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December 31, 2013 2:07 pm
In what was arguably 2013’s most expensive karaoke night, Renée Fleming read her song texts live from a gigantic TV prompter screen at the back of the Dresden Semperoper auditorium. This was particularly piquant when she tried to waltz with Klaus Florian Vogt simultaneously.
This year’s New Year’s eve concert in Dresden was broadcast internationally, hence the need for big-name stars and the guarantee that said stars would be tense. Fleming and Vogt are both celebrities and old friends of chief conductor Christian Thielemann, but none of them is particularly at home in the world of operetta and musicals – the stuff of this concert. It felt a little like watching Angela Merkel attempt stand-up comedy, or Vladimir Putin dance the cancan.
Of course, Fleming makes beautiful sounds, Vogt has a wonderful upper register, the Staatskapelle is a superb orchestra, and Thielemann is utterly in control. It is a very different relationship from that of the Berliner Philharmoniker with Simon Rattle, 160km further north. The Berliners translate Rattle’s gestures into a mixture of what they think he wants and what they wish to give; the Dresdeners simply obey. The former approach is more democratic and complex, the latter more uniform.
Thielemann brought out textures and sonorities in the scores of Paul Lincke, Robert Stolz, George Gershwin and their peers that you will seldom hear with such lush clarity, but the whole was so solidly earthbound that it felt a little like getting a steak when you ordered a sorbet.
Banks of mirrors behind and above the performance meant that the bright garb of the State Opera chorus members was revealed in all its glory, and that the audience could see itself. It also meant that the audience could see Fleming’s autocue prompts rolling backwards up the screen. Two complaints. First, since she was reading the text, why was it still not possible to understand the words when she sang? Second, no matter how unfamiliar this repertoire is to her, could she not have learnt her five songs and three duets by heart, given the prestige of the event?
Thielemann has an odd habit of turning to face his singers and moving in so close that it is almost an embrace. It is not entirely clear whether he is striving to follow them as exactly as possible, trying to control them as much as he can, or merely itching to sink his fangs into their necks. Vogt, the consummate Lohengrin, is far too careful and proper to pass muster as a fiery operetta hero, even less as one of Bernstein’s latin lovers. A vampire bite might be just what he needs.
Should you have missed the broadcasts of ZDF and Unitel, you can always order the DVD. Perhaps it will become a collector’s item, like Maria Callas’s rendition of Parsifal in Italian.
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