Monday, May 14, 2012

Berlin Pleasures

Verdi enthusiasts probably agree that, while Otello and Falstaff are the summit of the Master's work as complete operas, the act of Don Carlos that contains the dialogue with the Inquisitor is surely the finest single act. Mid-April I went with a party of Brits to Berlin for five days music-making which contained a truly memorable performance of the Schiller based opera. This performance began well enough but gradually became positively inspired – a great occasion. The conductor was Donald Runnicles, alive to the overall pacing of the week as well as the individual nuances – the orchestra superb if at times too loud. The venue was the Deutsche Oper and the version played began with a sombre brass prelude, no love duet but the first one between Posa and the Don. The scenic feature of the sets was a series of grey, chunky walls with silver paper covering, that perpetually moved about – rather tedious. Curiously from the point of view of etiquette, King Philipp received the Inquisitor in his bedroom. The auto-da-fé scene was suitably gruesome and firegirt (oh, that wonderful tune the Flemish men sing, surely the best in the opera?). The star of the show was Alastair Miles/King Philipp; a beautiful voice from below the plimsoll line up to top F: he positively exuded danger, that is, until he started to feel sorry for himself (cello obbligato very well played). The Grand Inquisitor was sinister and with a fine powerful voice (Kristin Sigmundsson. Posa (Markus Bruck) was mellifluous and symphathetic (his character always reminds me of Piotr in War and Peace). The ladies were at one time very good and powerful, next moment inclined to wobbles and shrillness. But the performance as a whole was superb, as good as you could wish for (Elisabeth/Meagan Miller, Eboli/Anna Smirnova). The Don himself/Massimo Giordano was suitably inclined to hysteria, fine voice all the way up.
The previous evening (Friday, 13 April) contained a very mixed bag: Fauré Requiem at the end with Schumann's Piano Concerto in the first half; also two numbers by Luciano Berio, not long but insignificant: Evó (a Sicilian lullaby) and O King (Luther). Murray Perahia must have played the Schumann hundreds of times yet it sounded wonderfully fresh, powerful and poetic, fine accompaniment by the Berlin Phil. with that rattling good British conductor, Sir Simon, in fine form throughout, introducing, apparently to his performers the Fauré. The Rundfunkcho Berlin was a joy to hear, positively piercing the heart as it sang the Libera Me tune pianissimo. Sorry to say neither Kate Royal nor Christian Gerhaher were eloquent enough for their tasks. Our last evening was spent in the pretty Komische Oper with Der Rosenkavalier, a mixed blessing. The Marschallin (Geraldine McGreevy) and Octavian (Stella Doufexis) were excellent, so was the Baron Ochs Jens Larsen but the production (Andreas Homoki) often veered towards jokey farce. Recognising that the weak spot of the opera is the beginning of the third act he decided to do what Rossini and other composers of the otto cento might have done, he whistled up a storm (too many flashes). The part of the Italian Tenor is not much more than one glorious song but Tim Richards sang it so beautifully as to linger in the mind. Bravo! The conductor (Patrick Lange) looked very young but sounded very experienced, well paced, another fine orchestra.

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