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.


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