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Recordings

Opera Night
17 Jan 2007

Opera Night

Some interesting repertory choices and the participation of some of today's most attractive singers make this particular "gala" evening of "walk on-sing-walk off" entertainment more consistently enjoyable than these affairs often are.

Opera Night
Live Concert from the Opera Cologne 2005 for the German AIDS Foundation
Famous Arias and Songs by Wagner, Donizetti, Rossini, Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, R. Strauss, Gershwin, Giménez, Lortzing, De Curtis, De Paul, Bernstein

Carlos Álvarez, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Michèle Crider, Vivica Genaux, Tamar Iveri, Edda Moser, Saimir Pirgu, Thomas Quasthoff, Regina Richter, Claudia Rohrbach, Neil Shicoff, Chorus of the Opera Cologne, Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne. Markus Stenz, Conductor. Presented by Konrad Beikircher.

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The evening is a fund-raiser for the German AIDS foundation, and after a brief (and strangely awkward) filmed statement in English from soprano Michèle Crider, the show gets underway with an exciting "Entry of the Guests" from Tannhäuser, with Marcus Stenz leading the Opera Cologne orchestra and its excellent chorus (all sporting the familiar red ribbon).

The contribution of the emcee, a "cabaret artist" named Konrad Beikircher, may damage the enjoyment of some viewers. Clearly reading from notes, with an unmotivated chuckle behind much of his spiel, the emcee's palaver should have been separately tracked for easy skipping. Instead, the "fast forward" button will have to be exercised in order to avoid mostly old and tiresome anecdotes and such gratuitous commentary as an unctuous trashing of the Forza libretto. Perhaps in his native environment this gentleman puts on quite a show; here, the cameraman pans the audience anxiously to find the occasional audience member breaking a smile.

The singing, fortunately, makes up for this annoyance. Thomas Quastoff appears first, with a "Lied an den Abendstern" of rare handsomeness and sensitivity. Much later in the show he comes back with a delightful rarity, "O sancta justitia" from Lortzing's Zar und Zimmerman. After Quastoff's Wagner, the show then shifts to bel canto, with young tenor Saimur Pirgu delivering an able "Una Furtiva Lagrima," his tone only lacking that mysterious charismatic quality that tenors such as Rolando Villazon and Juan-Diego Florez possess. But Pirgu may yet attain that status; towards show's end he sings a very sweet "Non ti scordar di me."

Vivica Genaux appears after Pirgu's Donizetti to give a demonstration of impeccable technique in "Nacqui all'affanno" from Cenerentola, which Isabel Bayrakdarian has to follow. She imparts a sense of drama into Semiramide's "Bel raggio lusinghier," though she is not in Genaux's class as a Rossinian. Genaux is just as exciting later with a surprising choice, a zarzuela number about a tarantula from Jerónimo Giménez.

Upstaging the females in the "hair" department, Carlos Alvarez's wild black lion's mane impresses just as much as his forceful "Leonore, viens" from La Favorite. The vibrato will either appeal or come across as a touch too heavy, depending on taste. Tamar Iveri's healthy soprano may be a touch too strong to deliver a truly tender "Dove sono." Later in the program, however, she does very well by the exquisite "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" from Puccini's Rondine. Ms. Crider, a reliable if unexciting singer, works earnestly through "Pace pace mio Dio." Her "Summertime" (which also serves as the inexplicable "theme" of the gala) finds her approach much too overbearing for a lullaby.

Neil Shicoff sings the two big Tosca tenor arias, with distractingly strenuous facial exertions. The "Recondita armonia" doesn't quite come off, but "E lucevan le stelle" earns him one of the evening's most lively audience responses. The tenor also seems to have found his way to Pavarotti's hair colorist.

In the middle of the program Edda Moser and two young singers, Claudia Rohrbach and Regina Richter, perform the Rosenkavalier trio. Unfortunately, Ms. Moser's experienced (to put it kindly) voice doesn't blend well with the freshness of the two others. Once again, to put it kindly.

The last solo appearance has Carlos Alvarez reappear for the rarest of the evening's repertory choices, "Bless your beautiful hide" from the Gene de Paul score for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Without necessarily forgoing his operatic training, Alvarez imbues the song with easy masculine charm, making for a delightful performance.

Then most of the singers (Shicoff noticeably absent) trot on to perform "Tonight" from West Side Story as an ensemble piece. Odd, but enjoyable nonetheless.

The disc also offers as bonus items a speech thankfully cut from the main DVD program, a short documentary of some of the work the German AIDS foundation has done in South Africa, and a bizarre trailer for this very gala. All in all, the ratio of fine performances to those less so and some innovative repertory choices make this one of the better gala DVDs, if one can tolerate the host.

Chris Mullins

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