Wednesday, 20 February 2013
Wagnerabend in Belgrave Square
They do these kind of events very well, the Germans, and returning to the ambassador's residence was bound to be a pleasure. Especially as the programme had been arranged by the organisers of the Wagner 200 events this year, Mark Eynon and top Wagner expert Barry Millington (my former editor at the BBC Music Magazine, also the one who was kind enough to kickstart my Prokofiev book, pictured above with Sue Bullock and her husband Richard Berkeley-Steele. Georg Boomgaarden, the genial German ambassador, is seen between two of the heads).
What kind of Wagner fare can you serve up in an intimate space? They managed a good mix. La (or should that be Die?) Bullock launched stylishly with top pianist Llŷr Williams in the Tannhäuser greeting, 'Dich, teure Halle'. Janice Watson sang two of the Wesendonck Lieder (actually the two I find least interesting, but they were well done all the same). Here are the four artists in one of two official photos; the shots of the trio at the top and of Sir John Tomlinson in conversation with Barry are mine.
The coup was to bring the Bullock-Berkeley-Steeles together in the Dawn Duet from Götterdämmerung. Williams somehow managed to conjure an orchestra in the sunrise, and in came the two, each standing naturally and lovingly while the other sang. I'd forgotten what point SB brings to the German text, all the better in a small room. Though I've not always been bowled over by her stage performances, she's a fabulous recitalist: her Crear Classics disc of the Wesendoncks, Britten's The Poet's Echo and Prokofiev's Five Akhmatova Poems with contrasting flavours of Strauss, Quilter and Rorem is outstanding (it was our Vocal/Choral disc of the month in the BBC Music Magazine's March 2007 issue) .
Apparently another CD of songs with Malcolm Martineau is due for release shortly; and she's to be heard in recital at the Wigmore on 22 March.
To round off the little homage, Williams made effortless work of the Tristan Liebestod in Liszt's insane transcription (all those tremolos!). Eynon gave a felicitous speech, and didn't need to sell the highlights of the forthcoming festival to me: I'll be going to Kings Place to hear Watson's song recital and Williams's presentation of Wagner piano pieces alongside other Liszt transcriptions.
That greatest Wotan of the 1990s, Sir John Tomlinson, was there in the audience at the ambassador's residence, wrapped up in the music; he'll be presenting a read-through of the entire Ring libretto in the British Library on 9 June (date now confirmed thanks to Barry's message below). Dame Gwyneth, alas, couldn't make it, though she'll be masterclassing as part of the festival; now there's a diva I want to meet. The programme of events so far confirmed is on the Wagner 200 website here. Millington and SJT discussing plans below.
The whole event was entirely genial; the ambassador (to the right of Berkeley-Steele, ie to his left, in the photo below) and his wife are very cultured folk - not always the case in that world - and J likes them very much indeed. Sue Bullock has always struck me as completely natural in person (we first met her at pianist Phillip Thomas's 50th birthday party). I managed to have a chat with RBS about Phyllida Lloyd's English National Opera production of Götterdämmerung in which he sang Siegfried: absolutely the best staging of that particular opera I've ever seen, even if I had my doubts about the others (good in parts). Ardent Wagnerians apparently felt the same - one went to see it six times - and we all lament the fact the cycle never had another chance.
Meanwhile, roll on the festivities in the round. My priority is to get to see Die Feen as done in concert by Chelsea Opera, though sadly a Sussex Das Liebesverbot later in the year has bitten the dust. Collectors can tick off a few gaps in the Wagner list, though to be honest there aren't that many worth bothering about.
The following Monday, the Italians held a parallel tribute to Verdi at their ambassador's very beautiful residence in Berkeley Square. This turned out to be an actor reading excerpts from Verdi's letters and memoirs translated by Gaia Servadio and Royal Opera chorus master Renato Balsadonna playing excerpts from Nabucco, La Traviata, Aida and Otello on the piano. Interesting enough, but we missed la voce cantata.