Ioan Holender Farewell Concert
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A galaxy of stars from the world of opera come together in this farewell benefit gala, staged in tribute to the outgoing manager of the Vienna State Opera, Ioan Holender. Performers include Placido Domingo, Barbara Frittoli, Leo Nucci, Anna Netrebko, and Ramon Vargas.
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In the line up of singers and conductors, most, if not all, of Europe's big names in opera turned up.
Veterans like Placido Domingo, Ferruccio Furlanetto led the way. The relative newbies included those who are right now in full dominance of the operatic scene - Natalie Dessay, Piotr Beczala, Anna Netrebko, Diana Damrau, just to name a few.
The Vienna State Opera's own orchestra and choir gave wonderful support to the star singers. Big names among conductors included Bertrand de Billy, Antonio Pappano, Armiliato, Domingo and others.
Not all the singers performed solo pieces, but for those who did, their performances spoke for their fame: Ferruccio Furlanetto, already in his 60's and having sung the role of Filippo II in Verdi's Don Carlo numerous times on stage, gave a stunning performance of Filippo's famous aria ('She does not love me'). I remember seeing Furlanetto singing this role under Herbert von Karajan in the 1980's, when he was a newbie. The timbre has grown darker, and his expressivity in this aria have grown considerably with his age. Another outstanding performer is Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, in two French arias by Massanet and Gunound. Then Anna Netrebko, in a bright red dress, brought the house down with an excerpt from Massanet's Manon. While no longer as girlish and giddy as she used to be, Netrebko has matured into a great soprano, being totally in command of her vocal powers and fully confident in her stage presence.
Among the soloists, Damrau and Dessay both demonstrated a certain amount of vocal decline, which is a great pity. The Bellini excerpt from La Sonnambula ill-suits Diana Damrau's vocal style, while Dessay, though technically impeccable in her performance of Marie's arias in Donizetti's Le Fille du Regiment, has a voice that shows its age in the top notes.
It is a pity that Juan Diego Florez, Jonas Kaufmann, Rolando Villazon and Angela Gheorghiu could not make it to appear in this concert.
The program lasts nearly four hours, but time goes by very quickly when in such good company as with these great artists. I will mention some of the highlights, that in particular intrigued or interested me, but there are many more:
Waltraut Meier in "Isoldes Liebestod". It is always amazing to see and hear this intelligent singer especially in her star role as Isolde. Just listen to her singing the last phrase - and importantly, without taking a breath before "Lust".
Diana Damrau sings "Ah! Non credea mirarti" from "La sonnambula. A wonderful scene from a wonderful opera. I can tell that Damrau is a competent singer, but I have not really heard her sing before. I'm not absolutely thrilled about her work here, but on the other hand I'm a little captivated, so this is a part of the show I'll return to often, I think. Perhaps there are some of you who could give some insightful guidance to this singer?
A special highlight for me was Angela Denoke and Stephen Gould's version of "Glück, das mir verblieb" from "Die tote Stadt." This is a shining example, that it need not be perfect singing to be intense and moving art.
Johan Bohta was, though he sang divinely beautiful, a bit of a disappointment. Maybe it's not a good thing to include him in so many close-ups. He tends to raise eyebrows and locking eyes wide to emphasize the gist of the " Gralserzälung" from "Lohengrin", and frankly, it began to look a little comical, but what a singing technique and voice that man has. Smooth sound throughout the whole register. I saw him as Siegmund in "Die Walküre" at Bayreuth this summer, and in the entire "Ring"-cycle, that I attended, he was definitely the star of an else pretty mediocre ensemble. But with this voice of his, that is so well suited for Wagner, he would be a star in any cast.
In my opinion Anna Netrebko is an incredibly charming singer with a beautiful voice and undoubtedly very good looks. But her present repertoire does not always suit her vocal abilities, I think. She is not really a bel canto singer, and often the coloraturas cause her difficulties. But I like her more and more, and after her absolutely fantastic version in this concert of "Je marche sur tous les chemins .... Obéissons Quandt leur Apelles Voix" from "Manon", I know I have to hear her live as soon as possible.
Another example to prove that great art does not necessarily mean perfectly sung tones, is Natalie Dessay's version of "Salut à la France!" from "La Fille du regiment." I am a very big fan of Natalie Dessay's. I think that her voice usually is really beautiful, and for me she is the epitome of a bel canto singer. I have seen and heard her live do "La sonnambula" which was a fantastic experience. She is a great artist, who intermediates her roles in a formidable fashion. Of course this is also the case here, though she unfortunately has some voice problems. But as usual she throws herself fearlessly into the coloraturas and the high notes. And even if her high notes don't come to her easily on this occasion, this is a real highpoint in the concert, because she is such a great artist. And the Viennese audience did apparently think so, too, which by the look on her face seemed to come to her as bit of a surprise.
Simon Keenlyside is a singer that I've heard about, but I had never had the opportunity to hear him sing before. He sings "Perfidi! All'Anglo contro me v'unite ... Pietà, rispetto, onore" from "Macbeth". It is perhaps a truism for many of you, but I have to note that he made a big impression on me with his fine voice and especially his amazing identification with the role and his concentration. Try looking at his hands while he sings.
One thing I find really appealing about this concert is that it also includes numbers that may not be the absolute highlights of the most famous operas. E.g. we hear the final scene from "Die Frau Ohne Schatten", sublimely performed by a very strong ensemble, but strangely enough not to the greatest enthusiasm in the audience, which I didn't quite understand. I think the opera is a masterpiece, but perhaps the Viennese found the singers a little too stagnant and uninvolved? If you, too, think that this is the case, then I would encourage you to listen with your eyes closed - awesome, in my opinion.
Another number of the same greatness in terms of artistic expression, but perhaps not in general popularity, is a small excerpt from "Das Rheingold". This piece creates much more enthusiasm in the audience, perhaps because of a really fine effort from Loge, sung by Adrian Eröd, who, incidentally, is actually a baritone, here singing a tenor's part.
In addition to the mentioned highpoints I would also like to point out good performances from the following: Soile Isokoski: "Und ob die Wolke sie verhülle" from "Der Freischütz" - very fine voice control - Leo Nucci: "In Braccio all dovizie" from "I vesperi Siciliani", Piotr Beczala: Pourquoi Me Reveille" and "Salut! Demeure chaste e pure" from "Faust", Violeta Urmana: "Pace, pace, mio Dio" from "La forza del destino", Ramón Vargas: "Amor ten vieta" from "Fedora" and "L'amour! ... Ah! live-toi, soleil!" from "Romeo and Juliet" and last but not least, Ferruccio Furlanetto doing King Philip's big aria from "Don Carlos". In the French version. Probably because it's the version on the repertoire. The concert program is composed of numbers from 40 of the operas that have been played at The Vienna State Opera in Ioan Holenders time as artistic director.
Well, this review is already too long, so I better stop here. I recommend that you buy this DVD and put it in your player as soon as possible. It's a real bargain.
Lastly a few technical notes: The sound is excellent in PCM stereo, but becomes much clearer, crisp and attentive in DTS, and the dynamics of the recording are really good.
Will Domingo EVER stop singing?