There are these very rare occasions when everything is right. Yesterday was one of them. One of the greatest concerts I have ever heard, if not the greatest. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra's perfection in an extremely difficult program of Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death (in Shostakovich's orchestration) and the Orchestral Suite of Stravinsky's Firebird was breathtaking. The Concertgebouw is one of the very few orchestras left today with a unique and distinguishable sound. Think of how velvet would sound and you get an idea, although you would have to add total rhythmical precision to get the complete picture.
I had never seen Mariss Jansons (the orchestra's Music Director since 2004) conduct before and now I feel I have wasted too many years waiting. He is in the very small league of greatest conductors with total control over his orchestra, yet so generous in his music-making that the results sound unbelievably spontaneous.
As if that weren't enough, Ferruccio Furlanetto was an outstanding soloist in the Mussorgsky songs. Even if you don't understand a single word of Russian (like me) his singing was so expressive and nuanced that the content of the songs became completely clear. And what a voice! My late friend Michel Glotz used to call Ferruccio "la plus grande basse au monde". I feel very happy that his appearance with the COC is slowly coming closer.
What a privilege to attend this fantastic concert thanks to the generous hospitality of the Festival's President, Helga Rabl-Stadler. Tonight we will attend the final performance of Strauss' Elektra.
Posted by Alexander Neef / in Travel / comments (0) / permalink
In its 90th season, the Salzburg Festival has lost nothing of its vitality, with an average of five events of opera, theatre and concert every day over a period of five weeks from late July to the end of August involving the world's greatest artists.
Yet, even with this busy schedule, staff and artists are never shy to take on another obligation for a good cause, as we saw yesterday. As a reaction to the situation in Pakistan, the only available off-night in one of the festival theatres was turned into a benefit concert for the victims of the flood disaster, organised and completely sold out in only three days. All artists performed for free and the entire proceeds will go to a charitable organisation active in the flood areas. A number of the greatest German actors read poetry from the region, some of the poems eight hundred years old, but still very powerful. The festival's most prestigious singers didn't stand back and we were treated to Mikhail Petrenko's Basilio, Anna Netrebko and Erwin Schrott as Adina and Dulcamara, Piotr Beczala as Roméo and Rodolfo, just to name a few. What could be a better argument for the relevance of the arts today?
Right before, in the early evening, we had attended the final concert of this year's Young Singers Project. In its third year the festival's summer program has launched a few remarkable talents. Out of a group of ten there were again a few truly remarkable talents from all over the world, two of them members of the young artists program at the Paris Opera during my time there. The singers are selected by Jürgen Flimm, the festival's Artistic Director, mezzo-soprano Marjana Lipovsek (the director of the program) and my mentor and good friend Evamaria Wieser (the festival's Artistic Administrator). The head coach of the program is our wonderful Canadian Rachel Andrist. After more then ten years in Europe she will return to Canada next week and become part of our music staff at the COC.
On another note, Rachel also prepared one of our Ensemble Studio sopranos who we sent to Salzburg last week to audition for Riccardo Muti. She got an important cover assignment at the Rome Opera with the Maestro conducting. I couldn't be prouder.
Salzburg greeted us with a thunderstorm and torrential rain which delayed the arrival of our babysitter by more than half an hour. However, we luckily managed to get to the theatre just minutes before the performance of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice began.
Orpheus has been a favourite theme of composers from the early beginnings of opera in the 17th century, Monteverdi's favola in musica Orfeo (1607) just being the prime example. Indeed, the story of Orpheus descending into Hades to free his wife Eurydice through the power of his singing seems to make for the ideal operatic plot.
Ever since its first performance in 1762, Gluck's opera has been regarded as a masterwork of simplicity and emotional depth. The piece has been performed at the Salzburg Festival since the 1930s with conductors like Bruno Walter, Josef Krips and Herbert von Karajan. Riccardo Muti's performance with the Vienna Philharmonic very much was in the vein of this grand, old-style symphonic approach. Originally, Gluck had written the part of Orfeo for a castrato. Today, it is sung by either a countertenor or an alto. Elizabeth Kulman, who had sung Orfeo for me in Paris in Pina Bausch's powerful and unforgettable choreography, gave a richly nuanced performance. Genia Kühmeier was a magnificent Euridice and Christiane Karg an outstanding Amore.
This upcoming spring the COC will present Gluck's opera with countertenor Lawrence Zazzo, Isabel Bayrakdarian and conductor Harry Bicket in Robert Carsen's great production. Prepare for a treat.
Follow Alexander Neef on
Follow the COC on Twitter