Richard Wagner Society’s music tour to Germany in 2012
classicsa.co.za asked Herbert Glockner, President of the Richard Wagner Society(RWS) of South Africa, to tell us more about their 2012 tour to Germany.
The tour to Dresden and Berlin, organized by the Richard Wagner Society of South Africa, was a great and wonderful experience for all participants.
The splendor of Dresden’s architecture is spectacular, especially on a bright sunny day as we had when we arrived. The Frauenkirche, the huge palace, the baroque cathedral, the Brühl balcony upon the River Elbe and the Semper Opera are all within walking distance, so sightseeing can be done at a leisurely stroll.
In the evening we attended an impressive performance of Salome at the Semper Opera. The Staatskapelle Dresden is certainly one of the finest opera orchestras I know, add the incredible acoustics in the opera house, strong cast of singers who meets the highest standards, a Salome of the calibre of Evelyn Herlitzius and a conductor like Tomáš Netopiland and you are overwhelmed. Some of us were so awestruck that we even thought it was a different, never heard version of Salome!
The next day we went to the lovely city of Meissen, famous for its porcelain manufacturing. A visit to its elegant gothic cathedral and a castle is compulsory. That evening we attended another performance at the Semper Opera, this time Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. Our expectations were far than exceeded - fun it was, but what a firework of an inspired masterpiece, colourful and with delicate filigree, and the singing was without exception of untainted beauty. During “Una furtiva lagrima” nobody dared to breathe - it was just perfect blissful bel canto.
In Dresden we went to see the fabulous Green Vault of Augustus the Strong with its unmatched treasures. Next was a drive to Berlin, where we heard a concert performance of Wagner’s Tannhäuser at the Philharmonie. The Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin is currently recording of 10 Wagner operas, of which this Tannhäuser was the last one before the Ring des Nibelung, which will be finalized in March 2013. This was most likely the best Tannhäuser all members of the RWS present had ever heard. A concert version lends itself ideally for Wagner operas, the orchestral part appears especially transparent.
About the singers of this evening we could only rave: Nina Stemme as Elisabeth, Marina Prudenskaja as Venus, Robert Dean Smith as Tannhäuser for the diseased Torsten Kerl and, a special highlight, Christian Gerhaher as Wolfram von Eschenbach. Marek Janowski, the well-known Wagnerian conductor, added further glory. Our group agreed, in rare consensus, that the operas we have seen so far were musically simply overwhelmingly fabulous and of a benchmark standard.
The continuation of the Berlin leg of the trip, after the grand Tannhäuser performance, included a guided tour through Berlin. In the evening we heard a rather neglected opera, The Bronze Horse by Daniel François Esprit Auber. This is a very comic opera with charming bel canto arias which makes high demands on the singers, especially the sopranos. The cast rose to the challenge and we left the opera house happy and wondering why this opera has been so neglected.
The following evening we attended a concert with baroque music in the Chamber Music Hall. I was a bit hesitant when I put it on the tour programme and not sure if I should include this concert, as Italian baroque music tends to be sometimes a bit similar, repetitive and less exciting. I thought however something light in between would be in order. It turned out that this concert was a highlight which left a very strong impression on the group. There was much praise harpist Xavier de Maistre, who played with unheard virtuosity and produced unimaginable sounds on the harp. After the concert many audience members rushed to buy his CDs and to get his autograph.
Another great and most enjoyed surprise was a performance of the Young State Opera of Shostakovitsch’s opera “Moskau Tscherjomuschki”, with a huge number of young singers who all sang with competence, enthusiasm and excellent, cultivated voices. Many of them were from Asia and both Americas, studying singing in Berlin, and for whom singing in German must be rather exotic and difficult, but yet their pronunciation was impeccable. Long interruptions of applause made the performance longer than envisaged.
Another musical gem was a concert in the big hall of the Philharmonic. Vladimir Ashkenazy conducted a programme of Berlioz, Liszt’s Piano Concerto no. 2 and Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony. It always amazes me to see that he get such excellent results out of the orchestra, as his conducting style has apparently nothing to do with the music he conducts.
Wednesday evening was reserved for the ballet - a production of Eugene Onegin, choreographed by the world-acclaimed South African John Cranko. It was danced with an effortlessness one does not see very often and the grace of the dancers made you wonder if they had rubber legs. Everyone simply loved it and discussed the elegance of the performance over the next few days.
On Thursday the group made an excursion to Spreewald, the UNESCO Biosphere reserve. The Spreewald (German for "Spree Woods"; in Lower Sorbian: Błota) is situated about 100 km south-east of Berlin. It is known for its traditional irrigation system which consists of more than 200 small channels (called "Fließe"; total length: 1,300 km ) within the 484-square-kilometre (187 sq mi) area. The weather was hot and sunny on this day, everybody loved this diversion. In the evening we attended at the the 129th performance of The Marriage of Figaro at the Deutsche Oper - a Götz Friedrich production from 1978, which I had last seem with Karl Böhm conducting and Fischer Dieskau as Conte and Gundula Janowitz as Contessa. The production is still as fresh as it was when it opened, but the singers, though impeccable, were no match to the ones I had seen many years back.
Our opera trip ended with a terrific firework performance of Verdi’s 6th opera, “I due Foscari”, ending in jubilant applause. The music of this opera is forceful, colourful and demanding and Ramón Vargas sang the challenging role of the young Foscari with an agility that allowed the audience to concentration on the music, without having to fear any problems with high notes. The 70-year old Metropolitan Opera star Leo Nucci mastered the taxing role of Francesco Foscari with brilliance and a still mighty voice. The ovation after his great aria left him very moved. Angela Maede ( as Lucrezia Contarini) with her admirable voice, earned herself some raptous applause. Roberto Rizzi Brignoli conducted the orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin in a pulsating, enthralling and, when necessary, delicate and sensitive way. The long lasting standing ovation at the end was fully deserved.
All participants enjoyed the trip very much and commended the RWS for the excellent choice and interesting variety of the programme. We were happy with the arrangements made by Stephan Duerre and his agency IN BERLIN REISEN and requested them to put together another trip for 2013.
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