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.
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If you are a regular visitor to this blog, you know that Friedrich Hölderlin is my favourite poet and I consider his novel Hyperion one of the most profound and meaningful books ever written (in a league with Camus' La peste). He spent the last decades of his life (from 1807 to 1843) in the town Tübingen (where I went to university), imprisoned in the little yellow tower you see in the picture. Scholars still discuss whether he was actually mad or only pretended to be mad to escape a world that had become unbearable to him since the discovery (and therefore the end) of the secret relationship with the love of his life, Susette Gontard, a banker's wife from Frankfurt to whose children Hölderlin had been a tutor.
My family and I are in Southwestern Germany to visit my parents and the rest of my family. It was the first time in almost ten years that I had returned to Tübingen. Amazing, that almost nothing has changed. Only my favourite bookstore had moved, but when we finally found it I got some great German books (to keep my German in shape).
Tomorrow, we are off to Salzburg for the last week of the Festival.
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On Friday I drove up to Haliburton for two days with the Highlands Opera Studio. Started a few years ago by the great Canadian tenor Richard Margison and his wife Valerie Kuinka, the Studio is a summer training program for emerging Canadian opera singers. They are carefully selected in a nation-wide audition process and over the month of August work on staged productions of two operas, give recitals and work with internationally acclaimed teachers and coaches like John Fischer (the former Head of Music at the Met and now General Director of Welsh National Opera in Cardiff), Tim Noble (who also teaches the members of the COC's Ensemble Studio), Canadian baritone John Fanning, the General Director of Hamilton Opera David Speers and many more. The Studio has established a remarkable connection with the local community, using the high school (including its theatre) as a teaching and performance facility, a church as recital hall and providing free lodging for the participants. Also, because of the support of a few generous donors, the program is tuition-free for all participating singers.
This year, there is a group of 18 singers from all over Canada. I spent half an hour with each of them, listening to (and commenting on) their audition repertoire. I was extremely impressed with the group, not only with the high level of singing, but also with the high level of artistry and commitment from every single participant. I will certainly be back next year.
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