While the house stays dark, the Metropolitan Opera continues its “live in concert” series online. The latest installment is here. It is billed as “Wagnerians in Concert.” The Wagnerians sing Wagner, yes, but also Richard Strauss: arias, duets, ensembles, songs. Accompanying everyone, and everything, is the pianist Craig Terry, who works at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
And the singers? They are four: Christine Goerke, the American soprano; Elza van den Heever, the South African soprano (and one of triplets, I always like to note, because I find the fact so interesting, and rather touching); Andreas Schager, the Austrian tenor; and Michael Volle, the German baritone.
Their venue is the Hessisches Staatstheater, in Wiesbaden, Germany. It is a stunning theater. If Americans know Wiesbaden, it is probably for the U.S. Army garrison there.
The Met concert opens with one of the most famous openers in opera—in opera concerts and galas, that is: “Dich, teure Halle,” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser. I think back to that great night in April 1996—one of the greatest nights in opera history, I think. The Met celebrated James Levine’s twenty-fifth anniversary, i.e., his twenty-five years in the Met pit. The first aria of the night was “Dich, teure Halle,” sung by Deborah Voigt.
From Wiesbaden, Elza van den Heever does the honors. She sings competently, with no forcing, which is key. “Dich, teure Halle” is a little silly with piano, rather than orchestra, but Craig Terry does manfully. I find the tremolo at the end kind of trashy, but then, I find many a tremolo the same.
Christine Goerke then sings a Strauss song, “Allerseelen.” The magnificent soprano can do better in this song. She does not seem quite “hooked up.” Craig Terry plays beautifully—beautifully and intelligently.
A thought: Strauss wrote a lot of song accompaniments—really good ones—and not much solo-piano music. That strikes me as a loss.
After “Allerseelen,” Goerke and Terry perform another Strauss song, “Cäcilie,” that beloved outburst. It comes off satisfactorily.
In his first turn at bat, Michael Volle sings the “Evening Star Song,” from Tannhäuser. This, unlike “Dich, teure Halle,” works well with the piano (being a song, after all). Terry, again, plays beautifully. Volle, like Goerke in “Allerseelen,” does not put his best foot forward. He is imperfect of pitch and so on. But he has dignity, always dignity.
From Andreas Schager, we get a stretch of Die Walküre (also Wagner). It is rough and ready—maybe rougher than ready.
Then we have the Wesendonck Lieder, that set of five songs by Wagner. They are for women. The composer says so, right on the title page: “for a female voice.” But men have long sung these songs, including Melchior. In more recent times, Jonas Kaufmann has sung them. And, in the concert from Wiesbaden, everyone will get in on the act. Everyone will sing a song. And the good news is: everyone is better—better than when he, or she, began.
Hang on, there are five songs, and four singers. Someone is going to get a second bite at the apple—and that will be Elza van den Heever, who sings the final song, “Träume.” In my view, this song should begin with a steady pulse. If you want to get a little freer, fine—but start steady. Van den Heever and Terry start fairly free. In any event, the song ultimately weaves its magic.
I might note the choreography of this concert. The singers are often far from the piano—striking poses on staircases and balconies. Still, singers and pianist manage to stay with one another.
I might also note that this concert has no intermission. Singers get breaks when others sing. The concert simply plows on, which is pleasant.
Volle and Van den Heever give us a stretch of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman. The baritone is awake, vocally; the soprano is a bel canto Wagnerian, just what the doctor (or the composer) ordered. Piano accompaniment or no, there is genuine operatic drama in this segment.
Schager and Goerke give us a stretch—another one—of Die Walküre. In “Winterstürme,” Schager is reasonable, lovely, and unusually emotional. In the follow-on, “Du bist der Lenz,” Goerke pours it out, ably.
After portions of three more Wagner operas—Das Rheingold, Parsifal, and Lohengrin—Christine Goerke speaks to the audience, in her warm, winning fashion. There will be a finale. But what? What can the four get together on? “Bella figlia dell’amore” is out. (That quartet is from Verdi’s Rigoletto.) The finale turns out to be a moment from a Strauss opera, Die Frau ohne Schatten. The singers perform with abandon, even relief, I sense: any tensions from earlier in the concert have dissipated. The singers have their hair down. And the pianist binds it all together, with musical command.
Craig Terry is the star of the show, in a way: providing support that is so supportive, it amounts to leadership.
And bless Elza van den Heever for singing in tune. The elementary can be crucial—absolutely crucial.