In an attempt to give a twist to the usual orchestral concert, the minds behind the Deutsche Oper had the preposterous idea of inviting a Patch-Adams-like physician to moderate in a Mozart/R. Strauss program. When Intendentin Kirsten Harms introduced him as a Glückspezialist, I could not help understanding he was some sort of expert in the music of Cristoph Willibald GLUCK. But I was wrong – he is indeed a specialist in happiness. And he is can be funny all right, but what is the point of inviting an ignoramus in music to introduce a concert. When someone in the audience shouted “Please let the music begin”, I found it rude at first, but when I realized the moderation only made the concert one hour longer with no added insight to my musical experience, I began to think that – although this person was still rude – he had a point.
As it was, the first part of the concert had weaknesses harder to overlook – I have rarely heard such a spineless performance of Mozart’s Symphony no. 41 as this evening’s. Tempi dragged helplessly, strings had its scrawny moments and were often quite imprecise and Donald Runnicles’s lack of pulse made this congenial work sound finally boring. After the pause, back to his comfort zone, he would prove to be the reliable Straussian he has always been and the house orchestra would respond with rich sonorities and clarity aplenty. He also showed a particularly good ear for producing the right balance between his soloist and the orchestra. And since the soloist was this concert’s main point of interest, I must praise him effusively for that.
I have been writing that, although Anja Harteros offers beautiful performances in Italian opera, her real strength is the German repertoire, especially Richard Strauss. But I’ve said that with the single experience of a performance of the Four Last Songs with Zubin Mehta and the Staatskapelle Berlin last year in the Konzerthaus. This evening she sang two key Straussian scenes and – I won’t keep my four or five readers in suspense – proved me right: this generation has found has in her its leading Strauss soprano. R. Strauss simply brings the best in her – the tone is creamy and floating as usual, she has reserves of strength for the occasional heavier passage, her diction is very clear and the text is, of course, idiomatically and imaginatively handled. The closing scene of Arabella’s act 1 was sung in the grand manner – nothing disturbed the velvetiness of her soprano and rarely has a singer handled the shift to lower register in it as seamlessly as she has done this evening. Capriccio’s closing scene did not lack imagination either. I am afraid, though, that she was not in her absolutely top form this evening and I bet she can sound a bit more comfortable in some high-lying moments where she had to keep dynamics low. But this is comparing her to herself – the warm tone, the sense of style, the no-nonsense interpretation are a reward in themselves. And it doesn’t hurt either that her looks and attitude are perfect for these roles.