On 20 April 2001 Giuseppe Sinopoli died of a heart attack while conducting Aida in Berlin. He had just started the third act when he lost consciousness…… Sinopoli was 54 years old.
There are those performances where everything is just in perfect harmony and you get the feeling that it could not be any better. People keep talking about them and they become legends.
Verdi’s Attila was such a performance, at the Vienna State Opera on 21 December 1980. It was Giuseppe Sinopoli’s debut in the house, his name was still virtually unknown, but the initial reluctance of the audience turned into frenzied enthusiasm from the very first bars. Verdi’s score – not the strongest – has never been heard before with such warmth, fervour and tenderness.
Nicolai Ghiaurov was a great Attila. With his sonorous bass, he gave the character not only the allure of a general but also the gentleness of a loving man.
In her role as Odabella, Mara Zampieri proved that she is not only a fantastic singer with a radiant height and a dramatic attack, but also a great actress.
The stretta ‘E gettata la mia sorte’ in the second act requires the baritone to sing the high b flat. Piero Cappuccilli hit it with ease and suppleness, and then was forced to encore by the frenzied audience, something one seldom experiences in opera. A rare occurrence.
I have never been a ‘Wagnerian’. I could never muster the patience to sit through hours of his operas. I found them bombastic. Pathetic. And even though I had to admit that there were some beautiful melodies, I felt that I really needed a pair of scissors and radically shorten them
That this feeling has totally changed, I owe to Domingo. In my collector’s mania (I had to have everything he had done), I bought the recently released Tannhäuser (DG 4276252) in 1989. And then it happened: I became addicted.
At first, it was mainly Domingo who was to ‘blame’, whose deeply human interpretation of the title role gave me the goose bumps. His words: “Wie sagst du, Wofram? Bist du denn nicht mein Feind?” (sung with emphasis on ‘mein’ and ‘Feind’ and with a childish question mark at the end of the phrase) caused me to burst into tears.
Later, I learned to appreciate the music for itself and to this day, Tannhäuser is not only a very beloved Wagner opera, but also one of my absolute favourites.
I still consider this recording, conducted very sensually by Giueseppe Sinopoli, to be one of the best ever. Also because all the roles (Cheryl Studer as Elisabeth and Agnes Baltsa as Venus, such wealth!) are excellently cast. At the time, in the eighties and early nineties, this was not necessarily a given.
DER FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER
This CD recording from 1998 (DG 4377782) is particularly dear to me. First of all because of Cheryl Studer, at the time probably the most beautiful Senta one could imagine. Her wonderfully lyrical soprano with its easy and sensual height seemed made for the role.
The Holländer is sung here by Bernd Weikl. Not really the youngest anymore and you can really tell, but still very suitable for the role. Peter Seiffert is a splendid Steuerman, and in the role of Erik we hear none other than Plácido Domingo, a luxury!
But best of all is the orchestra: under the truly inspired leadership of Giuseppe Sinopoli, the Orchester der Deutsche Oper Berlin performs in a really magnificent way.
I realise that many of you will not agree with me, but for me Cheryl Studer is the very best Salome of the last fifty years. At least on CD, because she has never sung the complete role on stage (DG 4318102). Like few others, she knows how to portray the complex character of Salome’s psyche. Just listen to her question ‘Von wer spricht er?’ after which she realises that the prophet is talking about her mother and then she sings in a surprised, childishly naive way: ‘Er spricht von meiner Mutter’. Masterly.
Bryn Terfel is a very virile young Jochanaan (it was, I think, the first time he sang the role), but most beautiful of all is Giuseppe Sinopoli’s very sensual, wide- sounding conducting.