Oldies But Goodies
Sam Shirakawa saw three evergreen singers last week:
Pagliacci [Excerpts]5 June 2011Ford-Sinfonie Orchester Philharmonie Cologne
Leo Nucci Recital6 June 2011Theater Bonn
Salome8 June 2011Deutsche Oper am Rhein
Last week, I attended three vocal performances within four days, each of which featured a comparative oldster -- old, at least, among opera singers. The most junior of these veterans was Wagner tenor Wolfgang Schmidt, who reportedly turns 55 this year. Heldentenor Wolfgang Neumann accrues 66 years this month. Star baritone Leo Nucci at age 69 was the most senior among them. In a brutally tough line of work, these guys have hung in there at the top of their profession for at least three decades and counting.
Schmidt’s Herod last week in Deutsche Oper am Rhein’s production of Salome at Düsseldorf paid off expectations. He was licentious and loud with not a smidgen of subtlety -- just the way Herod should be. Even in his prime, Schmidt’s voice tended to wobble in the upper register, and it didn’t sound like it’s going to steady up. But the clarion alarum of his “Ah! herrlich!” and other such outbursts was indeed herrlich.
Among his colleagues, John Wegner was in super form as Jochanaan, Renee Morlac a powerful, deep-throated Herodias and Anne King-Williams musical but underpowered as Salome. She was not entirely to blame: the orchestra, even lacking an instrument or two, was simply too loud under Wen-Pin Chien’s direction. Ah, but in the final pages... those horns! those horns! Play it again, Sams!
Wolfgang Neumann officially retired last season as a company member of Mannheim’s National Theater. Unlike Schmidt, he didn’t downsize and departed with a valedictory Götterdämmerung Siegfried. Which obviously meant that he’d draw his pension and keep singing freelance: exactly what he did last weekend at Cologne’s Philharmonie in a concert by the Ford-Simphonie Orchester, slinging “bleeding chunks” of Pagliacci.
I was beginning to think this opera was going the way of Germania, Nerone and other gut-busters of Verismo vintage after I barely survived some tepidly sung performances of this pot-boiler in recent years -- including one at the Metropolitan with a so-called star as Canio. But there was liebes altes Wolflein last week, batting those bang-on high Bs and Cs way out of the Philharmonie, as though the bases were loaded with Paoli, Martinelli and Lázaro. At noon on a Sunday, yet!
Next day, Oper Bonn presented Leo Nucci in recital with an all-Verdi program before a small but enthusiastic crowd. He deserved better attendance, but he knows he’s part of his popularity problem. Following highly publicized disagreements with some German stage directors, he reduced his appearances in Germany for many years. (Maybe they were reduced for him, whether he liked it or not.) But, as he told an interviewer recently, “I’m singing better now than 20 years ago.” A true statement, I believe, given my recollections of orgasmic yawning during his big numbers at the Met and La Scala in those years.
Following intermission, Nucci, nicely accompanied by Paolo Marcarini, offered lollipops from Macbeth, Vespri, Otello and Falstaff with several encores including “Di provenza” from Traviata -- all of them subtly detailed and gorgeously sung. His voice, I’ve noticed, has become larger in his senior years, and its vibrato remains sensual -- here and there awakening abstract insights. Whodathunkit?
©Sam H. Shirakawa
Labels: Chien, Deutsche Opera am Rhein, Ford-Sinfonie Orchester Philharmonie Cologne, King-Williams, Leoncavallo, Marcarini, Morlac, Neumann, Nucci, Pagliacci, Salome, Schmidt, Strauss, Theater Bonn, Wegner