A brief summary about Cheryl Studer in some of her best roles
SALOME BY MASSENET: HERODIADE
Orchestrally, this recording is really top-notch. Michel Plasson conducts the orchestra from Toulouse very energetically, with a lot of verve and drive, and he also knows how to allow space for all the subtleties. Exciting and beautiful. That is how I like to hear opera.
José van Dam is an impressive Phanuel and Nadine Denize an excellent Hérodiade., although her intonation is not always pure.
Hérode is not really a role for Thomas Hampson, but he sings it very beautifully. Something that unfortunately cannot be said of Ben Heppner’s Jean. A heroic tenor in that role is nothing but a terrible mistake.
Cheryl Studer, on the other hand, is a Salomé of everyone’s dreams: girlish, innocent and naive. Her voice shines and sways and her final words “Ah! Darned Queen, if it is true that your cursed loins have given birth to me, look! Take back your blood and my life!” leave you shuddering and desperately weeping. Brava.
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.
This stage production from Vienna (Arthaus Musik 100 048) 1989 is more than extraordinary. Harry Kupfer’s direction is extremely gripping and terrifying, and although he is very realistic in his approach, he limits himself to the directions in the libretto.
The scene is dominated by grey in all its shades and is particularly dark. The only colour in the performance looms when Chrysotemis, at her heartfelt cry that she wants to live and bear children, rips open her blouse and reveals a red vest.
Eva Marton (Elektra) is exceptionally convincing: moving in her longing for her father, repulsive in her contempt for her sister and terrifying during her confrontation with her mother.
Cheryl Studer is a splendid Chrysothemis. With her slightly sweet, lyrical, yet still exceptionally powerful soprano, she can portray a very strong character: her Chrysotemis is a girl disappointed in life with a strong desire to escape, but without the decisiveness to actually bring it about. Also phenomenal is Brigitte Fassbänder in her portrayal of the mentally ill queen, plagued by nightmares and guilt. Both the mother and her two daughters would be on Freud’s couch in no time – talk about hysterical women! Franz Grundheber is an exemplary Orest and Claudio Abbado conducts with an intensity that borders on the impossible.
FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN
In 1992, Solti conducted a complete performance of the work in Salzburg. Götz Friedrich’s direction was considered particularly strong at the time, but I do not find it entirely satisfactory. The mise-en-scène is undoubtedly excellent, but it fails with the direction of the characters, causing the singers to run from place to place in a rather awkward way.
The stage design is beautiful with very minimalist but realistic sets, but the costumes are a bit bizarre at times. There is a lot of use of strobe lighting, which combined with violent musical passages may come across as rather violent.
Cheryl Studer is a dream of an Empress. Her voice, with its very recognisable timbre and beautiful pitch, is soaring, transparent almost, innocent and erotic at the same time. Thomas Moser is an attractive Emperor, perhaps a tad too light for the role, causing him occasional breathlessness and pressed notes, but his singing is fine.
Marjana Lipovšek is a truly phenomenal Amme. What that woman has at her disposal in terms of colour nuances and how she handles her (very warm) mezzo borders on the miraculous. In the process, she is also a gifted actress; I couldn’t take my eyes off her. (Decca 0714259)
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 Tannhäuser (DG 4276252) in 1989. And then it happened: I became addicted.
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.