It's Europe Day today, and with senses still reeling from Saturday's Don Carlo at the Royal Opera, I propose that as a German Greek, already legendary soprano Anja Harteros (photographed here by Catherine Ashmore for the Royal Opera) should sing a great hymn of reconciliation - probably by that other, self-styled German Greek by temperament rather than by blood Richard Strauss. We'll have four for the price of one to conclude.
This woman is phenomenal. Everything I wrote about her Covent Garden debut in 2008 still holds good: the spinto strength, the Desdemona-perfect floating of Verdi's more ethereal high lines, the grace and focus of the acting. I expressed my anguish then that she wasn't signed up on the spot for the role of Elisabetta di Valois in Verdi's most comprehensive operatic masterpiece. Until last week, we had to endure the very fitful, unsteady technique of Marina Poplavskaya in the role (alas, the first run of Hytner's production, which grows on me, was the one to be filmed*). At last, five years later, Harteros's Elisabetta joined Kaufmann's infante for what turned out to be one night only
as well as the top-notch Philip of Ferruccio Furlanetto and Marius Kwiecien's legato-miraculous Posa (actually looking at the nationalities of the principals - German, German-Greek, French, Polish, Italian, British - aligns well with today). That most attractive baritone seemed happy to put a Brokeback spin on the buddy relationship, and why not? Let's have a solo shot of Kwiecien too, since we can.
I'll add no more to what I wrote, trying to keep superlatives to a minimum, on The Arts Desk except to echo a commenter on the Royal Opera website who declared that the penultimate scene of Kaufmann's Carlo and Harteros's Elisabetta sitting on the monument of Carlo V rather like weary children, cautiously joining hands and almost whispering their final hopes of meeting in a better world, would remain with him forever.
Unfortunately the phenomenon is not to be repeated this run; after that precious evening came the announcement that Harteros had acute tonsillitis and would not be fulfilling her remaining two scheduled performances. She is not, alas, part of the Royal Opera's plans for the next five years.
I've already put the YouTube excerpts from Act V in the much less interesting Bavarian State Opera production up on The Arts Desk, but - this time skipping the aria, which is less perfect than it was on Saturday night - there's no harm in enshrining that great final duet here.
At the risk of repeating myself, I have to note that 'Ma lassù ci vedremo in un mondo migliore' usually makes me weep - even with Poplavskaya and Villazon - because when Mattila and Alagna sang it in the Bondy production, I was there in the company of my dear friend Trude Winik. She used her National Socialist Compensation Fund money from the Austrian government - a long overdue gesture to the loss of her family in Treblinka - to buy two boxes at the opera for her closest friends (the rest of the money went to Save the Children). It was her last outing; she died at the age of 87 some time afterwards.
I'm off this evening to a Hibernian-inspired potpourri celebrating the Irish Presidency of the EU, from Flotow and Wallace to Grainger's Molly on the Shore and Wagner's Liebestod, that last utterance of a wilde Irische magd. The classy visitors are the singers from the European Opera Centre and the European Union Youth Orchestra conducted by Laurent Pillot.
Which makes this a good place to point out that most of the pleas to sign petitions I get from Avaaz and Greenpeace are to support European laws which the UK government constantly seeks to block - the latest being the move to veto pesticides which are held responsible for the dramatic decline of bee populations. The following is part of what James Sadri of Greenpeace wrote in his victory letter of 'the world's first continent-wide ban on these chemicals'. Text in bold is his doing.
'Someone who has nothing to be proud of is the UK environment minister Owen Paterson, who not only voted against the ban, but lobbied on behalf of chemical giants Syngenta and Bayer to try and stop it going through. Paterson in a private letter even promised Syngenta that his "efforts would intensify" in the run-up to the vote.
'Well, Mr Paterson, you lost. The bees won.
'We know the current UK government has a disastrous track record on protecting our world - from climate change to bees. That's why so much of our work on this campaign has focused on mainland Europe, where we managed to shift big countries like Germany who yesterday gave the ban their critical backing.'
Let's hope it holds good beyond the two-year moratorium. In the meantime, remember Teresa May wants us to be the only country other than BELARUS not to be part of the European Convention on Human Rights (I don't know what's happened to this, but I do know that the Queen's Speech yesterday included May's other proposal to restrict NHS access to migrants. Cameron's much-vaunted bill for same-sex marriage was nowhere to be found, a special pity since it would have been fun to hear the words fall from the old queen's lips).
Remember also that George Osborne stood alone against 26 other EU finance ministers who voted to cap bankers' bonuses. Remember the neo-Nazis and defecting BNP supporters behind the smug grinning face of Nigel Farage, who seems to charm the journos into thinking he's a Good Bloke (though they might recall this. UKIP probably think it shows statesmanship; I find it abusive and bullying).
Just remember. These are difficult, dangerous times, and it's all too easy to scapegoat the EU for sundry woes (actually, why not just try the bankers?) But I would recommend all protest voters - probably not readers of this blog - to look at the small print of what they might be getting instead.
But enough. Let's have that German Greek hymn of harmony from Harteros and Strauss. I was going to leave it at 'Frühling' from the Four Last Songs, in consonance with this especially beautiful late spring/early summer we're having, and thought the final sunset might not be appropriate for Europe. Unfortunately the first song's not embeddable by itself, so be compelled by Harteros with Jansons conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and stay the course.
*which rules out a DVD this time round. But why not a CD set? Pappano has the clout with EMI, though it would be costly to take it into the studio. But by then Christine Rice might be well enough to have a shot at Eboli, as originally intended. I think, against the odds, she could actually be rather good.