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René Pape - Gods, Kings & Demons
Charles GOUNOD (1818 – 1893)
Faust
1. Le veau d’or est toujours debout [1:58]
2. Sérénade: Vous qui faites l’endormie [2:42]
Arrigo BOITO (1842 – 1918)
Mefistofele
3. Ballata: Ecco il mondo, vuoto e tondo [2:19]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803 – 1869)
La damnation de Faust
4. Voici des roses [2:47]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
Don Carlo
5. Ella giammai m’amo … Dormiro sol [10:30]
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819 – 1880)
Les Contes d’Hoffmann
6. Scintille, diamant [2:40]
Richard WAGNER (1813 – 1883)
Das Rheingold
7. Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge [3:55]
Tristan und Isolde
8. Tatest du’s wirklich? Wähnst du das? [13:31]
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829 – 1894)
Demon
9. Na vozdušnom okeane [4:58]
10. Ne plač’, ditya [2:39]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841 – 1904)
Rusalka
11. Běda! Běda! … Celý svět nedá ti [5:29]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839 – 1881)
Boris Godunov
12. Oy, dušno, dušno! … Proščay, moy sin [10:34]
René Pape (bass); Carl-Johann Winkler (treble) (12);
Staatsopernchor Dresden
Staatskapelle Dresden/Sebastian Weigle
rec. Lukaskirche, Dresden, February 2008
Texts and translations enclosed
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4776408 [65:36]

 

Experience Classicsonline


Though still only in his early forties René Pape has been a leading bass for two decades. He made his stage debut at the Berliner Staatsoper in 1988 becoming the youngest ever Sarastro at Salzburg in 1991 at the age of 26. He has taken part in numerous recordings but this is his first solo recital. Basses rarely get opportunities to create lovers on the operatic stage but besides crooks of different kinds – Sparafucile in Rigoletto for instance – and comical characters – Osmin in Die Entführung aus dem Serail – they are designated Gods, Kings and Demons – Demons being super-human crooks as opposed to more earthbound ones like Sparafucile.  One aim for Pape with this programme was also ‘a little bit educational’: to show people ‘that sopranos and tenors don’t have the monopoly on beautiful arias’.

All of the chosen scenes and arias are not primarily beautiful but several are: Méphistophélès’s serenade from Faust, in spite of its mocking laughter, the same character’s aria from La Damnation de Faust and the two rarities from Rubinstein’s Demon, which should be hits on any recital. The Waterspirit’s aria from Rusalka is possibly even more beautiful and Dapertutto’s – another Demon in human disguise – Scintille, diamante has long been a favourite, often played on the radio in my youth, even in ‘popular programmes’ as they were called.

It seems that René Pape is more naturally attuned to kings and gods than to demons – I was slightly disappointed in his Le veau d’or from Faust. There is nothing wrong with his singing; on the contrary the very first notes tell us that here is a voice of exceptional beauty and evenness, easily produced and rising effortlessly up to the highest notes. It is not the largest bass voice one can hear, nor is it the deepest - the sound is more baritone than bass. I would rather classify him as a bass-baritone like José Van Dam or Ruggero Raimondi. What I found lacking in his reading was that all-embracing malevolence that permeates the singing of a Boris Christoff or Evgeny Nesterenko – but neither of them can match Pape for pure singing. And he quickly makes amends with marvellous legato singing and a diabolic laughter in the serenade. With three devils in a row we can compare different grades of Satanism. Boito’s Mefistofele is truly abominable when he ‘hoodwinks the churls´, those who believe he is a fiction. Here Pape is more threatening, while he is superbly lyrical in the Berlioz aria, where Van Dam has for long been my benchmark.

When he takes the leap from ruler in Hell to this potentate’s once proxy on earth, the Spanish King Filippo, he makes him a very human and vulnerable person. Avoiding the histrionics he sings with restraint but great intensity. This is a superb reading and I regret I wasn’t able to see him in this role in Oslo earlier this autumn.

Back in the satanic sphere he sings a splendid Scintille, diamante before he is elevated to Valhalla and presents Wotan as a bel canto god, noble and youthful.

When I reviewed the Glyndebourne Tristan on DVD less than a year my only objection against Pape’s Marke was that he sounded too youthful. This didn’t disturb me on this recital – on the contrary he only sounds warm and human in his anger, disappointment and sorrow. He certainly belongs among the greatest interpreters of the role on disc, in company with Kurt Moll, Martti Talvela, Matti Salminen and Hans Sotin.

In the two Rubinstein arias he confirms that his is the probably most beautiful bass voice currently before the public. This is marvellous singing without any signs of strain even at the powerful climax in the second aria. The same dramatic intensity characterises the Rusalka aria, which I am going to return to many times in the future.

In the final number he is back on an earthly throne again and depicts that other great operatic autocrat in the same vein as Filippo: inward and recessed but with deep involvement and expression. He reminds me a little of my first Boris Godunov on records, the Finnish bel canto bass Kim Borg. Carl-Johann Winkler, member of Dresdner Kreuzchor, sings Fyodor’s brief part rather well.

Sebastian Weigle is rapidly becoming an eminent recording conductor and his flexible conducting of the superb Staatskapelle Dresden – and in two numbers Staatsopernchor Dresden – is a further feather in his cap. The recording can’t be faulted. The booklet has texts and translations and an essay on René Pape but no notes on the music, which is a pity considering that there are some of the numbers here are off the beaten track.

Just a few months ago I reviewed the bass Erwin Schrott’s debut recital on the same label in very positive terms. Here Deutsche Grammophon have come up with another outright winner.

Göran Forsling 

 

 





 


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