English

Annemarie Kremer: Celebrity abroad

In autumn 2012, Opera North’s production in Leeds of Bellini’s Norma won the Theatre Award for ‘Achievement in Opera’. The leading role in Christopher Alden’s widely acclaimed production, was sung by the Dutch soprano Annemarie Kremer. At the same time she was nominated for the Opera-Oscar in London and for ‘Sängerin des Jahres’ in Opernwelt for her performance of Norma. Her superb achievement was met with nothing but jubilant reviews.

Georg Hall wrote in The Guardian: “Her ample, wide-ranging voice keeps faith with Bellini’s notes, maintaining dramatic intensity via seriousness of artistic purpose and commitment.”
Anthony Lias in ‘Opera Brittania’ went a step further and asked: “Where has this Dutch soprano been hiding, why haven’t we heard of her before? And then gave the most obvious answer: “Well, presumably she’s been in the Netherlands honing her considerable talent”.


What Anthony Lias did not know is that, apart from Opera Zuid, no other Dutch opera company has been able to be of any use for Kremer. But in September 2015 she was back in the Netherlands for a short while: with the Dutch Reisopera she performed in one of her starring roles: Cio Cio San in Madama Butterfly by Puccini.



“For a long time there had been talk about me doing something with the Reisopera. First we considered Manon Lescaut, but that didn’t get off the ground. Originally, Billy Budd was planned, but due to circumstances it never took place. But I had just cancelled a production elsewhere and so I was free …

I can’t tell you how happy I am to be able to sing here again. It is really fantastic that all my friends, acquaintances and family members, who have not been able to hear me before – not everyone can go abroad so easily – can catch up now. I am really happy about that.”

The first time we spoke, she had just had a few days off which she spent in her home in the South of France, in a village of just over 5 km² in the Midi-Pyrenée and that has only 142 inhabitants.

“We don’t live in the village but outside it, on a mountain and our nearest neighbours live a few kilometres away. We have 15 hectares of land and our house is surrounded by hilly landscapes with forests and meadows. And the light is so incredibly beautiful here! A real idyll. It has been 14 years since we came here and immediately fell in love with it. I feel very happy here, but I am also a country girl originally.”

Can you tell me about the production of Butterfly?

“Do not expect Japanese folklore: the environment is not really recognisable as such. In the costumes, the Japanese aspect is still there, but without the usual parasols and fans. The designer has studied the Japanese clothing tradition: she has discovered, for example, that there was once a custom of wrapping yourself in a kind of mat to protect you from rain, wind and sun. It still has to be worked out, because I have to be able to move naturally in it, kneel and gesticulate. So far I have only seen pictures of the designs, but I was very impressed with them.

We all have a good time with Laurence Dale, our director. He stands for a personable direction and that’s what we as a cast also want. And I have every confidence in him and our cast.

My Pinkerton, Eric Fennell, is almost the prototype of a Pinkerton. He is American and he is good looking, a young girl may very well fall in love with him. The role of Suzuki is also perfectly cast. She is sung by Qiu Lin Zhang, a Chinese soprano with a very big voice. She is a bit older, which makes it credible that she is not only my confidante, but also my protector. And our voices sound wonderful together, a true symbiosis!

Butterfly is a role that suits me very well. I have sung her so many times that you can safely say that I have made her my own. She is a very strong person with an enormous capacity to love. She always stands her ground, no matter what the production. You can’t destroy her. No matter how often you sing the role, the emotions just keep rising. You have to dose them, because you can’t sing with a throat full of tears. A director once said to me: you have to fight the emotions and you can show that fight, but it’s the audience that has to be moved and cry in the end, not you.”

Trailer of the production:




Annemarie Kremer is known for her interpretations of veristic roles. Does she have a special connection with Verismo?

“I approach an opera character not from Bel Canto or Verismo but simply as a human being. I play all my roles in a very personal and physical manner; nothing must stand between me and the character. I love logic. I approach each role meticulously in terms of how the emotions are distributed, which may be five different emotions within a phrase of only two minutes. If you play the emotions one after the other, they will become clear to the audience, instead of it all being a jumble of a lot of feelings.
I felt that very strongly with Norma at Opera North. I had sung the opera before and the role was already well placed in my body and my throat, so I did not have to pay so very much attention to the coloraturas etc.. Now I could afford to concentrate on my acting even more..”


 “I was lucky to work with Christopher Alden, a truly great director. I still have lovely memories of Norma and you could say that Opera North is my favourite opera house. They are like a family, you are supported on all sides. So I’m really looking forward to seeing them again: soon I will be singing Maddalena in Andrea Chénier.

Communication between director and singer is crucial to me. I can be very easy and accommodating when I trust a director, but I also set clear boundaries. Loyalty to the score and the libretto and logic are a requirement for me. Moreover, I refuse (explicit) violence, especially if it is not necessary. It’s bad enough that it happens, you don’t have to show it on the stage!”


Her role debut in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Salome in 2011 at the Volksoper in Vienna, a role she subsequently sang (and still sings) repeatedly all over the world, became a real sensation. GB Opera.it Magazine: “Ovation for the beautiful, talented and sensual Annemarie Kremer. Singled out by critics as the young new Dutch diva, La Kremer immediately shows absolute mastery of the scene and the musical score.”

What is your connection with Strauss?

“I soon found out that Richard Strauss is totally my composer, as sensitive and organic as he composed for the voice. This was already the case when I used to sing his songs and now I felt as if he wrote Salome especially for me!”

What are her future plans? Wagner perhaps?

“I have been offered Isolde a few times and I would like to do it, but certainly not now, I would prefer to wait a few more years. In October I will sing Senta in ‘Der Fliegende Holländer’, in Rio de Janeiro. It is an educational project in which children from disadvantaged neighbourhoods will be involved.


In January 2020, it was time:




“In May 2013 an enormous challenge awaits me: I will sing Ursula in ‘Mathis der Maler’ by Hindemith at the Semper Oper in Dresden.”



“And in the 2016/17 season, in Buenos Aires, I am going to sing Marie/Mariette in Korngold’s ‘Die Tote Stadt’. And there is more Korngold to come”

Annemarie Kremer sings “Ich ging zu Ihm” (Das Wunder der Heliane) in Vienna 2017




“One of my first conscious, deeply emotional musical experiences was when I was nine years old. I was with my mother in Zelazowa Wola, Frédéric Chopin’s birthplace, and on a bright Sunday morning I enjoyed the most beautiful nocturnes, waltzes and sonatas played live through the open garden doors of his birth house. It was as if he was personally playing just for us. Through time, passion, melancholy, but also the joy of life – I was totally overwhelmed! Immediately after returning home, I was allowed to take piano lessons and I studied diligently in the following years, with the intention of making the piano my profession.

Things turned out differently when, at the age of 17, I discovered my natural operatic voice. It was suddenly very clear to me that with this voice I would be able to express all of my passion, melancholy and joy of life. My piano studies have provided me with a very solid foundation which will serve for the rest of my musical life. It’s a pity that Chopin, who, next to the piano especially loved the soprano voice, never felt compelled to compose an opera. I would have loved to sing one of his heroines! “









The miracle that is Annemarie Kremer’s ‘Heliane ‘

What do you do when laughter is not allowed in your country and love is punishable by death? Where everything, absolutely everything that gives colour to life, is banned? And what do you do when one day a Stranger appears who teaches the people what joy is, and for this the Ruler of the land (who also happens to be your hated husband) condemns him to death? You visit that man in his cell and then you discover the most beautiful and the most important thing: love?! You are caught, the death penalty follows, but if you are really innocent then a miracle has to happen. And it does happen!, after which you and The Stranger go to heaven together.

Das Wunder der Heliane was Korngold’s fourth opera and it was undoubtedly his most ambitious project. The libretto may seem a little bizarre, but you have to look at it through the eyes of the ‘zeitgeist’ of the time. The mysterious, the unearthly, the supernatural, the divine, the exaggerated emotions, the decadence and the undisguised eroticism… all this can be seen in many works of art of the time. Also the spirit of sacrifice and the notion that love conquers all: if not now, then in the hereafter. And the bright colours with lots of gold. The score also represents all this..

Lotte Lehmann en Jan Kiepura



The premiere of ‘Heliane’ took place in Hamburg in 1927 and it was repeated three weeks later in Vienna. Heliane was sung by Lotte Lehmann and the role of The Stranger by Jan Kiepura, a lyric tenor.
According to Brendan Carroll, the Korngold biographer and connoisseur, the aria ‘Ich ging zu Ihm’ is the “musical expression of sexual ecstasy, comparable only to  similar passages in Tristan und Isolde.

Below: Lotte Lehmann sings ‘Ich ging zu Ihm’



The role of Heliane, the only character in the opera who has a name, is a real tour de force, especially as she has to be on stage almost during the entire opera. The role calls for a strong dramatic soprano with a dominant lyricism in her voice. Leave that to Annemarie Kremer! Her soprano is dark, her height impeccable and her sensuality evident. Add to that her brilliant understanding of the text: from the very first note she manages to ‘grab’ you and make you fall in love with her (and her character!). No doubt about it: Kremer is the born interpreter for the fin de siècle repertoire.

Annemarie Kremer in ‘Ich ging zu Ihm’:



Unfortunately Ian Storey (The Stranger) is not on the same level. All the notes are there, but the feeling of listening to something special is missing. His voice is too Wagnerian and too little Puccini. Something that this role absolutely needs. It is true that the sound must be big, but his voice lacks the sweet tones, the beautiful and seductive sounds.
Do you remember who was the first interpreter of that role? Well, yes, that is what is needed here.

Aris Argiris, on the other hand, is a magnificent Ruler. His very impressive baritone sounds are authoritarian and he knows how to convey his overpowering jealousy. He is truly wonderful.

Katerina Hebelková is a very good messenger and the minor roles are also well performed. The orchestra occasionally sounds too loud and sometimes I think the balance is off. Could it be the recording?

Puccini about Korngold: “He has so much talent that he can easily give us half and still keep enough for himself.” And that’s true. Hurry to the shops and bring ‘Heliane’ into your home. You will not regret it.


Trailer of the recording:




Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Das Wunder der Heliane
Annemarie Kremer, Ian Storey, Aris Argiris, Katerina Hebelková and others.
Opernchor und Extrachor of the Theater Freiburg
Philharmonisches Orchester Freiburg conducted by Fabrice Bollon
Naxos 866041

Renata Scotto: a brief overview of her many roles

Renata Scotto, ‘la mia Divina Assoluta’, was born on 24 February 1934 in Savona. She made her opera debut at the age of eighteen as Violetta (La Traviata). Her ‘official’ debut was the next day in Milan. Shortly afterwards, she sang Madama Butterfly in Savona.

Because there was no chance to hear her in the Netherlands, I travelled with a few friends, they were also great fans, to Paris, where she gave a recital. It was sold out and I really only remember the huge queue in front of her dressing room: people wanted her autograph, they came with flowers, chocolates, gifts…. I had never seen anything like that in the Netherlands.

But the day finally came and she sang in Amsterdam! On 19 October 1996 she performed in the Netherlands for the first time since 1963. During the Amsterdam Saturday Matinee she sang before the interval Chausson’s  Poème de l’amour et la mer and after the interval Poulenc’s La voix humaine. She made a real performance out of it: there was a table with a telephone on it, and with the telephone cord she strangled herself at the end. Those who were there will never forget it.

This recording comes from Barcelona 1996:



During her long career, Scotto performed in operas written by 18 composers and her repertoire included some forty-five roles. And then there are the studio recordings. I cannot possibly discuss everything, so I will restrict myself to a few recordings.
The order is random.



LA WALLY


In 1953 she auditioned at La Scala for the role of Walter in Catalani’s La Wally with Renata Tebaldi and Mario del Monaco, amongst others. Giulini was to conduct. It is told that afterwards Victor de Sabata, one of the jury members, said: “Forget about the rest.”

La Wally premiered on December 7, 1953, and Scotto happily accepted fifteen curtain calls. Tebaldi and del Monaco got seven each.



LA SONNAMBULA



In Edinburgh, Milan’s La Scala staged Luchino Visconti’s production of La sonnambula, with Maria Callas as Amina. The production had been so successful that La Scala had decided to add another performance. But Callas was tired, and besides, she wanted to go to the party that Elsa Maxwell was giving for her in Venice. So she told the Scala people that she would definitely not be singing this. Nevertheless, La Scala announced the extra performance with Callas. And Callas refused. With only two days’ notice, Scotto took over the role of Amina and replaced Callas on 3 September 1957. The performance was a great success, and the 23-year-old Scotto became an international opera star overnight.

This recording with Alfredo Kraus is from 1961:




RIGOLETTO



My all-time favourite is a Ricordi recording from 1960 (now Sony 74321 68779 2), with Ettore Bastianini in the lead. Renata Scotto sings a girlishly naive Gilda, who is transformed into a mature woman through her love for the wrong man. She understands better than anyone that the whole business of revenge can lead nowhere and she sacrifices herself to stop all the bloodshed and hatred.

Bastianini and Scotto in the finale:




LA TRAVIATA




Renata Scotto has (or should I say had?) something that few other singers possessed: a perfect technique that enabled her to sprinkle her coloraturas like it was nothing at all. Her high notes sounded a bit steely but they were undeniably flawless. She possessed the gift of acting with her voice (and not only with her voice!), and because of her perfect articulation you could not only literally follow what she was singing, but also really understand it.

Her perhaps most beautiful (there are several recordings) Violetta she recorded in 1963 (DG 4350562), under the very exciting direction of Antonino Votto. Alfredo is sung by the sweet-voiced Gianni Raimondi, and Ettore Bastianini is a warm, indeed fatherly, Giorgio Germont.



And don’t think that in the old days, when everything was done by the book, the performances were static and boring! In 1973, La Scala was on tour in Japan, and there, in Tokyo, a legendary performance of La Traviata was recorded (VAI 4434).

The leading roles were played by the then still ‘curvy’ Scotto and 27-year-old (!) José Carreras. DVD does not mention the name of the director, perhaps there was none, and the singers (and the conductor) did it all themselves? Anyway, the result is really beautiful, moving and to the point. I am not going to say any more about it, because this recording is an absolute must for every opera lover.

Finale of the opera:




L’ELISIR D’AMORE


To the younger generation I would especially recommend the DVD with Renata Scotto, Carlo Bergonzi and Giuseppe Taddei (Hardy Classic Video HCD 4014). It is not only the beautiful voices of the past that impress (Scotto, Bergonzi, Taddei – who can still sing like them?), the eye is also given a lot to enjoy.

Do not think that they just enter the stage, sing an aria facing the audience and then take a bow. It is theatre pur sang and a better acting singer than Scotto has yet to be born.

Renata Scotto sings ‘Prendi, per me sei libero’:



TURANDOT



I can be very brief about this: there is no better Liu. Renata Scotto is a very fragile and moving Liu, which is in stark contrast to Corelli’s macho and seductive Calaf and Birgit Nilsson’s chilling Turandot.



MADAMA BUTTERFLY



For me an absolute ‘numero uno’ is the 1966 recording by EMI (now Warner 0190295735913) under Sir John Barbirolli. One might imagine a more lyrical or alternatively a more dramatic Cio Cio San; one with less metal in her voice or maybe one with a more childlike voice. But no other singer was able to grasp the complex nature of the girl so well and to characterise her change from a naive child into an adult woman, broken by immense grief, so impressively





LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR



Renata Scotto never recorded the role in the studio. However, there are several pirate recordings of her in circulation, with Luciano Pavaratti, Alfredo Kraus, Carlo Bergonzi and Gianni Raimondi as Edgardo.

Of these four, the recording with Raimondi is dearest to me, not least because of the very energetic and dramatically balanced direction by Claudio Abbado. It was recorded at La Scala in December 1967 and it once appeared on Nuova Era (013.6320/21). Unfortunately, that recording is very difficult to obtain, but those who search….

Scotto’s interpretation of the tormented heroine is available on DVD (VAI 4418). The production was recorded in Tokyo in 1967. It circulated for years on pirate video, but since the sound and picture quality was particularly poor, the commercial release has made many opera lovers very happy. The sound is a little sharp, making Scotto’s high notes sound even more metallic than usual, but who cares?

Her interpretation is both vocally and scenically of an unprecedented high level. With a childishly surprised expression (my brother does this to me?) on her face, she agrees, albeit not without grumbling, to the forced marriage with Arturo (an Angelo Marchiandi who is hideous in every way).

Below, Scotto sings ‘Il dolce suono’. Try to follow her example!




LA BOHÈME



History was made with La Bohème from the Met in 1977 (DG 0734025): it was the very first direct transmission from the New York opera house on TV. The production was in the hands of Pier Luigi Pizzi, who at that time was not yet obsessed with excessive ballets and the colour red.

Although I was never a big fan of Pavarotti, I cannot deny that he produces a fresh sound here and that his high notes stand like a house. Acting was never his cup of tea, but here he does his best.

It becomes really exciting when Mimì enters: in 1977, Renata Scotto was at her unprecedented peak. She spins the most beautiful pianissimi and her legato and mezza voce are so beautiful they make you want to cry. The rest of the cast is no more than adequate, but the young James Levine conducts as if his life depended on it!

Scotto sings ‘Si mi chiamano Mimì’:



Musetta was not really a role with which we associate Scotto. Neither did she herself, but she accepted the challenge with both hands. In the Zefirelli Met production of 1982, she sang a Musetta to die for. Alongside the very moving José Carreras and Teresa Stratas, she was the undisputed star of this recording (DG 073 4539 9).

Scotto as Musetta:



LUISA MILLER



In 1979, Renata Scotto sang her first Luisa at the Metropolitan Opera and she did so with her usual devotion. But before she could start her first big aria, a ‘joker’ caused a scandal by shouting ‘brava Maria Callas’ at the top of his lungs.

Sherrill Milnes, here in the guise of Luisa’s father, took the emotional Scotto in his arms and so saved her concentration. And the performance. And the day.

All this was broadcast live on TV and thus it ended up on the pirate videos in circulation. I had been cherishing mine for years, and now the performance has been released on DVD by Deutsche Grammophon, with the necessary cuts, including that famous incident. A pity, but after all it is not about the incidents but about the opera and the performance. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.



In the video below, the main actors (Scotto, Domingo, Milnes and Levine) discuss Verdi’s opera and the 1979 production:




ANDREA CHENIÉR



My favourite CD recording was recorded by RCA (GD 82046) in 1976. The cast is delightful: Renata Scotto sings Maddalena, Plácido Domingo Cheniér, Sherrill Milnes is Gérard, and in the minor roles we hear Jean Kraft, Maria Ewing, Michel Sénéchal and Gwendolyn Killebrew, among others. James Levine, who conducts the National Philharmonic Orchestra, understands exactly what the opera is about. It is so beautiful that it will make you cry.

Scotto sings ‘La Mamma morta’:




MANON LESCAUUT



Here I can be very brief: buy the Menotti production with Renata Scotto and Plácido Domingo from the Metropolitan Opera (1980) and you are set for life. There is no other production that even comes close to it and I don’t expect that to happen any time soon. Scotto sings and acts Manon as no other has done before and together with Domingo she provides us with an evening of old-fashioned weeping. Menotti’s very realistic, true to life and oh so exciting production simply could not be any better. (DG 0734241)



IL TRITTICO



In November 1981, Scotto sang all three heroines at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, with Levine conducting. Once a pirate released it in its entirety and it was briefly on YouTune. Too briefly, unfortunately. It is possible, however, to find fragments of all three.

Il Tabarro



Suor Angelica:



Gianni Schicchi:


On CD, the recording under Maazel from 1977 is my first choice. Certainly because of Scotto’s Angelica, nobody comes close to that. Add to that Marylin Horne as her evil aunt and the young Cotrubas as the quick-witted sister Genovieffa. In Il Tabarro, too, it is Scotto who demands all the attention as Giorgetta, helped along by a very macho Domingo and Ingvar Wixell in one of his best roles.

https://open.spotify.com/album/4ZNfRJekmwwYCYf1kN7Yim?si=KMGmDc0xRf2pTxTWrbAp4A


LA GIOCONDA



But don’t forget La Gioconda from San Francisco 1979! For her interpretation of the role, Scotto received an Emmy award. It also meant a violent quarrel with Luciano Pavarotti, whom she did not even mention by name in her autobiography “More than a diva”. He became “A certain tenor”.


FRANCESCA DA RIMINI



And no one should miss Francesca da Rimini by Zandonai from the MET:








Memories of Philippe Boesmans

REIGEN


Peter Franken:

In 1999 I saw Boesmans’ opera Reigen in the production of the Reisopera. The opera is based on a work by Arthur Schnitzler from 1897 which was not released until 1920. It is a controversial play with provocative sexual themes. Schnitzler explores the sexual morality and class ideology of his time through successive encounters between characters.

The action is set in 1890s Vienna. The dramatic structure is determined by ten interlocking scenes between love couples. Each character appears in two successive scenes, with the whore from the first scene returning in the last.

Luc Bondy adapted the play into a libretto for the opera of the same name, which premiered at La Monnaie in Brussels in 1993. The play, and also the opera, offers a disconcerting picture of the pursuit of sexual pleasure and the hangover that must surely follow. The cold, cold lust and the hunt for empty sex are mercilessly dissected.

In the Reisopera production, the act is set on a turntable with only sketchy locations: a lamppost representing a street scene and a scene in a park between a whore and a soldier, and between that soldier and a chambermaid; then a door turns as if to separate the sultry thoughts exchanged between the chambermaid and the young gentleman of the house.

The Count, a well-characterised presentation by baritone Roger Smeets, meets the whore (Janny Zomer) who was already seen in the beginning and who now is the last character in the round dance, or Reigen. In between we met Ellen van Haaren as the singer, Annelies Lamm as the chambermaid and Kor Jan Dusseljee as the soldier.



Ellen van Haaren, the ‘singer’ in the production of the Netherlands Opera:

Ellen van Haarden als Amelia in Ballo in Maschera


I was preparing for a rehearsal when Louwrens Langevoort approached me with a book/piano excerpt of the new modern opera Reigen by Philippe Boesmans, which they wanted to perform with the Reisopera. “Here, go and have a look, this is a great part for you! “

I spent the next few days thinking that this was nót for me. And, however honoured I felt, I gave it back. I really didn’t think it was for me! Some time passed; I was rehearsing Die Lustige Witwe at the time and there was Louwrens again, with the book!

” Listen”, he said, “I can’t find anyone who could do it better! You can do it, this part is perfect for you”. And I thought, o.k., this I cannot and will not refuse. It was very short notice, I think five or six weeks before the premiere. All right, I said, I’ll do it, but with whom can I rehearse it? “With Aldert Vermeulen. And the composer, Boesmans, is also coming to watch, he wants to be present at the rehearsals.



OMG ..it was so scary!!! The next day came with learning, still more learning, memorizing, and singing it through.  And the thing I had been so afraid of, not being able to meet everyone’s expectations, shrank away bit by bit. It became more and more familiar to me, it became a part of myself and maestro Patrick Davin soon joined in. And we also had a connection straight away!

And suddenly there was Philippe Boesmans, the genius! The creator of this special opera. So calm and modest and friendly and encouraging. Through him I knew and felt…I can do this. He gave me the confidence! And from that day on, it was as if the sun broke through. The adventure I had embarked on became very enjoyable, it was really great fun! We laughed a lot at the rehearsals, about little things that Andrea ( xxxx the director BJ) and I had thought up… He was so happy and satisfied. That sweet modest man with his subtle humour!

Elen van Haaren met Janny Zomer in Reigen



And now this fine man and fantastic composer is no more. Thank you very, very much for the wonderful, special, beautifully catchy music! And thank you for the wonderful and fantastic memories of Reigen! R.I.P.



JULIE

Lisa Mostin, Kristin in Julie in the production of the Opéra National de Lorraine:

Dean Murphy, Irene Roberts et Lisa Mostin, le trio de chanteurs qui interprète « Julie », sous la direction d’Emilio Pomarico, dans la mise en scène de Silvia Costa. Photo ER /Cédric JACQUOT



“I met him for the first time in the corridors of the Nancy opera house after the Orkesterhauptprobe (Orchestra stage rehearsal). He didn’t recognise me as one of the singers without my makeup on, because it looked so different and sinister.

© Jean-Louis Fernandez



He let us do it all by ourselves during the production process. He never came to say how he wanted a certain line. He always said in interviews that once an opera is written, he wants to let go of the piece and he accepts how the world will treat it. He did not only say this, he also did it, out of a wonderful feeling of acceptance and letting go, but I personally think also because he wanted to be surprised. Just as if you send your child out into the world and then, when they return from their wanderings, you will see what they have learned on their path of growing independence.

After the dress rehearsal, he came on the stage and realised for the first time that I was the one singing Kristin and that I was a Belgian singer. He first started in French and when he heard that I had a Flemish accent, like a true Brussels- born, he immediately switched to Dutch. It was extraordinary that two Belgians met like that in France. He said he hadn’t known there was an Antwerp coloratura soprano singing Kristin and said he would like to write another piece for me. I would have loved to sing whatever he would have composed for me, but unfortunately it is not going to happen in this world.

© Jean-Louis Fernandez



All the rest is not easily put into words, he had something that all the greats have. An energy that touches you and an unconditional love that radiates from him, I think that is what has stayed with me the most. An enormously amiable person.”



Meeting between Philippe Boesmans and Silvia Costa, who handled the production:



Philippe Boesmans died on Sunday 10 April 2022. His operas are performed regularly and both Julie(2004), after the play Fröken Julie by August Strindberg, and Reigen, after a play by Arthur Schnitzler, belong to the standard repertoire in opera houses all over the world.



Scene from Reigen performed by Operastudio Nederland (Daphne Ramakers & Pascal Pittie)



Below Julie from the Fondanzione teatro Comunale e Auditorium Bolzano directed by Manfred Schweigkofler:

A fraternizing passion for music

Take an Israeli, a Frenchman and an Iranian born in Austria, put all them together on a stage in Aix-en-Provence with the scores of the Russian and Czech masters in front of them. They then record it live and the result is just about the best CD of the year 2019.


The Tchaikovsky and Dvorák piano trios recorded on 5 April 2018 are of course ‘gefundenes fressen’ for a lover of chamber music. After all, the opening bars of Tchaikovsky’s opus 50 alone will surely stay in your mind.

Whether this performance is better than that of the Beaux Arts Trio or the trio of Perlman/Ashkenazy/Harrell (to name but two)? No, I do not think so. But it is definitely more exciting. I don’t want to put the word refreshing in my mouth, but of course it is. What you hear here is the unpolished sound of a real live performance. You can hear the passion.


The three protagonists, Laham Shani (piano), Renaud Capuçon (violin) and Kian Soltani (cello) not only know how to bring to life the sad stories behind the notes, but they also make them more tangible. Intense. No, these performances will not leave you unmoved.

If the supporters of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) had their way, this CD would never have been recorded. The reason is simple: Lahav Shani, in everyday life chief conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and also a gifted pianist, is an Israeli. And those well-meaning pseudo do-gooders of course want none of that. Fortunately, there is still such a thing as music, where all people can actually become ‘brothers’ and where playing together is elevated to the highest level..



Tchaikovsky: Piano Trio in A, op. 50
Dvorák: Piano Trio No. 3 in F, op. 65
Lahav Shani (piano), Renaud Capuçon (violin), Kian Soltani (cello)
Warner 0190295525415

Zauber der Bohème or ‘dream couples’ in opera

©Marjan Kiepura

The term ‘dream couple’ has lost much of its original meaning. For, say it yourself: how many of these ‘dream couples’ did you see come and go without there being anything left of their idyll afterwards? Gheorghiu/Alagna ended in a very hostile divorce , Netrebko/Villazon only existed on paper and – who knows? – in the tenor’s dreams….



But it is not always just a beautiful fable, because once such a dream couple did exist in real life. Polish tenor Jan Kiepura and Hungarian soprano Martha Eggerth not only achieved their fairytale status of being made for each other, but they also remained there. And that both on the stage, on the movie screen and in real life.



In Géza Von Bolváry’s 1937 film, Zauber der Bohème, we are introduced to two young, would-be singers in love, whose lives are running parallel, both in real life and on the stage. Their fates are very similar to those of the fictional characters they perform on the stage, but here death is real and insurmountable: after her last notes, Denise/Mimi (Eggerth) dies in the arms of René/Rodolfo (Kiepura). Curtain!

Besides arias from Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème, there are also two songs, written specially for the film by Robert Stolz and Ernst Marischka: ‘Ich liebe Dich!’ and ‘Weine nicht, bricht eine schöne Frau Dir das Herz’.

‘Ich liebe Dich’:




Jan Kiepura sings ‘Weine nicht, bricht eine schöne Frau Dir das Herz.’





The last scene from the film:




One handkerchief is not enough against all this emotional outpour, but you have to be able to cope with a very poor image and the quality of the sound is also quite bad. But honestly: who cares?

And here is the whole film, unfortunately without subtitles:




Postscript: in 1938 Marta Eggerth and Jan Kiepura, both Jews, fled Austria and Europe just in the nick of time. They took the ‘vanished’ Austria and the Viennese flair with them to New York.






“Ich möcht so gern nach Haus!”: Anne Sofie von Otter sings songs by ‘Theresienstadt composers

The songs Anne Sofie von Otter, assisted by baritone Christian Gerhaher, sings on the CD Terezín – Theresienstadt, released in 2008 on Deutsche Gramophon (DG 4776546), belong to a variety of music genres. They have one thing in common: all of them were composed in the Terezín concentration camp and their creators who were deported there were later murdered in Auschwitz.

The initiative came from von Otter herself: for the Holocaust commemoration in Stockholm she collected a wide selection of the ‘Terezín songs’ and compiled a recital of them.  This programme was then recorded for CD, ” because we must never forget. “

ILse Weber

It is a CD you really need to listen to from start to finish even though many of the songs come from the lighter genre. Most moving are the songs by Ilse Weber.

Try to keep a dry eye when listening to ‘Wiegala,’ the lullaby that Weber sang to the children in the gas chambers.

Or the terrifying words “I want to go home so badly” from Weber’s “Ich wandre durch Theresienstadt.”

Erwin Schulhoff

The beautiful violin solo sonata by Erwin Schulhoff does not really belong here, Schulhoff has never been to Terezín. He was arrested in Prague on 23 June 1941 and deported to the Würzburg concentration camp, where he died of tuberculosis in 1942. You can hear that Daniel Hope has been devoted to Schulhoff’s music for many years, as he interprets the work in an inimitable way.

Below Daniel Hope plays ‘Andante Cantabile’, the second movement of Schulhoff’s sonata. It is a recording from the CD ‘Forbidden Music’, released by Nimbus:

 

Ilse Weber, Hans Krása, Viktor Ullmann, Pavel Haas, Karel Svenk, Erwin Schulhoff
Terezín – Theresienstadt
Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano), Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Daniel Hope (violin), Bengt Forsberg (piano), Bebe Risengf (accordion, guitar and double bass) and others.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator

Metamorphoses as a symbol of transfiguration of the world, after the war


It was at the end of the Second World War that Richard Strauss composed his Metamorphoses for twenty-three strings. The piece, one of his last works, is based on mythological stories by Ovid, in which the creation and history of the world are based on Greek and Roman mythology.

It is generally believed that Strauss composed the work in response to the horrors of war while also mourning the destruction of Germany. And that it was a kind of elegy to the devastating bombing of Munich, especially the Munich Opera.
The final section entitled ‘In Memoriam’ could indicate that the piece was intended as a musical monument for culture in general, and German culture in particular, which is why some, including Matthijs Vermeulen, took the composition to be a lament for Hitler and for the downfall of the Nazi regime (source: Wikipedia). I can’t imagine it, but: who am I?

According to Richard Straus (and Beethoven) specialist Dr Jürgen May, it was Strauss’s way of expressing his sorrow for “more than three thousand years of the cultural development of mankind”.

In the composition, quotations from Beethoven’s Eroica and his Fifth Symphony can also be heard, as well as from Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll. That the work is rather sombre and very emotional is obvious. Especially the ‘In Memoriam’ will not leave you unmoved.


Richard Wilson The Destruction of the Children of Niobe 1760


“Childless she sat down dejectedly […] Yet she weeps, and […] she is carried away to her fatherland; there, set on a mountain top, she wears away, and even now tears flow from the marble” (source Latin and Greek, anonymous translation).

With the other works on the CD, from Schreker and Korngold, the feeling of desolation and abandonment is coninued.Franz_Schreker

Franz Schreker composed the Intermezzo, the oldest piece (and also the shortest) on the disc, in 1900. That was a long time before he would write his greatest works and his operas would be performed with enormous success in the biggest opera houses of, in particular, Austria and Germany. Yet, in the narcotic ‘Ferne Klang’, you can already hear Schreker’s musical characteristictics.

Korngold wrote his Symphonic Serenade shortly after the Second World War, when he had left Hollywood for a while to come to Vienna. He worked on it from 1947 and at the same time he also began what he thought would be his greatest work, the Symphony in F-sharp. John Wilson with his Sinfonietta London had already recorded this Symphony with stunning result. This CD is no less impressive.


Richard Strauss, Metamorphoses
Franz Schreker, Intermezzo op.8
Erich Wolfgand Korngold, Symphonic Serenade for Strings op.39
Sinfonia of London olv John Wilson
Chandos CHS

The Hague String Trio puts female composers in the spotlight. And in a most delightful way!

How many female composers do you know? Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn… and then? We have to  jump more than a hundred years to finally come across Bacewicz, Gubaidulina and Ustvolskaya. And because it has recently become quite a hip subject, Hanriette Bosmans has also been rediscovered.

© Sarah Wijzenbeek | The Hague String Trio


The Hague String Trio, an ensemble that had previously more than pleasantly surprised me with a plea for (mostly forgotten) works by ‘Entartete componisten’, has now recorded a CD that puts female composers at the center. Kudos to them! On their CD, titled Celebrating Women, they have recorded previously unrecorded string trios by female composers from the second half of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century. All four composers are as different as can be. Not only do they come from four different countries (and three continents), but their cultural and social backgrounds could not be more diverse.


‘Not recorded before’ is a euphemism because actually none of the composers recorded are (well) known.

Dame Ethel Smyth

The only exception (I hope?) is Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944), whose name we still come across here and there. But the remaining three? Miriam Hyde? Emmy Frensel Wegener? Irene Britton Smith? Who were they?

Bertha Frensel Wegener-Koopman


Bertha Frensel Wegener-Koopman (1874 – 1953) was born in Bloemendaal. She studied piano and composition at the Amsterdam Conservatory. She often performed, as a pianist, until her marriage with John Frensel Wegener. But she continued to compose. Songs in particular, which were performed by Julia Culp and Jo Vincent, among others. Her Suite for violin, alto and cello from 1925 is wonderfully light-hearted and cheerful. Something that makes you happy. But don’t forget the serious undertone in the Andante. Something that really gives the composition more cachet.

Miriam Hyde


Australian Miriam Hyde (1913 -2005) was not only a composer, but also a pianist, music teacher and poet. She composed more than 150 works for various instruments (mainly piano) and orchestra, 50 songs, and she performed as a concert pianist with the greatest conductors of the time. She also published several books of poetry. Her string trio from 1932 is very melodious and at times very exciting. High-flyer? Not really, but wonderful to listen to

Irene Britton Smith



And then we come to Irene Britton Smith (1907-1999). For me, she is a real discovery. This student of Nadia Boulanger and others was not only a composer, she was also a teacher. Britton Smith came from Chicago and had Afro-American, Crow and Cherokee roots.

About Irene Briton Smith



Miriam Hyde, Emmy Frensel-Wegener, Ethel Smyth and Irene Britton-Smith could not have wished for better ambassadors of their music than The Hague String Trio.
I so hope that this CD will be emulated and that female composers will be performed and recorded more often. Many of their compositions are real gems that do not deserve to be forgotten.


Coming home: 75 years Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra turned 75 years old on december 24, 2011 The anniversary was celebrated abundantly with a concert that was enough to make anyone’s mouth water. The festivities took place in Hangar 11 in Tel Aviv, an exceptionally beautiful location situated in the old port of the city. 

First of all, there was Zubin Mehta. The conductor of Indian origin has devoted heart and soul to the orchestra, for which he was rewarded by being named Music Director for Life in 1981. His performance of Beethoven’s Eighth was rock solid, but the contributions of the soloists surpassed the orchestral virtuosity.

Evgeny Kissin was brilliant in Chopin’s First Piano Concerto. The sound, unmistakably Polish and highly romantic brought the audience to tears. As for me, on my comfortable couch in Amsterdam, my TV screen got suspiciously hazy. 

Both violinists, Julian Rachlin and Vadim Repin were genial in their own way, and a match for each other. In contrast to Rachlin’s slightly emphatic, full-blooded, romantic sound,  Repin’s tone was more transparent. I need to add that Chausson’s Poème played by Repin is in a different league than Saint-Saëns‘ Introduction et Rondo Capriccioso, but the Sarabande from Bach’s second Partita was as wax in Rachlin’s hands.

Bronislam Huberman

In addition there is a documentary on the early years of the orchestra. What we get to see here is invaluable. Bronisław Huberman and his idealistic plan, with which he not only created one of the greatest orchestras in the world but saved hundreds of lives as well.

Arturo Toscanini in action.

A young Bernstein performing for the young army. Moving family histories….

On 20.11.48, a few days after its liberation, the IPO performed a moving concert on Beer Sheba’s dunes and senior orchestra members remember the young Leonard Bernsten playing and conducting the orchestra before 5,000 soldiers within earshot of the retreating Egyptian forces.”

© US Library of Congress, Bernstein Photo Collection

I doubt this documentary will ever be shown on TV. So go to the store and buy the dvd. Put your feet up, take the time for it, enjoy, and be moved.

Trailer:

SAINT-SAËNS, BACH, CHOPIN, CHAUSSON, BEETHOVEN
Julian Rachlin, Vadim Repin (viool), Evgeny Kissin (piano)
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra olv van Zubin Mehta
Euroarts 2059094 • 95’(concert) + 52’(documentaire)

One of the finest performances of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, with Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, made at the 1982 Huberman Festival. The Israel Philharmonic is conducted by Zubin Mehta:

English translation Remko Jas