Baden-Baden Opera Gala 2016
Anja Harteros (soprano), Ekaterina Gubanova (mezzo soprano), Jonas Kaufmann (tenor), Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone)
Badische Staatskapelle/Marco Armiliato
rec. Baden Baden July 24, 2016.
LPCM Stereo. DTS 5.1. Aspect 16:9
Subtitles in English, French, German and Italian
Booklet includes Chapter titles list and timings
SONY CLASSICAL DVD 88985371619 [139 mins]
In my professional life, of necessity, I occasionally impacted the political domain by interacting with the movers and shakers, the people who made things happen, often against the odds. One of the most interesting occasions involved the twining of small towns in Britain and France and particularly noticing individuals with a vision operated and made things happen that had stalled for some time. I had cause to make these reflections as I listened to this collection of operatic excerpts performed by some of the worlds leading opera singers of the day at the Festspielhaus of Baden Baden, a smallish spa town in the shadow of the Bavarian Forest. I remembered another similar collection recorded in this same venue of the same small German spa town in 2007 and issued by D.G, and whose contents have gone viral on YouTube. Ten years on, the Festspielhaus of the same spa town is the host to five annual Music Festivals involving some of the world’s greatest musicians and orchestras. Along the way a few feathers have been ruffled as when, in 2013, the Berlin Philharmonic, and its charismatic chief conductor Sir Simon rattle, deserted the renowned Salzburg Easter Festival for Baden Baden. In this respect his musicians followed Gergiev and his Marinsky forces by over a decade. These changes were possible first and foremost because of the creation of the Festival Theatre, opened in 1998, attached to the building that had originally been built in 1904, in Neo-Renaissance style with elements of Baroque, as Baden-Baden’s central railway station and now the entrance to the Festspielhaus. The railway had gone in 1977. I do not know who the mover and shaker was, but his, or her, impact on the world’s music scene has been massive, creating one of Germany’s largest opera houses and drawing performers and productions from the very top drawer, and I might add, with seat prices to make the eyes water.
The quartet of singers carded in the 2007 concert included the renowned female duo of Anna Netrebko and Elīna Garanča. The latter was carded as one of the world-renowned soloists this time, but withdrew shortly before the concert due to illness. Some deity was looking after the schedule with the availability of the Russian mezzo Ekaterina Gubanova, a Royal Opera house Jet Parker artist in 2005 who has since gone on to a considerable career at some of opera’s very best addresses and her performances in this collection are quite superb. If she is a little less of show women than the others of the trio in her body language, it is only marginal and not reflected in her singing. The hype of the occasion and claims to featuring singers from the very top drawer of the international lyric stage are fully justified with Jonas Kaufmann hailed as the worlds greatest tenor in a recent Sunday Times article. His fellow German and partner in several films of opera performances of distinction, Anja Harteros, is also up there in the firmament of soprano performers. She opens proceedings with Wagner (CH.2), but brings even greater distinction to her singing of Verdi, particularly as the agonising mother in the great Italian composer’s Un Ballo in Maschera (CH.7). However, to my ears it is her rendition of the long introductory aria to the last act of Don Carlo, Tu che le vanita (CH.13) that marks out her qualities as a singing actress and transcends that of the two heard together in the great duet love duet from Verdi’s Otello (CH.14).
Kaufmann certainly lives up to his billing whether in solo items or with other participants. Of particular note for the virility of his singing is the duet from Tu qui, Santuzza? from Cavalleria Rusticana where his characterisation and tonal variety really sizzles. The scene also shows the singing skill and vocal strengths of his partner Ekaterina Gubanova (CH.8). Particularly impressive is Kaufmann’s ability, evident in several instances, to fine his voice down from forte to piano and a heady mezza voce, a skill that many tenors have lost as they begin to prepare to take on Verdi’s Otello as he is scheduled to do at London’s Royal Opera House in June 2017. Together with Anja Harteros, as Desdemona, he shows he has still matters to learn and develop vocally before then (CH.14) when he will have to meet the forte vocal outburst of the opening Esultate and the later call for blood. His response to his partner in duet and ensemble, vocally and in body language, is otherwise wholly admirable as is hers.
Welshman Bryn Terfel, with his elongated face and designer stubble, manages to give his everything to his singing, and whistling as Boito’s Mefistofole (CH. 6) whilst earlier giving a somewhat purer, but vocally distinguished, Le veau d'or from Gounod’s Faust (CH.3). His vocal acting, as well as body and face involvement in If I were a rich man (CH.16) really wowed the audience. I do not know whether he was fitting into his Don Carlo item for the sake of the programme with his contribution of Phips soliloquy Ella giammai m'amò, (CH.16), but he lacks the basso cantante sonority necessary. An ill-conceived choice for him, unlike Ekaterina Gubanova’s Tu che le vanità from the same opera and which she sings with singular biting tone and expressiveness as Eboli curses here fatal gift (CH.13). It is an ideal complement to her vocally sensuous Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen (CH.15).
All in all, this was one of the most enjoyable opera nights I have had in a long time. That fact was aided by the presence of several duets and other longer items than just single arias, particularly some from lesser known works such as Cilea’s Acerba volutta…L'anima ho stanca from Adriana Lecouvrer (CH.9) and Anja Harteros’ encore of Son pochi fiori from Mascagni’s rarely heard L’Amico Fritz (CH.16). All the singers communicating with body as well as voice and interacting in their roles in duet or other ensembles included in the programme. As a consequence I give it the imprimatur of Recording of the Month despite the fact that Sony Classical has chosen to omit the orchestral items that were included in the actual concert concerned. Given conductor Marco Armiliato shows his strengths throughout, I found that deficiency galling and inexplicable.
Doubtless items will appear on YouTube in due course. In the meantime, do not take the chapter timings given as for the singing alone, as entrances and exits as well as extended applause are included.
Robert J Farr
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tannhäuser - Dich, teure Halle, grüß’ ich wieder (Anja Harteros) [6.03]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Faust - Le veau d’or est toujours debout. (Bryn Terfel) [2.47]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
Cavalleria Rusticana - Voi lo sapete, o Mamma. (Ekaterina Gubanova) [4.30]
Cavalleria Rusticana - Tu qui, Santuzza? (Ekaterina Gubanova and Jonas Kaufmann) [11.13]
L'Amico Fritz - Son pochi fiori (Anja Harteros) [4.33]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Tosca - E lucevan le stelle (Jonas Kaufmann) [5.36]
Tosca - Salvatelo! – Io? Voi!… Vissi d’arte (Anja Harteros & Bryn Terfel) [11.06]
Arrigo BOITO (1842-1915)
Mefistofele - Son lo Spirito che nega (Bryn Terfel) [4.27]
Un Ballo in Maschera - Morrò, ma prima in grazia. (Anja Harteros) [6.00]
Don Carlo - Ella giammai m’amò (Bryn Terfel) [10.43]
Don Carlo - Tu che le vanità (Anja Harteros) [13.20]
Don Carlo - O don fatale (Ekaterina Gubanova)
Otello - Già nella notte densa (Anja Harteros and Jonas Kaufmann) [15.13]
Nino ROTA (1911-1979)
Parla piú. - The Godfather theme - (Jonas Kaufmann) [5.12]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen - L'amour est un oiseau rebelle 'Habanera' (Ekaterina Gubanova) [4.50]
Jerry BOCK. (1928-2010)
Fiddler on the Roof - If I were a rich man (Bryn Terfel) [6.19]
Francesco CILEA (1866-1950)
Adriana Lecouvreur - Acerba volutta…L'anima ho stanca (Ekaterina Gubanova, Jonas Kaufmann) [13.29]
Das Land des Lächelns - Dein ist mein ganzes Herz (all soloists) [4.39]