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Opera Night for the German AIDS Foundation – Live Concert from the Opera Cologne 2005
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Einzug der Gaste (Tannhauser)
Chorus of the Opera Cologne [7.57]
Lied an den Abendstern (Tannhauser) Thomas Quasthoff (baritone) [8.15]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Una furtiva lagrima
(L'elisir d'amore) Saimir Pirgu (tenor) [4.54]
Leonore viens (La Favorita) Carlos Alvarez (baritone) [7.30]
Gioacchino ROSSINI
(1792-1868)
Nacqui all'inffanno (La Cenerentola) Vivica Genaux (mezzo) [10.09]
Bell raggio lusinghier (Semiramide) Isabel Bayrakdarian (soprano) [9.07]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Dove sono i bel momenti
(Marriage of Figaro) Tamar Iveri (soprano) [7.31]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Pace Pace mio Dio
(Force of Destiny) Michele Crider (soprano) [7.50]; 10. Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924) Recondita armonia (Tosca) Neil Shicoff (tenor) [6.50]
E lucevan le stelle
(Tosca) Neil Shicoff [4.33]
Chi il bel sogno di Doretta
(La Rondine) Tamar Iveri [5.07]
Richard STRAUSS
(1864-1949)

Marie Theres! Hab' mir's gelobt
(Der Rosenkavalier) Edda Moser, Claudia Rohrbach, Regina Richter (sopranos) [6.04]
George GERSHWIN
(1898-1937)
Introduction [1:07], Summertime Michele Crider [5.50](Porgy and Bess) [1.07]
Jeronimo GIMENEZ

La tarantula e un bicho mu malo
(La Tempranica) Vivica Genaux [5.54]
Albert LORTZING (1801-1851)
O sancta justitia
(Zar und Zimmermann) Thomas Quasthoff [10.57]
Ernesto de CURTIS
Non ti scordar di me
, Saimir Pirgu [4.06]
Gene de PAUL
Bless your beautiful hide
(Seven Brides for Seven Brothers) Carlos Alvarez [4.37]
Leonard BERNSTEIN
(1918-1990)
Tonight (West Side Story) Complete Cast and Chorus [3.59]
Gurzenich Orchestra Cologne/Markus Stenz
Konrad Beikircher, narrator and presenter
rec. 2 July 2005, Cologne.
Picture Format 16.9; Region Code: 0
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101105 [125:00]


Forgive the ramblings of a superannuated colonial but here in Australia we haven't heard of most of the artists appearing on this DVD. We've heard of Edda Moser and Neil Shicoff because they've graced the musical world for many years. We've also heard of Markus Stenz but only because until recently he was the Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
 
Even baritone Thomas Quasthoff is relatively unknown. Certainly pictures of him have not been widely publicised. What a remarkable man he is; he's not only conquered his thalidomide disability but, at the age of just 46, he has now conquered the classical musical world. Fischer-Dieskau in 1988 praised him for his 'wondrously beautiful voice'. For years he doubted his ability to sing the classics, flirting with singing jazz and doing stints as a NDR radio announcer. Now, not only does he teach voice, he also performs.
 
This DVD has been recorded to benefit the battle against AIDS and deserves our support. Musically, I am not quite sure. It has its ups and downs. Take the two selections from Quasthoff for example. His first contribution from Tannhauser is not really up his street; it requires a bit more light and shade, and despite his remarkable qualities Quasthoff doesn't quite succeed. His second effort from Lortzing's Zar und Zimmermann is an improvement. In spite of my not being able to understand the lyrics (he sang in German and there were no subtitles) it was obviously a comic aria and Quasthoff easily conveyed the spritely nature of the song.
 
The overriding feeling that lingers from this recording, however, is that the majority of the artists sing too loudly, and I include Quasthoff in this. Perhaps the fact that the orchestra plays behind the singers is disconcerting but for veterans like soprano Edda Moser and tenor Neil Shicoff that should not have posed a problem.
 
I didn't think anyone could ruin the trio from Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier but unfortunately the version that Ms Moser, Claudia Rohrbach and Regina Richter tried to sing, achieved that. The trio is musical lace, fragile, intricate and delicate. Instead we got robustness and a lack of subtlety. The voices were on a constant collision course both with the orchestra and themselves.
 
Similarly Neil Shicoff was too loud and passionate in Puccini's Recondita Armonia and E lucevan le stelle from Tosca. He was in fine voice and on more than one occasion proved he has not lost the pianissimo in his voice. In addition everything was sooooo slow. In fact with E lucevan he controlled the tempo himself - you could see Stenz following his lead - but, perhaps in an effort to give the impression of passion, he dragged it too much.
 
In that regard Marcus Stenz was admirable. He allowed the singers sufficient latitude to explore their phrasing in a musical and sensible manner.
 
Baritone Carlos Alvarez also suffered from too much volume, soprano Michele Crider was too dramatic but Alaskan-born mezzo Vivica Genaux impressed with her Zarzuela rendition from Gimenez's La Tempranica. Her first contribution from Rossini's La Cenerentola was good but how I wish some coloraturas would generate their trills from the back of the throat and not through manipulations of the lips. Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian showed us how to do it admirably with her aria from Semiramide. Trills are wonderful when there is an air of wonderment about how they are produced.
 
Georgian-born Tamar Iveri was very good especially when singing Puccini's aria Chi il bel sogno di Doretta from La Rondine. Star performer, however, was tenor Saimir Pirgu with Donizetti's Una furtiva lagrima and De Curtis's canzone Non ti scordar di me. He is very personable, has a natural grace, great stage presence and a promising bel-canto voice.
 
It only remains for me to mention how entertaining and refreshing it was to hear Konrad Beikircher's as narrator and presenter. Fortunately, the subtitles were working then and his comments were greatly appreciated.
 
Randolph Magri-Overend
 

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