Christian Gerhaher as natural resource (Wigmore Hall, 28 November 2018)
It’s not for nothing that my last post regarding Christian Gerhaher involved a white horse: he’s on the mild side of the typical baritone. Last night I kinda felt a few moments of darker teething but they stood out exactly because they are so unusual for him. As do his bottom notes, which seem like a different language than he normally speaks. Whenever he ventured there (not often), it hit me: oh, he’s a baritone! Not that he normally sounds like a tenor; he normally sounds like Gerhaher. He has all the warmth of the baritone but none of the nastiness habitually associated with the term.
It seems that everybody likes this White Chocolate of baritones, because the house was packed like a charismatic church on faith healing day. Bring me your old, bring me your young, bring me your sick and bring me your healthy! Just keep the poor home 😉 Kidding.
In front of me sat the unlikely pairing of a younger but portlier James Levine-lookalike who only needed half a phrase to brag how he’d already seem Gerhaher 100 times1 and a sedentary grasshopper, with the pernickety air of a retired mechanical engineering teacher, currently masquerading as a skyscraper (seriously, he was the tallest person I’d ever seen in my life), next to me the Islington version of Stephen King kept his nose in the programme because words are important, ffs! and behind me two people in wheelchairs were in the midst of a conversation about Ermonela Jaho’s skills as Violetta.
I’d never met a Jaho fan2 before, so I had to turn around and see who was standing up for her to this extent. That was when a fashionably bearded Bismarck walked past, along with a lady sporting that droopy cheek and eyelid thing so specific to certain English physionomies – but only after I spotted her exchanging double cheek kisses with some gent. Clearly the lady voted Remain. We also had the bald patch + straw hair mullet “conductor from the provinces”, a male movie star from the 1940s (he looked exactly like that, with his slicked back parted hair, hard done by eyes and suit) and minorities from 2018. Basically the entire country, for the past 150 years.
Christian Gerhaher baritone
Gerold Huber piano
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Sei mir gegrüsst D741
Dass sie hier gewesen D775
Lachen und Weinen D777
Du bist die Ruh D776
Wolfgang Rihm (b.1952)
Tasso-Gedanken (UK première)
Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
Alban Berg (1885-1935)
Vier Lieder Op. 2
Lied eines Verliebten
Auf ein altes Bild
Auf eine Christblume II
Grenzen der Menschheit
Lady: how did you like the Rihm?
Gent: I didn’t dislike it.
Lady: I didn’t like it but I didn’t hate it.
Maybe you know this piece, I didn’t, since it was a UK premiere and, duh, contemporary. What do I know, right? Well, I know now that it sounds like you imagine it. The above descriptions are very apt, even though they lack in imagination.
What it brought to my (very imaginative) mind was the bell curve of adrenaline rush. When a person is pissed off and adrenaline kicks in, it takes exactly 90 min3 until the person calms down. During that period, the person will do something regrettable at least once, but possibly more than once, in quick succession, depending on 1) how annoying/lacking in diplomacy the people around are, 2) whether they have wisely vacated the premises and taken cover, 3) whether there is suitable property just waiting to be destroyed. In the end, arousal will drop below the person’s garden variety level, due to exhaustion. This is when you rush in and acuphase the composer 😉
Why nobody hated it is because it was sung by White Chocolate on white horse Gerhaher. I didn’t hate it either, although I quite possibly dozed off for a minute or two of those 900, only being sprung back to contemporary reality during the spikes of regrettability, known as tuneful shrieks. Artists always embelish reality, so the structure of the composition didn’t mimic science to a t.
Other than that it was a delightful performance. The Jaho fan commented that Gerhaher started very softly but 1) everyone does, because duh, 2) I like it, 3) Gerhaher’s chief attraction to me is how he can make himself heard anywhere (that I’ve seen him, which is exactly two places) very clearly both in volume and diction-wise, without having to max the ping, which he doesn’t have, anyway. He doesn’t need it, his tone is civilised and sensitive, the addition of ping would be akin to opening a fast food joint on the first floor of an ecohouse.
The other chief attractions are 1) how well he collaborates with the accompanist – I love singers who don’t sing in the vacuum of their glorious talent and intelligence <3, 2) no phrase ever sounds dull.
You know how some singers will focus on this or that part of a song/aria and make that it all nice and polished, because they’ve decided that’s the bit that matters – but leave other words/parts to hang limp and sound uninteresting, like they’re just there (bad librettist/poet!). Well, he doesn’t. There are other singers who manage that (hint: the ones that I like), of course, but he’s one them. The whole is really a whole, not just a clever pun with leftover dressing.
Now I need to see if I can get returns4 for his Winterreise.
- I was compelled to run mental calculations on how many times a year he had to have dutifully trotted to Gerhaher recitals or Tannhauser. ↩
- It was him that was in the midst of the conversation, the lady was rather to the side of it, gauging his enthusiasm against her willingness to see yet another Traviata, (probably the 500th, relative to her age vs portly Levine’s). ↩
- Not 89, not 91 – exactly 90. Kidding 😉 but that’s the ballpark. ↩
- I got this ticket as a return, too :-) ↩
Christian Gerhaher rides a white horse and causes a few damsels to joyously faint (Wigmore Hall, 15 July 2017)
Chatty mature lady: have you seen Gerhaher before?
dehggi: yes, but not in recital, only in Tannhauser.
Chatty mature lady: he was the only reason I went to see Tannhauser!
So it came to pass that I saw Gerhaher at Wiggy. I suppose had I hunted for returns I could’ve seen him earlier but for all my traipsing around I really am not the type to hang around for returns (or anything else). If they happen organically… you’ve heard me say that before. My current ticket was such an organic occasion – Baroque Bird couldn’t go and we had talked ahead of time that I would gladly take the ticket given those circumstances.
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Die schöne Magelone Op. 33
Christian Gerhaher baritone
Gerold Huber piano
Ulrich Tukur actor
The beautiful Magelone is the story of a young knight who goes out on a maturity quest, which provides many occasions for exceptional feats of arms, proofs of great courage and wise choices for someone so young. Also, a seemingly endless opportunity to sing. His name is not Magelone – that’s the princess who falls madly in love with his jousting skills and singing chops. He is more modestly named Pierre. I’ve learned all this with the help of Tukur, who provided the (English) cliff notes to what happens in between the singing bits. Although he scared us all non German speakers when he did the introduction in German.
I’ve not seen a song cycle done this way before but it sure helps those on an erudition spectrum 😉 I saw on operaramblings that Soile Isokoski just had a recital with surtitles in Toronto, so perhaps this trend is catching. (Now that I dug a bit, here’s further proof of my sliding down the spectrum: this cycle seems habitually done this way; Goerne performed it the same way at Wiggy, 11 years ago!)
As you know I’m not the kind to spend a performance with my nose stuck in the programme (if it comes into my possession organically I will peruse it beforehand but unicorns are surprisingly rare at Wiggy). Surtitles = please bring them on. An actor reading it = even better, if all parties can afford the addition.
The story as read by Tukur proved hilarious. My fave part was this: a random nosy raven shows up just when our hero finds his three rings inside the locket of his conveniently asleep beloved – after he’d “eased off her dress”. Wait, what??? What kind of noble knight behviour is that? No wonder a raven showed up and flew away with the ring(s). Moral conundrums aside, our hero dashes off after the raven and, long story short, he falls into the Mediterranean, gets caught by moorish pirates and ends up sold into slavery to the Ottoman sultan (quite historically accurate, no?).
This is the type of story that ends well, so the two lovebirds find each other again – also by chance, after we understand that each of them has gained their gender required knowledge in the ways of the world (Magelone picks herself up, realises that he has not left of his own volition and waits for him whilst doing assorted au-pair duties for a farmer family in the Naples countyside – obviously back then even rich families didn’t enlist the help of local law enforcement to look for their missing damsels).
You might be wondering by now but dehggi, what happened to the raven? No? What about Gerhaher on his white horse? Oh, yes! He waited gamely for the cliff notes to unfold and then launched into Pierre’s mood-illustrating songs. Gotta love the Romantics, they were really confident in their genius. All these songs on a medieval theme sound absolutely nothing like one would imagine medieval music. No matter, though, because they are very fine indeed, and cover a wide range of moods. You can say that Pierre’s basic nature is jolly but, of course, what with loving and then losing (thanks for nothing, raven!), some somber tunes found their way within as well.
With this format there is inevitably a break in the mood, because reading a Romantic story in a 21st century English translation is one thing and singing Brahms in German is another. Sometimes I really wanted to find out what happened next and hear the music separately at a later time, Gerhaher or no Gerhaher. But his phrasing is really gorgeous and when he was singing I didn’t want us to go back to reading. I also really like his top (as well as his tie), as showcased by these songs. He’s the kind of singer whose fach affiliation you don’t have to question – he has the density and just enough weight – but who has heart flutter inducing notes up and down the range. So I gently fainted with the rest of the damsels (the hall was packed) and sighed behind my veil.
“venera gimadieva nude”, Tito in Aspen and other news from the cave
the nudes …another eyebrow-raising search engine term. Dear reader, I must disappoint you. I actually had to google Ms Gimadieva’s images as I had only a vague idea of how she looked (= brunette). Less of an idea about her in the nude 😉 but I can see how those who like typical Russian features might dig further (and they will have to, I don’t have any related pictures stashed around this blog).
the cave. I’m in the cave because I’ve been struck by ear blockage, which prevented me from going to see Spyres and El-Khoury yesterday. So much for giving Spyres another chance. After some in-house work on my ears I’m crossing my fingers Gerhaher projects tonight because I don’t want to miss him as well now that I finally chanced on a ticket to see him in recital. You see how fate keeps trying to stop me from seeing him?
Tito. It’s been a while, eh? But you might remember it’s not long now that Tito will return to Glyndebourne and the Proms, so there will be a lot of Tito talk around here, like in the good old days.
In the meanwhile, somebody graciously informed me that the Aspen Music Festival is running three Tito dates this August, so if you can get there check it out. I would love to see Tito in that kind of landscape (I’m from a mountain town myself).
Woman at Ground Zero. The show happened on Thursday, before my blocked ear wahala. I loved it! It’s the kind of contemporary opera project I can happily get behind. Post to come.
The Love for Three Oranges. Just for fun 🙂
Orfeo jinxes his own happiness
I was watching the recent Lausanne Orfeo and started feeling critical as things went on. By Vi ricorda o boschi ombrosi I stopped for a quick break of “that performance you keep returning to”. If the YT comment section teaches us one thing it’s there’s no accounting for taste. I’m not saying my preference is law but it seems it’s strong enough for me to reserve a post for it. Here are a few different takes (there are plenty out there!):
Though I’m not a diction nazi, I think for Monteverdi a strong command of it is more important than in other cases. Just like how Gerhaher makes a wonderful case for the German language, so does ACA for Italian. I just love the sound of the sound of the words coming out of her mouth! (phrasing included, not just beauty) Which is a reason I gave you this black screen instead of this where you can also see her but the sound isn’t as good.
Next we have said Gerhaher, because I had never heard him sing in Italian before. I would say he’s not an ideal Orfeo and this production1 itself is a bit too German/neurotic but he is quite obviously fully committed and musical enough (plus the honey tone) to get my attention. The percussion also gets a thumbs up from me. If you wait, this video includes Boni singing Messagera’s lament.
Here we have a singer who has so far left me cold. I know he has a lot of fans but I just never quite got him (and speaking of Gerhaher, he came on top where Papageno is concerned, though Keenlyside was equipped with a duck hat). However, to my surprise, here he does a very commending (and commanding) job. It’s perhaps the most positive Orfeo I have seen and also the most magnetic (of the male ones); most Orfei seem rather self-effacing. Also, his athleticism gets him an extra cookie. I still feel his singing a bit too polished2 but susprisingly I have no other qualms about it.
Just goes to show you never quite know when you’re going to like a singer.
- When I saw the VW van my first thought was “hey, they stole it from Manrico’s over at ROH!” And it turns out that, yes, just like Kusej brings his boys in tighty withies everywhere and Guth his angels, so does Bösch travel in a beat-up VW van around his various stagings :-D ↩
- Though it fits the stylised choreography. ↩
In Bach’s defense (Ich habe genug)
I’ve been catching up with my own recommendations and it was time to visit Gerhaher’s Proms 2016 take on Bach’s Ich habe genug. I liked it so much I listened to it twice in a row. So there you go, there is hope yet 😉
Edit: at some point the Proms link might go flat, so I thought I’d bump thadieu’s link to Stutzmann’s take on it for all of us contralto fans and because it’s wonderful in general: