Thursday 9 May 2013

A diva for Europe

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.


Catriona said...

The other side of Europe -,dusseldorf-cancels-nazi-itannh228useri.aspx

How could they be so insensitive?lpructio

David said...

Do you mean the director or the company for cancelling? I'd heard about this from a rather amusing Parterre attack on Norman Lebrecht's commenters, who all expressed outrage without having seen the show: why not, La Cieca suggested, have a book club where the stipulation was NOT to read the chosen book before discussing it?

Well, I don't know. I wouldn't have thought any Wagner opera deserved this apart from Parsifal or Goetterdammerung, where it seems to me plausible to have the Gibichungs, Wagner's worst nightmare of a brutal society, as Nazis. I wouldn't go and see a Meistersinger with WW2 references.

I blush to confess a slight smirk at patrons seeking medical treatment for 'psychological and physical stress'. I wonder if anyone did the same with the heavily swastikaed, gestapo-at-the-doors Vienna productions I saw of The Sound of Music and Cabaret.

As for 'the other side', well, we've got it here, incipiently, with UKIP, don't you think?

Susan Scheid said...

I certainly hear what you mean about Harteros. I thought it was my own difficulty adjusting particularly to operatic soprano voices, but now I think differently. I am confident I didn't hear a soprano at the Met this entire season who came close to Harteros (a lot of bleating went on in the high notes there--not here. Up she glides, with total control, or so it seems to me. The duet is [name your superlative, all apply]. Interesting for me, also, to hear Kaufmann in the duet. I liked him a great deal in Parsifal, but didn't really understand all the swooning. (A little too much focus on his looks, I was thinking, got in the way of the judgment of some co-concert-goers.) BUT now I DO understand. I cannot imagine the thrill of hearing this live. How lucky you were to get the chance, particularly as it was the last, insofar as Harteros was concerned.

(An aside: I'd hope this was some temporary glitch, but it seems that none of the youtubes on your posts show up on my ipad, though those elsewhere come through fine. A mystery, which I note only note it to let you know that sometimes it's going to take a little longer to listen and respond to those, as I'm not in front of my laptop so often these days. Meanwhile, how lovely to come to this post from the laptop now and be rewarded with all this beautiful music--right now the Four Last Songs. It can't possibly get any better than this, now, can it?)

David said...

The iPad thing's a puzzle - J says he can see YouTube clips on some things, not on others (ie mine). Thought it was a FlashPlayer issue, but seemingly not.

DC convinced me further about Kaufmann. He has his problems - the peculiar bottling - and is hardly sunshine and roses in most Italian rep (ie Puccini, not right at all), but when it needs a more heroic, baritonal touch, he's there, edging towards Vickers territory. J saw him at the opera awards and said that, as with Florez, the real thing ain't so dishy. Anja has issues, it seems, but none with the voice and the artistry. As near perfect a soprano for Verdi and Strauss (and Handel, too, I'm told) as we're going to get.

Susan Scheid said...

David: Heroic, baritonal, yes, all well on display in the DC duet. Can you say something more about what "bottling" is? As an aside, I'm feeling a bit abashed about my "bleating" comment, so I'd like to amend: bleating in the high notes was more present than it should have been, I'll stick by that, but certainly not in any of the Wagner, and listening to Anna Netrebko and Stephanie Blythe was a pleasure. Of course, it would take a lot more listening to opera for me to be much of a judge, but that was my sense. I'll be interested to hear what my ears tell me in the coming season.

David Damant said...

I would suggest that the voters for UKIP do not like the modern world and retreat into opposition against all things representing change - thus for example we are programmed by evolution to defend our own group and resist other groups, but civilisation and rationality should over come that, and usually do in this country. There are many aspects of globalisation which may not be very welcome, but a mature response is to look at the resulting structures and trends, and see how to gain the best outcomes - NOT to deny the facts. There is also the point that voters blame the government for economic problems. I wish a new party would arise to say that we need 50 years and another Keynes to work out how to manage the free market. In the meantime if people vote in a way that reflects the fact that they do not like the way the world actually is we shall get more populists like Mr Farage

wanderer said...

Such perfect diction wedded to such beauty and breath! The youthfulness in 'Frühling' made for much anticipation of how she would unfold 'Im Abendrot' and you know I found that final resolution - Ist dies etwa die Tod - at once profoundly mature and at the same time infused with an almost childlike innocence and fearlessness, such that the tranquil peace is embraced while still (correctly) imperfectly understood.

Bees are yet another critical marker of planetary well-being aren't they. How superficial a species we are to have yet to learn to not destroy what we need to survive. And today we read the CO2 levels have topped 400ppm.

The suffering will be extreme I believe, and those screeching profit profit profit at all costs, and boy we have our share down here, noticeably the odious richest woman in the world, may well escape accountability but not consequence.

David said...

Sue - for 'bottled' read 'throttled', a placement far back in the throat. Uncovered sound, though, can be dangerous for tenors too, but so fabulous in a voice like Pavarotti's. As for Netrebko, what IS the real voice? I heard her Lady Macbeth aria from the new Mariinsky opening, and couldn't believe the lazy rhythmic delivery, the dire pitching, the impersonation of a dramatic soprano, the sloppy coloratura, the generally low level of musicality (for which Gergiev must also be blamed). And the supposed doyens of Parterre mostly lapped it up. Bizarre.

David - 'voters blame the government for economic problems': that's the problem in a nutshell, isn't it? True only to varying degrees across the world. And as we know, it's in times like these that the lunatic fringes gain a foothold. Like you, I think here it will pass.

Wanderer - you define that last line so perfectly. Harteros is a very curious person, both innocent and knowing, living her life it seems for art which will lead her in who knows what direction (a strange personal life, from what I hear, but not a diva in the wilful sense).

Who's the 'odious richest woman in the world'? Feted by Murdoch, perhaps, who I hear briefed Lord Lawson to make his over-reported attack on the EU. Again, if people would only look behind the latest happenings...

Susan Scheid said...

David: I have so MUCH more to learn about voice, and thank you for this lesson! I can't weigh in with any intelligence on Netrebko. I liked what I heard in L'Elisir (slight though that opera seems to be), but I'd had many disappointments in the season beforehand, and in that context, she stood out as a bright light.

David Damant said...

As regards CO2 generally I fear that there is something much deeper than profit profit profit as a problem. If it would be right to ration (say) petrol/gas for cars, by price or otherwise, on environmental grounds, the voters would revolt. Their individual utility functions ( as the economists would say) are different from those of society as a whole. Thus individuals would have to sacrifice their own financial and social interests for the common good. Not an easy platform for the politicians to sell, though some moves have succeeded.
Of course, everyone should follow Kant's Categorical Imperative - that you should act personally on rules that you would wish to be general laws.

David said...

Sue - please don't think me superior! I'm sure La Trebs was charm itself in L'elisir. But everything I've seen her do - even the fitfully sensational Traviata when Villazon was on better form - is compromised by the sloppy musicianship. She's a natural phenomenon, but not quite a musical one..

David - again your economist's wisdom is much valued. You're right, people are so unwilling to give up or modify their vehicle-oriented privileges for the common good. It has to get worse before people act and it gets better. But I have some small hopes for the future.

Susan Scheid said...

I look forward to the day when we attend a concert--or opera--together. I often have conversations with you in my head; how wonderful it would be to have the chance to do so in real time/real life. (I believe it's a high probability that we will be London-way summer of 2014, so I have hope!)

wanderer said...

She would be Gina Rinehart, the 27-BIllion-Dollar (and counting) mining heiress and cartoonist's dream, who along with Murdoch, the shock-jocks and a born-to-rule (Tory) opposition has railed against a mineral resources super-profit-tax, a price on carbon, and anything else likely to impinge mining profits (like wages) with scant regard for the less fortunate by way of birth, intellect, skills, motivation, opportunities etc. Here's a tidbit and with the faux somewhere-else accent, it's the stuff of not-the-nine-o'clock news.

David Damant, regarding carbon and things climactic, the individual's reluctance to retreat from personal convenience for the sake of the greater good seems anti-Darwinian, strangely. Is it the time scale on which this scenario is playing out? The trap here is that the realisation will come too late, after the tipping point, which some say is the 400ppm mark - and that's now.

Monsieur Nice, I confess to giggling all through that Lady Macbeth because for the life of me I couldn't think of anything or anyone else but Eartha Kitt. Ms Netrebko needs to be sat down, no supper, and made to listen to Rita Hunter.

David said...

Wanderer - never seen this woman before. As with all greedy rich folk, she'd be funny if what she stands for weren't so wrong. Of course I would never stoop to the kind of comment we have here - 'this pig is disgusting and a grade A Arsehole!' - but there is more than a grain of truth in that, is there not?

Sue, Wanderer and I and our beloveds will toast you and Josie in Dresden and Berlin (stir, stir). Summer 2014 seems a long way away. BTW, I would have taken up an invitation to visit your beloved Vale of Glamorgan Festival and been there with you in spirit had the May madness not prevented.

Susan Scheid said...

I'll listen for the glasses clinking! So sorry you weren't able to get to the Festival, but I somehow suspected life may have intervened, as they say. I'll be back afore too long to glory in the flowers, as you've anticipated I would. Summer 2014 may seem a long way away now, but time does fly on continually faster. Got a chuckle out of wanderer's Eartha Kitt comparison. Now, as for other singers to whom I believe you give rather higher marks, spoke with a friend who went to Giulio Cesare and reported back that the big thrill for her was [drum roll] Alice Coote, whom she'd not heard or heard of before. How I wish I'd had a chance to hear her, too, though perhaps the day will come.

wanderer said...

A grain of truth? How do you know, but yes probably, a open cut mine truck load of it most likely. She is intensely disliked down here, and the the object of much scorn as she drags her children through the courts to block some inheritance and buys up media shares demanding to have editorial input.

But light relief is never far away, from faces you may recognise, here and here.

I so wish you (two too) were coming to Olde Europa Sue but always in our thoughts, and clinks to be sure.

David Damant said...

Wanderer - the interpreters of Darwin did indeed argue for the greater good for the race as a whole, and the individual would just have to lump it. Spencer or Lamarque ( sorry memory fails me) argued that the old and poor and the disabled should be abandoned to early death in the interests of the human race as a whole. Very foolish in the light of what we know now about the talent in the gene banks of the lower classes in the past....although Gray's Elegy in commenting on the rude forefathers of the hamlet in their narrow beds forever laid does speak of an unlettered Milton, and a Cromwell innocent of his country's blood ( interesting remark by the way). The real horror was that the simplistic view of Darwin was taklen up by the Nazis and others (Germany in South West Africa before WWI is an example)

More generally on the topic of the Future of the World, Malthus is looking to be righter and righter. We are producing more people than food, as he predicted, though for some time agricultural improvements seemed to set his arguments aside

wanderer said...

Thank you kindly David Damant for the powerful thoughts and references. I confess, shamefully, to being unfamiliar with Malthus but am now reading a little about him (ah, the internet). That he believes in an interventional Deity (interventional does not exclude Another) is where we part company.

My (spiritual I suppose) perspective on all this is that we are trapped in an existence of individualism (with all the competitiveness so implied) in denial of our true state of complete unity. Such dipoles make for unlimited complexity in how this business of evolutionary progress (for want of a better word) plays out.

David Damant said...

Malthus was very influential after he published his theory ( and vitally affected Darwin) but I think was put to an extent aside in the 20th century as food production seemed to grow so well. But now we must look again at his mathematics. I do not think his views outside his basic theory have ever been seen as important

It can be argued that one great principle is that we are inter-dependent, and do not achieve happiness "in isolation from each other but as members of society" The other great truth is that " we are all responsible moral beings" and one might almost say "that the whole of political wisdom consists in getting these two ideas in the right relationship to each other" Quotes from Mrs Thatcher.

David said...

Ha! Something of a gulf there between preaching and practice, methinks. And Malthus had some very dodgy followers, didn't he?

David Damant said...

Darwin also had a large number of dodgy followers. In the case of Darwin his tremendous and admirable qualities shine through, in all his writings, however much his ideas were misused by others. If I might recommend Joseph Carroll ( Editor) of Darwin's Origin of Species - Carroll adds a super critical apparatus and many quotes from very relevant other people. Strangely, although very controversial, and seen as an enemy of religion, so that he received no national honour, he was buried in Westminster Abbey