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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Richard Strauss Gala Concert [101.00]
Christine Goerke (soprano), Anja Harteros (soprano), Camilla Nylund (soprano),
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann
rec. 11 June 2014, Semperoper, Dresden, Germany
Video Director: Michael Beyer
Documentary - A film by Andreas Morell
‘Christian Thielemann - My Richard Strauss’ [45.00]
Documentary Director: Andreas Morell
Concert and Documentary:
Filmed in High definition from a HD source
Video Director: Michael Beyer
Picture format: 1080i/16.9
PCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Region Code: ABC
German original language. Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
C MAJOR Blu-ray 729004 [146.00]

Just three days after the Staatskapelle Dresden under Christian Thielemann performed Eine Alpensinfonie with Anja Harteros singing Vier letzte Lieder and Malven the orchestra was back in the Semperoper for another all-Richard Strauss concert, a ‘Gala Concert’ given on the actual date of the anniversary of the composer’s 150th birthday.

I was reporting from this actual concert and thought it would be hard to equal the drama of the earlier evening but with the addition of sopranos Camilla Nylund and Christine Goerke, both most substantial voices, the drama actually increased. Full justice was done to the vocal and orchestral excerpts from the nine Strauss operas that were premièred in Dresden. As the concert, at 101 minutes, is of relatively short length there was no interval. This seemed to help the consistency of the atmosphere in the house.

Opening the concert was the first of the waltzes from Der Rosenkavalier. Immediately noticeable is the unerring unity of the Staatskapelle strings with concertmaster Matthias Wollong’s violin solo beautifully rendered. It is eminently clear that Thielemann and his Dresden players are so at home with this glorious music providing buoyancy and a meltingly attractive Viennese lilt. Originally Nina Stemme was to perform but had to withdraw giving the opportunity for Christine Goerke to prove her worth. This was my first experience of Goerke, the Grammy Award-winning American dramatic soprano, who was first of the three sopranos on the stage, singing Elektra’s great monologue Allein! Weh, ganz allein. It is quite a sight seeing Goerke gowned in black lace over red marching purposefully onto the stage and having no trouble whatsoever in projecting her remarkably powerful voice over the large orchestra. With an unobtrusive vibrato, excellent diction and a blazing intensity Goerke places such brazen emotion and drama behind her notes - appearing to be singing to each audience member. The orchestral music to the Love Scene from the early opera Feuersnot is so passionate and evinces a nocturnal feel and a touch of sadness, depicting the pain of lovers parting. Thielemann quickly intensifies the passion and the music becomes dramatic - almost festive - owing to the prominent brass and percussion. Next, with tremendous confidence, Goerke gave us Salome’s scandalous and unsettling soliloquy-aria to Jochanaan's severed head Ah! Du wolltest mich nicht deinen Mund küssen lassen, Jochanaan. Quite the actress, Goerke soon gets into character by giving the audience a glaring sideways look and the evil-eye. There is an abundance of emotion to her voice that holds up strongly, consistently and convincingly. It is all so very intoxicating and how the audience loved it. Thielemann produces such a wonderful second waltz sequence from Der Rosenkavalier with playing that feels so light on its feet with contributions from the exceptional strings and woodwind sections.

When I saw Anja Harteros just three days earlier in the Semperoper performing Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder and Malven under Thielemann’s baton she was in captivating form. There is a sense of expectancy in the air as Harteros takes the stage to sing Mein Elemer! from the end of the act 1 of Arabella. Arguably the finest soprano of her type on the international stage today Harteros, looking slim and striking in a fuchsia ball-gown and wearing her hair up, enchants the audience with a stunning performance displaying an especially beautiful vocal tone. Poised and focused she provides a straightforward approach with nothing exaggerated, engaging firmly with the audience as if living the role. With such excellent diction and smooth projection I love the way she darkens her tone so easily. The second symphonic interlude from Intermezzo is noticeable for its haunting melody on high strings and horns together with some lovely woodwind themes. Once again the Staatskapelle under Thielemann’s baton intensifies the sense of drama generating a remarkable passion.

During a 2014 Munich interview I had with theatre director and former mezzo-soprano Brigitte Fassbaender she mentioned having enjoyed working with the talented soprano Camilla Nylund. So from not having previously heard Nylund I saw her perform twice at the Semperoper in three days; first as a soloist in the Beethoven Missa Solemnis and here singing Helen’s aria Zweite Brautnacht! from act 2 of Die ägyptische Helena. Wearing a rose-coloured evening dress Nylund strode onto the stage, becoming unsettled for a time as an earring came loose and soon fell off. She has a large weighty voice which requires considerable control and although much of the aria is set in a high tessitura she rises well to the considerable challenges singing with real passion and keeping her wide vibrato as inconspicuous as possible. The knowledgeable audience certainly responds with real affection to this singer's personality and conscientious endeavours. Thielemann’s final orchestral work the Prelude (Potpourri) from Die schweigsame Frau opens with some extremely tricky string work. Thielemann keeps things wonderfully together. For the last aria of the evening Daphne’s transformation scene Ich komme – ich komme – grünende Brüder from Daphne, Nylund had changed into a stunning aquamarine gown. No wardrobe malfunctions this time as the soprano conveys large and scalding hot waves of dramatic sound.

I must have attended a dozen or so Richard Strauss concerts this year experiencing a majority of vocalists not strong enough to be heard over the opulent orchestral writing. There were no such problems this time - my prayers having been answered by this superbly chosen trio of dramatic sopranos, all producing the necessary vocal heft in spades. All three were in remarkable form, giving their all which the packed audience responded to with relish. With the music of Richard Strauss running through its veins I doubt there is a finer interpreter of this repertoire than the Staatskapelle Dresden under Thielemann. On this evidence it is easy to see why the Staatskapelle became known as the ‘Richard Strauss orchestra’. As an encore Thielemann gave a repeat of the second Rosenkavalier waltz sequence which strangely isn’t shown here.

The video direction is expertly carried out by Michael Beyer who is generally excellent, employing his cameras actively, never allowing the viewer to tire or experience monotony. On a few occasions the cameras miss a player giving a crucial solo but nothing to worry about.

I can reveal that the great excitement happening inside the packed Semperoper was shared by a large number of people outside in Theaterplatz watching a live transmission of the ‘Gala Concert’ on a big screen. Upon leaving the Semperoper I was able to see and hear the three sopranos, who had moved outside the opera house into Theaterplatz, being interviewed on the stage of the big screen transmission. After a few words each into the presenter’s microphone I had to smile as they returned together for the opera house in their haute couture gowns each tottering over the cobbles in their stiletto heels.

The second part of this Blu-ray disc is a documentary film ‘Christian Thielemann - My Richard Strauss’ by director Andreas Morell. This fascinating and beautifully shot documentary in German mainly follows Thielemann giving his personal view of Richard Strauss’s life and works. Included is a large amount of archive footage of Strauss himself conducting excerpts from a number of works in concert and rehearsal, and also relaxing with friends. I admired the way the documentary concisely considers the composer’s relationship with the Nazi Party before and during the war. I especially enjoyed the footage of Thielemann in the Semperoper looking through the Staatsoper Dresden archive with relish boyishly flicking through Strauss’s actual conducting scores of Salome and Der Rosenkavalier. Oh, and I did discover that Christian Thielemann doesn’t like being called 'Maestro'.

In my report of this ‘Richard Strauss Gala Concert’ I wrote “this was one of the most rewarding concerts I have ever experienced and any subsequent DVD/Blu-ray is a must buy” and it still is. It would be hard to find greater performances of Strauss’s music such is the excellence on display at the Semperoper. The documentary film Christian Thielemann - My Richard Strauss’ by director Andreas Morell is a real bonus.

Michael Cookson

1) Opening footage [1.22]
2) First Waltz Sequence from Der Rosenkavalier [13.21]
3) ‘Allein! Weh, ganz allein’ from Elektra [10.16]
4) Love scene from Feuersnot [6.34]
5) ‘Ah! Du wolltest mich nicht deinen Mund küssen lassen, Jochanaan’ from Salome [16.43]
6) Second Waltz Sequence from Der Rosenkavalier [8.58]
7) ‘Mein Elemer!’ from Arabella [9.11]
8) Second Symphonic Interlude from Intermezzo [6.39]
9) ‘Zweite Brautnacht!’ from Die ägyptische Helena [6.16]
10) Prelude (Potpourri) from Die schweigsame Frau [5.01]
11) ‘Ich komme – grünende Brüder’ from Daphne [11.08]
12) Applause [1.46]
13) Credits [2.49]