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.
I discovered I can never have enough Cléopâtre, and they all must be experienced in countries known for their chocolate. As you might have gleaned from my Akhnaten post(s), Ancient Egypt related stuff scores high with me (except for Aida, but we’ll talk about Sr Verdi soon enough). Then there’s the music. Throw in a bit of faux-Egyptian sound and I’m yours. What can I say? Neoclassic Berlioz rocks. And how badass are the lyrics:
Grands Pharaons, nobles Lagides,
Verrez-vous entrer sans courroux,
Pour dormir dans vos pyramides,
Une reine indigne de vous?
Non, j’ai d’un époux déshonoré la vie.
Sa cendre est sous mes yeux, son ombre me poursuit.
C’est par moi qu’aux Romains l’Égypte est asservie.
Par moi nos dieux ont fui les murs d’Alexandrie
After the two Röschmann/Uchida shows, thadieu and I embarked for Europe, to, as I explained to my opera-virgin ex-in-laws, “see some women sing some stuff”. You might wonder what my ex-in-laws have to do with anything. We met them because I needed the good camera, of which l’ex and I have joint custody. Here’s what I mean:
As you can see we had excellent weather if a bit treacherous to some. Never having been to Basel (or to Switzerland for that matter) I suddenly became picture crazy and pointed the camera at everything under the sun but I won’t bore you, gentle reader, with all those ivy-covered walls or with Rhein’s fast currents that I just had to capture for
posterity the harddrive. Suffice to say we had a lovely stroll through the centre of Basel at the end of which we went around in circles a bit before being told the venue was just around the corner. I took pictures of everything except for the venue. But it was quite small and felt relaxed and comfy.
György Ligeti (1923-2006)
Concert Românesc (1951)
Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)
La mort de Cléopâtre – Scène lyrique für Sopran und Orchester (1829)
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Sinfonie Nr. 3 F-Dur, op. 90 (1883)
Conductor: Enrique Mazzola | Sinfonieorchester Basel
Concert românesc. This turns out to be an extremely fun piece that makes me want to go on a mad Ligeti binge though I know better (?). Familiarity with the subject matter brings mischieviousness: does the orchestra sound Romanian enough? Does Ligeti know what that means? I think Ligeti did a good job at compiling a medley of traditional Romanian themes which doesn’t sound tossed together. The orchestra, I think, could’ve been even more playful in the fun bits, it felt a bit this-is-classical-music earnest. The Romanian spirit, I’d say, is rather glib and rubato is always a good idea, except you should know where to use it 😉 There’s a lot of chillin’n’gigglin’ and not that much darkness (in spite of what good ol’ Dracula would have the world think). But still fun, especially when the intruments had their solo moments. No one could envy the first violin’s job at the very end. That little finger got a hell of a workout. But she was deteremined, oh yes!
Cléopâtre. Familiarity with a piece also comes in handy when dealing with an unexpectedly mushy brain. By which I mean I could still (kinda) follow the music and appreciate that the conductor went gentler than usual and less dark too from the getgo. We were strategically placed right at the front, just to the left of the conductor (so very clever, I thought, with little concern for the perils ahead…). VK came in, moved the music stand out of the way and got her mad moves going
under above our noses. A few days before, thadieu and I had this short convo:
thadieu: maybe she’ll wear the red dress from Mannheim. Have I shown you the pictures?
dehggi (appreciative but confident): chill, I can cope.
Famous last words. On the one hand woohoo, the red dress from Mannheim! On the other dude… front row view = pictures X 1000. Foggy brain for the rest of the performance:
dehggi: don’t talk to me right now, can’t process words.
thadieu: 😀 what did I tell you!
dehggi: so how was the singing?
So, there you go. It was intense. At some point VK suddenly stepped towards us, did the finger-pointy thing and went OSIRIS! That cleared the brain a bit. Me: whoa! Osiris is in this one too?! I must check the damn lyrics if I like it as much as I claim, because left to VK there are precious few words to understand.
dehggi: this time I understood more than usual!
thadieu: I got maybe three words.
dehggi: exactly 😀
You know what she needs to do? Pair this thing up with Ô ma lyre immortelle and another couple of pieces of that sort and we’ve got a consistent recital in this repertoire. The red dress must be part of it.
Brahms as come down drug. Don’t ask me how things went before the slow movement. That one came out extremely warm and lyrical and surprisingly (or not?) that brought my attention back into focus. Then the allegro ending worked as a re-grouping agent and my hands dried and I was able to grin and think again. The both of us agreed the orchestra sounded tight. We were too low to see the winds but they sounded well. Thadieu liked the first violin a lot, I appreciated the upright bass though he was called to play quite gently throughout. The conductor jumped around a lot – between him and VK it felt like a capoeira convention 😉 I jest. You catch my drift, it was a fun evening though way less coherent than usual for me. Remember, I’m a rational person… most of the time. When low cut dresses and bare shoulders aren’t quite as close. Next time it’s back to the upper slips for me.
Who am I kidding? 😀