Greatness

Verdi – la Forza del Destino.

Leonora – Anja Harteros
Don Carlo – Ludovic Tézier
Alvaro – Jonas Kaufmann
Il Marchese di Calatrava/Padre Guardiano – Vitalij Kowaljow
Preziosilla – Nadia Krasteva
Fra Melitone – Renato Girolami
Curra – Heike Grötzinger

Chor und Extrachor der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Bayerisches Staatsorchester / Asher Fisch
Stage Director – Martin Kušej

Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Saturday, January 11th, 2014.

Last year I saw greatness on the stage of the Royal Opera House. In Don Carlo Anja Harteros just blew me away as Elisabetta. I later saw her in the same role in Berlin and those first impressions in London were reinforced. Here was the real thing one of the greatest ever Verdi sopranos. Tonight she did not disappoint, rather she reinforced her position amongst the greats. I feel so humbled to have witnessed greatness.

Before discussing the performance and since this site is about opera and travel, I should add a word about the Bayerische Staatsoper. Their booking system is somewhat archaic. The best way to secure seats for the show one desires is to apply via their website for what they describe as ‘postal booking’ rather than waiting for internet booking to open (which is does 2 months before). If one selects postal booking one then receives either an email offering alternative seats or a refusal of the request or the tickets in the mail around three months before the show. I can’t say it’s my favourite way of booking for shows but I did manage to get tickets for all of the shows I applied for there. Tonight my seat was decent enough and offered around 60% visibility of the stage. Unfortunately, for most of the show I had much less because my neighbour insisted on leaning forward completely blocking my view, using her purse as a cushion to push herself forward. Unfortunately my requests auf Deutsch to her to not to do that fell on deaf ears. This means that unfortunately, I cannot give a detailed critique of the staging. What I did see was inoffensive enough – although I’m sure that the Act 3 orgy had a few reaching for the blood pressure medication. It seemed to have been set during the Bosnian war. Costumes were modern and reflected the late 90s. I can’t really say more.

The singing however was simply out of this world. Anja Harteros is quite simply greatness personified. She sang with incredible, theatre-filling amplitude, pearly tone and a glorious sense of line. Initially I found the pearly tone lacking a little warmth yet in ‘pace, pace’ she sang with glorious generosity and a perfectly floated top. ‘Madre pietosa vergine’ was just wonderful and culminated in a perfectly floated ‘vergine degli angeli’. There was a slight tendency to sing sharp at the start of the evening but as she relaxed she simply hit new heights of greatness. ‘Historic’ is an oft-used word but I think that it quite simply encapsulates all that La Harteros achieved tonight. Spellbinding.

If the evening had consisted of Harteros alone it would have been very special. Yet she was matched by a tenor and a baritone who matched her in greatness. I first came across Ludovic Tézier as an outstanding Chorèbe for Gardiner a decade again. His voice has developed immeasurably and tonight he sang a sensational Don Carlo. The voice has grown in amplitude and is easily produced. It carries very well through the theatre and shows no sense of strain or wobble even in the highest registers and at the loudest volumes. In short, he is the real thing: a dramatic Verdi baritone of distinction. I would very much like to hear him in the key Verdi roles – Jago, Macbeth and Amonasro for example. Yet at no point did he sacrifice beauty of tone.

Jonas Kaufmann’s Alvaro similarly hit greatness. I was not convinced by his Don Carlo at the Royal Opera last year but tonight he blew me away. The timbre isn’t the brightest but his ardent, ruby-red tone showed exceptional technical accomplishment. This was a voice that was entirely under the control of its owner and it was stunning. The way he could leap up an octave and produce a sudden diminuendo, the endless reserves of power – it was wonderful. Occasionally an intrusive aspirate disturbed but make no mistake, this was Verdi tenor singing of the very highest quality the likes of which are extremely rare today. He was exceptional.

The supporting cast was headed by Vitalij Kowaljow’s rich Padre Guardiano and Marchese. Nadia Krasteva’s fruity Preziosilla was also an asset, dispatching her arias with precision and aplomb. The chorus seemed to be a completely different body to the chorus I heard in Onegin last night. They sang with excellent blend and precision singing ‘rataplan’ lying on their backs on stage yet never sacrificing unanimity of ensemble. Impressive.

I heard some exceptional Verdi conducting last year from Nicola Luisotti and Paolo Arrivabeni. Unfortunately Asher Fisch wasn’t in the same league. It was certainly competent but it was also uninspiring. The edges were all smoothed out and there was a lack of rhythmic energy that was somewhat tedious. That said, it didn’t quite feel as episodic as some other conductors’ Verdi I have heard and he certainly managed to keep his forces together.

This was one of those nights in the theatre that was simply unforgettable. It offered singing from there exceptional principals at the very peak of their powers. I feel exceptionally privileged to have been there.

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