Thursday, July 14, 2011

It's Boogie Time, Klaus!

Sam has been very busy of late - he was there for Klaus Florian Vogt's concert at Deutsche Opera Berlin:

8 JULY 2011

Broadcast: Deutschland Radio 21 July 2011

When Klaus Florian Vogt launched into “Se all'impero, amici Dei” from La Clemenza di Tito last Friday at a concert in Berlin’s Deutsche Oper, I distracted myself from what I was hearing by trying to recall if I had ever attended a vocal recital that began so disappointingly. (Yes! Of course! -- as Barabas would never have put it -- but that was in another country; and besides the wench is dead.)

An aspirant in Pudding Mill Lane or even in Newark might get away with starting a concert with such a mine-laden aria, but a star tenor before an audience full of savants and panjandrums? Hate to ape Beckmesser, but here’s a partial list of inculpations: Smudgy coloratura. Choppy cantilena. Muddled phrasing. Insufficient support. In toto: Amateur Night at the East Gesus Civic Opera. Nonetheless, Vogt betrayed no signs of ill-ease, as he pursued his pigeon-toed vocal tap dance to its denouement.

Following polite applause, which he acknowledged with aw-shucks modesty, Vogt quit the stage. Moments later, a different singer emerged from the wings, to perform the second aria on the program: “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön” from Zauberflöte. His name: Klaus Florian Vogt. This Vogt was in full possession of the supernal artistic faculties that modulate one of the most extraordinary, albeit controversial, voices now before the public. Arias from Oberon, Freischütz and Zar und Zimmerman ensued with ever mounting authority, grace and vocal opulence.

The second half of the concert started swiftly -- maybe a bit too swiftly: Lohengrin (“In Fernem Land”), Walküre ("Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond") and Meistersinger (Preislied) -- three of Vogt’s parade operas. But where was Lohengrin’s elegiac self-revelation, Siegmund’s ardor in winter’s frost, Walther’s wondrous discovery of a dream coming true? I‘ve heard Vogt as Lohengrin and Walther in three opera houses, and I know he can perform these numbers with axenic incandescence. Why such disagreeable haste on this occasion?

For the penultimate number Vogt brought Manuela Uhl on for the Duet from Die tote Stadt. Uhl is on the threshold of a significant international career, and her brief turn offered a tantalizing glimpse into what her Marietta might become in full performance. Regretfully, this up-and-comer was not given a solo turn, so she had little chance to display her burgeoning gifts. Notwithstanding, she and Vogt produced one of the evening’s glowing moments.

Vogt completed the evening with a tidy account of “Ach, so fromm” from Martha.

Peter Schneider conducted the Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper. On the one hand, he presided over providing a flexible orchestral framework for Vogt, as he progressed from Mozart to Korngold. But left to his own devices with orchestral interludes (Lohengrin, Meistersinger, etc.), Schneider seemed content to mark time.

Net-net: a strange concert. Like him or not, Vogt is a force to be reckoned with. When the muses stand by him, he projects virile other-worldliness in streams of vocal splendor. His sound recalls Wunderlich’s irresistible musicality, Bjorling’s intoxicating sweetness and Völker’s fluvial power under pressure. While some listeners find the purity of Vogt’s sound vexingly androgynous, others find its alabaster smoothness eloquent. His looks are hardly in need of Photoshop; he would enhance any upscale ad campaign. But he appears satisfied to pick up his performing fees and spend what little spare time he has with his family.

That outlook, unfortunately, in my view, colors the impression he makes as a concert artist. At last week’s recital, Vogt seemed to abjure revealing anything about himself through his art that I didn’t already know or suspect. He offered no surprises, when he had plenty of opportunities to spring a few. He gave no encores, when he might have tossed off a rarity from, say, Liebesverbot or maybe a duet with Uhl from something like Der letzte Waltz or even Lady Hamilton. The opportunities for transforming the concert into more than a half-eaten sampler were limitless, and he went for none of them.

But Spaß [fun] is not what North German folk are known for, especially in the sacred precincts of an opera house (where Vogt was once a horn player). So, maybe Vogt’s North German temperament -- he‘s from Schleswig-Holstein -- really is what‘s holding him back from the kind of renown that some of his more ambitious coevals are seizing in deafening hi-def. In a recent interview with the Vogt interview - Berliner Morgenpost, Vogt was asked what he thinks is most characteristic of a typical North German: “Reserve,” he answered with typical North German brevity. “We take things as they come. We take our time, so that our affections can be all the more sincere.”

Well, Klaus, you‘ve been fondly known to us at arm’s length for the better part of a decade. But extroversion and conviviality are endemic to your upcoming new role: Cavaradossi. It’s time to get down and boogie.

[The concert, by the bye, was recorded for broadcast on 21 July via Deutschland Radio (the internet broadcast of this concert will be listed on Operacast). Hopefully, the Tito aria will have been re-recorded or deleted by air time.]

©Sam H. Shirakawa

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