Wednesday, 26 January 2011
Happy birthday, Quinquin
Herrgott in Himmel, I nearly forgot that my favourite opera of all time and certainly the one I know best from head to toe, Strauss and Hofmannsthal's 'comedy for music' Der Rosenkavalier, is a hundred years old today; it took Gavin Plumley's homage - albeit with a clip of perhaps my least favourite Marschallin after Schwarzkopf, the over-indulgent Renee - on his Entartete Musik blog to remind me. Silhouette of Strauss and Hofmannsthal above by Bithorn, from the time it was shown in the Strauhof Museum Zurich's excellent exhibition 'Das Libretto'.
This is not, as they sing in the opera, quite what we'd hoped: I'd thought an annotated Rosenkav might make an intelligent coffee-table book for 2011, but there was much dragging of heels from a certain quarter, and then it was too late. Nor is there any chance for the seasonal warming of winter cockles this year, at least in the UK (what were you thinking of, Covent Garden and Mr. Pappano?)
Still, it's a time for Marschyesque reflection: almost too many great performances on stage and screen to recall. I can't quite choose an overall favourite on disc, though I guess the palm would have to go to the classic Erich Kleiber version.
I have a special affection for the Philips set, where the score is conducted like chamber music by Edo de Waart and Flicka shines as Octavian, and for the super-sumptuous if super-slow Bernstein offering. On DVD, there's no Marschallin more gorgeous and intuitively wonderful than Kiri's, though Gwyneth runs her close in the old Bavarian State Opera film: silence, you text-scoffers, and tell me in the following snippets if our often indolent Kiwi is slapdash or lacklustre with the meaning. Then along came Anne Schwanewilms's angry-beautiful redhead, and we all fell in love, I think, with that performance in an otherwise less than top-notch Dresden-in-Japan production. Sadly it's not snippeted decently on YouTube.
Best Octavians? For me, Fassbaender and Troyanos on DVD; on stage, a young Garanca in Vienna, terrific against Martina Serafin's gorgeous Marschallin - another redhead - though the creaking rep production left everyone to their own devices (lovely lady FLott said that the first time she met one of her Octavians at the Staatsoper was when she woke up in bed beside him/her). And the rest are usually good, with few matching the visual and vocal ideal of a young Sophie so well as Barbara Bonney, who seems to have stayed the girlish course for longest. I never thought Kurt Moll would make such a funny Ochs, but he does in the Met DVD, though for sheer classy delivery, dare I once again mention my good friend Peter Rose?
So what do we have that's worth seeing on YouTube (remember, to get the full picture on each of the below, you'll need to click on the moving image)? Kiri with Solti when the Schlesinger Covent Garden production was still fresh, ravishing and, yes, thoughtful in the Act 1 soliloquy:
Then let's switch to Gwyneth and Fassbaender in that classic Munich production, superlatively well conductor by Kleiber junior:
and back to Kiri, this time in a tired old Met staging which has just been issued on CD, and the fustian doesn't matter since the four leads find such meaning in interacting with each other. And though Levine has been quite a grand conductor of the score, his lavishness never holds up the proceedings like Thielemann's. The Sophie is Judith Blegen, no ingenue but still vocally very fine. Shame the whole thing stops at the end of the trio.
So raise a glass of old Tokay if you would to a complex masterpiece that's kept all the moaners on the run for a century now and retained its central place in a warhorse repertoire against the odds.
29/1 Very much on a related note, and as I mentioned in the reply to Jon below, the most beautiful Mozart/Strauss voice ever, Dame Margaret Price, died yesterday at the age of 69. I've written a brief tribute on The Arts Desk, and may add more here over the next few days. As always with these losses, such balm to be able to listen to her greatest recordings - and they are legion - by way of response.
I'm impressed that the BBC News website has a tribute among its headlines - as, of course, it should, but that kind of thing hasn't been happening recently. Are opera and classical music returning centre-stage as newsworthy?
Labels: Anne Schwanewilms, Brigitte Fassbaender, Dame Kiri te Kanawa, Der Rosenkavalier, Gwyneth Jones, Hofmannsthal, Kleiber, Margaret Price, Richard Strauss, Tatiana Troyanos
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A post with 'but what about' stamped all over it! So - what about the brushed velvet Octavian of Yvonne Minton (I know - you're too young; tick tock) for starters?
Oh dear - it wasn't advertised as anything but my own list of favourites. I'm more than happy to hear from others - even Schwarzkopf fans - but I always find that Solti recording with Minton a bit freaky 'cos her top notes always sound like the engineer's asked her to turn to the wall. Might have been editing - the fabulous velvet eventually collided with tuning problems that leave her later recordings riven with edits (try the Sesto on the Philips Clemenza).
But do tell me more if you feel so inclined.
Sorry - misread the no-ad. Please forgive. The Solti (68) gives little indication of the bloom which she was more than capable of delivering then, the time she sang Octavian down here. Yes there was a (health) crisis in the 70s from which she never recovered (although I did hear her Fricka at ROH as late as 1980).
Likewise forgive - I had no idea about the health crisis (from which, I guess, she recovered - I heard her in the Glyndebourne Lulu in the 1990s). But I never caught her Octavian live, so now I understand).
Everyone's welcome to advertise personal enthusiasms here, too.
I knew the late Graefin Degenfeld -Rosenkavalier was written in her house, and she had many anecdotes. After the death of her husband she and Hofmannsthal were close and their large correspondence over many years has been published: not exactly gripping, though of historical interest. They were probably not lovers
Yvonne Minton sang Gluck's Orpheus at the Cambridge University Opera Society in the sixties. We rehearsed in the Cambridge Drill Hall, and her "Furies, Phantoms, Monsters of Horror" had the Teritorial soldiers from neigbouring rooms startled and amazed
One thing that connects your out-pile (Schwarzkopf and Fleming), David, is their continuous use of rich and creamy vibrato. (But then your beloved Kiri has that too...)
I've often wondered whether Margarethe Siems employed it in the premiere. Up to around that time, vibrato had been used more sparingly, for colour and emphasis. The change, influencing both instrumentalists and singers, was heralded particularly by the arrival (and great success) of Kreisler.
When Legge was coaching Schwarzkopf after WW2, he used recordings of Kreisler and Ponselle(another cream dispenser) as the benchmarks.
I'll listen again today to some Siems...
Schwarzkopf 'rich and creamy', Roger? Pinched and tight are the adjectives that come to mind for me. The only Strauss of hers I find bearable is the early ('47) Sophie for Karajan. Renee is creamier, but can be a bit curdled, too: the problem I have there is with the over-sentimentalisation of the end of Act 1, especially when Thielemann indulges her in some ridiculously slow tempi.
I have Siems on lp, it's not an attractive sound, but then the recording is very old. Bizarre that she went on to sing Zerbinetta.
In spite of your reservations about her, David, here's Siems with Nast and von der Osten in the last act trio. The original cast recorded in Berlin just seven months after the premiere:
Exciting for we ancient recording lovers!
Yep, that's the one I have on a Court Opera Classics LP - amazing to have that document, and glad it's on YouTube (what isn't?) hard as it is to judge it properly. Also on the LP is 'Die Zeit, sie ist ein sonderbar Ding', plus Marie in Fille du Regiment, Gilda, Lucia, Aida - not perhaps what we might associate with a Marschallin voice...
Siems was originally a lightish coloratura. Her "Ombra leggiera" from Meyerbeer's Dinorah (1903) is a stunning bel canto tour de force. It's on EMI's "A Record of Singers" vol 1 part 2.
And clearly carried on being so, Roger, since I think I'm right in saying she went on to create the role of Zerbinetta. Funny to thank that another Marschallin, Lotte Lehmann, created the Composer, and of course there are plenty of Ariadne Marschallins - just as we learn that Soderstrom sang all three soprano roles (yes, Octavian, like the Composer, was conceived for a soprano) in Rosenkav in the same year...
I've had the random thought for sometime of a hypothetical performance of Der Rosenkavalier with Thomas Quasthoff singing Ochs, more in the "What if?" realm. Wonder what others think.
The two live, one real and one virtual, occasions where I've seen Der Rosenkavalier theatrically both featured Susan Graham as Octavian, in Vienna at the Staatsoper (real live) and the Met Opera's recent HD-cast (virtual live). SG obviously had more of an "adolescent" feel in the earlier performance in Vienna, but was fun to watch both times.
The snag for me, Geo., about Susan Graham's Octavian is that she/he's so jolly solid, with none of the necessary insecurities of youth.
No reason why Quasthoff shouldn't record it, is there - though it seems the days of studio Rosenkavs are over. But while there are certain roles in which he could be convincing, it would be hard to get around the boorish dominance of Ochs, which he wouldn't be able to do, surely - and besides, the voice was, at least, almost too beautiful. Though freund Peter Rose sings the part quite gentlemanly-like, which is interesting - and I love the Act 3 characterisation Carsen asks from Hawlata, of an innocent abroad in the stews of Vienna.
A gorgeous trio of lovely ladies, Jon, and I'd never heard it, so thanks for that. Alas, only Gundula still with us, and today we learn of the departure of what I'm inclined to think was the loveliest soprano voice ever recorded, Margaret Price. Wrote a bit about that over on Arts Desk and may catch up here.
What a strange yet compelling sound Janowitz's is, though, an even quaverier vibrato than Popp's yet offset also by that luminosity, which she kept even in very late performances (freund Peter just sent us a film of a Mozart mass when he was very young and she was very old, and the youthful quality is amazing).
Also moved to see your chronicle of personal significance ever on Parterre. SO many stories there - how amazing about the person (woman, strangely enough, I'm assuming - there are a few who comment there) who plucked up the courage to get a divorce on the strength of grasping the meaning in the final scene of Act 1.
Yes, awful news about Price. I saw it on wiki last night, and in the absence of any corroboration elsewhere I had been hoping that it might have been one of those weird moments where the internet makes something up, but alas it wasn't to be.
I wish I'd seen/heard Price in Mozart or lieder; as it turned out, the only time I ever caught her live was in Ballo at CG, which wasn't really her role on stage, despite her beautiful recording of it. I had tickets to see her as Donna Anna (with Allen and Kiri- quite the cast) but she cancelled.
On a happier note, I have a discovery for you. Go to YouTube and type in 'Javier Fuentes'. Astonishing. And not in the good way.
Madre de dios, maybe there should be a whole new countertenor appendix to the soprano/mezzo carcrashes of that truly great album 'The Muse Surmounted', with the immortal Bunchuk Wontner woman completely eclipsing Florence Foster Jenkins.
But back to the sublime: Roger Neill reminded me over on TAD of holy Margaret's Liszt. Her Petrarch Sonnets on an old Wigmore recital LP are another example of absolutely flawless singing. I didn't see her on stage an awful lot, but the last time was collectable - a Gurrelieder in Paris which also featured Hans Hotter as the Sprecher.
A commment following the report of the Marschallin and Octavian meeting for the first time in bed : - the Vienna Staatsoper is seen by at least one of the world's leading sopranos as the place where you virtually have to walk off the plane onto the stage, with the briefest run-through of the planned production, even for the Ring.
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