lovely, lyric instrument can project so unfailingly well. -- And it is unmistakably a tenor sound -- in fact, a high tenor sound -- in fact, an easy high tenor sound, with nothing that seems muscled up in the tone at all. The overriding impression is of incredible focus.

Just this once, we can easily view the character as a messenger from a magic land with just a hint of the exotic. This is not merely a function of the abstract elements in Wilson's staging. Vogt inflects the words and the tone to give an aura of someone in his own space, his own reality. Even when he spares Telramund's life at the end of Act I, "Ich schenk es dir" becomes an expression partly of gentle magnanimity -- as it did in Sandor Konya's reading -- and partly of abstraction, lost in the consciousness of a higher calling, to which he must be true. Killing a man already down is something he simply cannot do.

This meditative quality pervades everything he sings. It is his own mystery, and utterly true to Wagner's music. This also illuminates the words, and Vogt's immaculate diction and his poetic sensibility transfigure Wagner's verses, making them seem like the finest dramatic poetry. One is reminded of what Tito Schipa once said about transfiguring one's words into poetry when one sings: [paraphrase] "Imagine that one's words are falling gently on one's lips like manna from above". (Carlo Bergonzi sometimes had this quality.)

Most overwhelming on Saturday was Vogt's last act. Untiring, he found the fervor and warmth needed for his love duet with Elsa, and there was both personal hurt and loving concern for Elsa in his mounting dismay as he sensed that she was getting closer and closer to asking his name. He shaped the sorrowful words after finally killing Telramund with an inwardness that recalled the murky Jean De Reszke cylinder of 1901. And in the final scene, his Narration attained a spiritual quality. In total command of his instrument, he imbued phrase after phrase with a quiet feeling of reverence and love for Monsalvat. When singing of the dove that hovers over the Grail, Vogt delivered a sustained messa di voce on "Taube" that was both astonishing and deeply moving. From the Narration, we moved to a farewell to Elsa where profound pity for her dominated (here too, he was reminiscent of Konya).

For the most part, he had worthy colleagues. Karita Mattila's Elsa was completely up to expectations, tender and radiant, with phrasing and breath control that were exemplary. It was clear that she also thrives as an actress in the contained world of Wilson's production. When the full truth of who/what Lohengrin is finally dawns on Elsa in the Narration, all that was needed to convey the full burden of how she felt was one gesture from Mattila's arm and a slackening of the shoulders. We knew her life had lost all meaning. Genius.

The other performers may not have shown such dramatic genius, but, after all, the static world of Robert Wilson is frequently a detriment to some perfectly inspired performers. It can be a blessing or a curse depending on many different factors, which frequently have nothing to do with talent. But though the drama may not have lived as vividly in others as in Mattila, song triumphed. Rene Pape's King was as sumptuously vocalized as any King of the past generation, and Richard Paul Fink's Telramund was always in command of the music and always precisely in tune -- not easy in this role with its frequently tricky, jagged vocal line. Eike Wilm Schulte's Herald started out showing (some of) his age, but his vocal authority and musical assurance were a treat by the time of his big scene in Act II. Of Luana DeVol's Ortrud, the less said the better.

Philippe Auguin's conducting was marked by great sympathy with the phrasing of the singers and relatively lean textures. He kept the music moving cleanly and purposefully. The brass, though, experienced some clunkers along the way. An exception to his lean, purposeful reading was the Bridal Chamber Scene, where, with both Vogt and Mattila in their element and thoroughly warmed up, Auguin chose to elongate some of the phrases considerably. This spectator was grateful for the opportunity to wallow in some of the most luxuriant Wagner singing in recent memory (and perhaps Auguin was doing a bit of wallowing too?), but the tension in the scene dissipated somewhat as a result -- and the stilted staging here didn't help.

Plenty was said about the Wilson production, both pro and con, when it first opened with Heppner, Polaski and Voigt eight years ago. What may never have been mentioned was the degree to which the still poses of the cast, in this highly stylized presentation, seem to owe much to a distinct school of art many centuries old. Whether or not Wilson's production works well as theater, there does seem to be an attempt to conjure up an aura of the mediaeval world where Lohengrin takes place: In the visual art of mediaeval times, perspective had not yet been mastered. Thus, with all the undeniable profundity of theme and the sheer ambition in design (not to mention a timeless mastery over color), the human figures are still one-dimensional. They seem flat, with arms and legs and hands flattened out, assuming poses that are sometimes extremely artificial, primarily because the limbs have to "exist" in positions that cannot be presented in a perspective where hands and arms stand out from the torso. They must "exist" on the same plane as the torso instead. In the process, the hands and arms themselves are flattened out, with even a finger or two spread out in an exaggerated way because there's no "room" to show some hand or arm more naturally.

This highly self-conscious placement of limbs in mediaeval art is what Wilson's production vividly recalls. He seems to be giving us sequences of visual tableaus to present Lohengrin's story. It partly suggests a mediaeval tapestry and partly an ancient illuminated manuscript. Viewing a static tapestry like this one

Medieval Tapestry

gives one a sense of how the characters are presented in this Lohengrin.

But beyond that, it is the music that reigned above all else on Saturday night. We heard so much of it truly sung -- like seeing a dim painting that has been carefully cleaned. So much of this music is beautiful. And so much of it is vocally grateful. Vogt and Mattila make it seem so easy that one might almost think it takes less effort to deliver the lines sincerely and straightforwardly, experiencing the music's feelings from the inside, than to disfigure them with a thousand self-conscious phony accents and external explosions that render the music ultimately meaningless. But if that were indeed true, more singers would sing the essence of the music as these two do. Maybe, in a way, it may take less physical effort to avoid the phony cliches that second-raters trot out, but unfortunately, it evidently takes an even rarer mastery to sustain the natural flow of a Vogt.

Mattila has already established standards in the jugendlich repertoire unmatched by anyone else of her generation. So while she enthralled, one expected that. The real surprise was Vogt, in whom we recognized a Lohengrin of exceptional integrity and musicality from a virtual unknown. He is not on the Met roster for next season. But still, we can only hope that Vogt's Swan Knight last Saturday isn't his swan song there --

-- Oh, the next swan did come in, right on time in the last act, complete with the boy Gottfried. So Leo Slezak's time-honored question got an answer.


Saturday, May 06, 2006

Saturday, May 6, 2006

    Leading today's offerings are

  • Musiq3 - The Boris Godounov from the Monnaie, featuring Jose Van Dam, Anatoly Kotscherga and Vsevelod Grivnov, conducted by Kazushi Ono.

  • and

  • Espace 2 - A performance from Geneva of Mozart's Clemenza di Tito, with Charles Workman, Anna Caterina Antonacci and Joyce Di Donato, conducted by Christian Zacharias.

  • You can also catch

  • Handel's Rodelinda in a Metropolitan Opera Broadcast (numerous stations) - A performance with Renee Fleming, Stephanie Blythe and Andreas Scholl, conducted by Patrick Summers.

  • Radio Tre - A Teatro Communale di Borgogna performance of Puccini's Tosca featuring Ruggero Raimondi's oft-praised performance in the pivotal role of Scarpia.

  • Happy listening.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Very Special Met Debut

Our friend Sam Shirakawa, whose reviews of various Wagner performances from Europe have appeared here, has written to us about last evening's Lohengrin at the Met, which featured the debut of Klaus Florian Vogt. And he is not the only one of our friends who was at that performance and has told us "Go...!!! Get tickets for the Saturday evening performance - this guy is something special!" So, here's Sam's review of Lohengrin at the Met on Wednesday evening, May 3rd - I have a feeling that many of us will remember the date.

Klaus Florian Vogt Met Debut

By Sam H. Shirakawa

When Klaus Florian Vogt stepped on stage for his curtain call at the end of the Met’s performance of Lohengrin on May 3d, he looked quite dazed. It wasn’t until he took his second call that he seemed to realize what was happening: he was undergoing birth as a new star of the first magnitude in the operatic firmament.

The performance was one of those rare occasions where the tremendous ovation signified thrilled surprise as much as delirious praise. Apart from a parenthetical briefing in last week’s New York Times, Vogt made his debut without trumpets or hype. The audience had no idea what was in store.

All the more surprising, because Vogt’s voice does not fit the usual description of the Swan Knight for which Lauritz Melchior established the standard. Clarion, yes; large, yes; but beefy and baritonal, no. Some critics might carp that the voice is better suited for Tamino, which indeed Vogt reportedly sings with distinction. But the treacherous pitfalls of Lohengrin’s Act Three are where Tamino-tenors get culled, and Vogt proved himself triumphantly Grail-worthy. It’s in the second half of the Bridal Chamber scene and the finale, that the hitherto cool and translucent timbre heated up and opened out, striding comfortably above the orchestra with plasticity and requisite volume.

Vogt is also a canny and imaginative musician. When I first heard him sing the role in Bremen several years ago, I was amazed at his way with legato. Most singers can manipulate dynamics and do feats of dipsy-doodle with phrasing. Preciously few these days are the singers who can genuinely feel the wellsprings of our origins within the groupings of notes and transform them into chains of enchantment. Chatting with one of the musicians in the Bremen Opernhaus orchestra during intermission, I learned that Vogt had once been a horn player. Indeed, Vogt’s voice at this stage of what looks to be a long and fruitful career is nothing less than a transmuted French horn, and the effect is – yes – enchanting.

Vogt also belies the rap sheet description of the Wagner-tenor: no beer gut (yet), no jowls. He’s still in his 30s, tall, slender, and has, under all that hideous make-up, matinee-idol potential. I can also tell you he’s a good actor, based on what I saw in Bremen. It’s hard to tell from what is demanded in Robert Wilson’s lugubrious, Xanex-laced Met production.

Oh, I almost forgot the rest of the cast… Karita Mattila’s usually resplendent voice took Wednesday night off. But there’s no doubt that it will be back, hopefully soon. Rene Pape is so consistently excellent that he stands in danger of being taken for granted. He turned turgid King Heinrich into a Good Gawd! tour-de-force. Margaret Jane Wray is another star on the up-escalator. As Ortrud her top notes turned shrewish on Wednesday, but it worked to her advantage, because Ortrud is nothing if not a shrew. Greer Grimsley distinguished himself as Ortrud’s harried husband. Charles Taylor read out the Herald’s public service announcements with dignity. Philippe Auguin conducted an interesting variant to Jimmy’s bracing bold-face readings over lo these many years. His pacing is faster, and he pulls some usually overshadowed instrumental under-voices to the fore.

Opera-lovers know that opera-going is not for sprinters. Superb performances have always been few and far between. This Lohengrin was the first in a long time that I felt better upon leaving the Met than when I entered. I haven’t felt that way since Florez’s dazzling debut on 10 January 2002… A long time between drinks.
Thank you Sam. We are now convinced (if we weren't before) and will be there to hear Mr. Vogt on Saturday night.

UPDATE: (Friday 11:15 AM EDT) - Don't bother perusing the Times for a review - if this doesn't beat all, the New York Times did not see fit to send a reviewer to Vogt's debut on the Wednesday night! We hear that the Met is working on them to send someone for the Saturday night performance. Let's hope and pray that Vogt is as good on Saturday as he was in his debut.