Wagner in Concert

Paris, Théâtre des Champs Elysees, Sept 10 2003

Orchestre National de France, Kurt Masur; Deborah Voigt, soprano.

Wagner: Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf dem Wartburg

1. Overture
2. Aria „Dich, teure Halle“ from Act II


Wagner: Tristan und Isolde. Prelude and Liebestod.

Comparison is said to be odious. As I’d heard Tristan, with Deborah Voigt, in Vienna this spring, it was impossible not to hear Wednesday’s Wagner/Bruckner concert (Orchestre National de France, Kurt Masur, Deborah Voigt) without comparing, and that turned out to be odious indeed. I wonder how Masur feels conducting such a such scrappy ensemble as France’s National Orchestra. In Tannhäuser, shaky woodwind attacks; trombones not in time with the strings; at the end of the overture, all that rapid, chromatic business that goes on among the upper strings while the main theme continues as a march underneath: it was unintelligible, there was no way of knowing what they were supposed to be playing. And in the Prelude and Liebstod from Tristan, you could never be sure the strings, in that famous rising interval, would all arrive at the top together.

Deborah Voigt was replacing Julia Varady, who’d cancelled. She might reasonably have been tired from singing the whole of Tristan the night before. But she showed no sign of it, leapt into Dich, teure Halle with a fair degree of vigour and gave a wholly musical, lyrical performance of the Liebstod. Sung as an extract, not at the end of four-and-a-half hours’ hysteria, this of course can’t have quite the same magical effect; but it was beautifully sung, not shouted or screamed.

Ms Voigt had presumably not planned to sing an encore. So after long applause and some whispering between Masur and the orchestra, things went as follows:

  • D. Voigt to audience, as Masur raises baton: “One more time!”
  • Lady in audience, loudly: “Merci!”
  • Masur, lowering baton and turning: “Keep it for after!”

Encore: Dich, teure Halle again, better still, after a bit of relaxing banter, than before. So, Debbie saves the day. Or night. The Orchestre National had shown no sign of being on Brucknerian form, every sign of not being world class, so we left for an earlier dinner than planned, and bed at a reasonable hour.

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