Since the days of gramophone, Germany and Austria have created a noble lineage of glamourous, intelligent golden-toned lyric sopranos who have left their marks in Straussian, Mozartian and lighter Wagnerian roles such as Maria Reining, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Elisabeth Grümmer, Gundula Janowitz… But the truth is that one could believe that this tradition had been long lost to voices from places really far away from Vienna and Berlin. When we think of the most famous singers tackling this repertoire since the 80’s, we would rather think of Kiri Te Kanawa, Felicity Lott, Karita Mattila or Renée Fleming. But it seems that the old tradition has been reborn – Genia Kühmeier is making slow but firm steps into more-than-deserved stardom. I am sure we will hear a lot from and about her.
And there is Anja Harteros – whose relevance in the operatic world is now beyond any doubt. Although she has sung in the most prestigious theatres of the world and received some warm reviews, one still tends to think that the best is yet to come. Although the voice has immediate appeal, I have always found her frequent visitation of Italian repertoire not entirely inspiring beyond her appealing stage persona and her Julia Roberts-like looks and congeniality. But the tonal sheen of a true Italian soprano, the crispness of authentic delivery of the Italian text she has not. Moreover, although she has attitude to spare, it is still too German an attitude, in the first place. No problem about that – but why not use it in German roles? Since I have seen her as an ideal Elsa, I have been dreaming of her Marschallin, her Arabella, her Ariadne… but so far I’ve got only her Amelia in Simon Boccanegra.
However, I cannot complain. At least, I’ve got a glimpse of her Strauss this evening at the Konzerthaus, where she sang the Vier letzte Lieder with the Staatskapelle Berlin and Zubin Mehta. After hearing this orchestra in the Alpensinfonie, Der Rosenkavalier, Elektra and Salome, I am tempted to say that they are Berlin’s no. 1 Straussian orchestra. Their transparent sound picture and their good ear for those unearthly orchestral effects is everything a Straussian orchestra should have. Zubin Mehta seemed to avoid any languor and you would have to fill in the blanks for rubato effects in his forward-movement approach. In the end, this brought an objective approach to this often sentimentalized songs. But let’s speak of Anja Harteros. I have noticed that her voice definitely suffers from recordings. The plushness of her high notes and the warmth of her middle register do not seem to make it into the microphone.
Comparing her recording with Fabio Luisi and the Staatskapelle Dresden with what I heard live was realizing that these were too completely different experiences. While she is stylish and sensitive and finds no difficulties in the recording, live her voice is far rounder and richer in tone and yet lighter and more floating at the same time. Her mezza voce is particularly warmer live. Her interpretation has deepened also – the text is more sharply coloured and she finds simply more vocal glamour in the proceedings. Frühling is particularly improved. Now she sings the exposed extreme notes with such gentleness, what makes it easier to feel the sweetness of seeing springtime again, instead of the larger-scaled telluric performances we are often made to hear. The enthusiastic applause afterwards only proves that Germany is proud of her lyric sopranos again.