Looking as though she'd stepped out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting, Anja Harteros came on stage at La Scala in a pinky-red Greek tunic: Euterpe in person.
Harteros manages to fold her large voice down to a scale suitable for Schubert and Brahms, which made up the majority of her recital programme. It is certainly an impressive instrument with a rich lower register having a burnished colour that she manages to take up over the passaggio. Her vocal lines are elegant, her breath control allows her to join phrases often divided, and she possesses a warm vibrato. She seems able to do whatever she chooses with her voice, except for the very top which tends to lose colour and enters without vibrato. This is nitpicking, but it is always something for any singer to pay attention to before it gets out of control. However, profiting from this vibrato-less attack for Schubert's Nacht und Träume, together with her long phrasing, Harteros created a hypnotic atmosphere which hushed an otherwise restless house.
Nowhere was this touristy audience more noticeable than during the last group of Strauss lieder which concluded the programme. A phone with a ringtone like Mickey Mouse's alarm-clock went off just as the voice entered in Morgen, a few seconds later a message arrived on another phone, then someone in a box seemed to drop their knitting needles, and finally the man in front of me surprised himself as he set off his phone's flash in his lap which made the elderly lady next to him gasp just as the piano was finishing the ‘pppp' coda .
If the audience was unwittingly doing its best to upstage the Greek soprano, her splendid accompanist Wolfram Rieger certainly didn't: like a father accompanying the bride up the aisle, he was always by her side but never drew attention away from her. His playing was sensitive and passionate, with satisfying touches of irony now and then to finish a song with a smile… and smiley he was too, enjoying every minute of the (quite short) programme. As the pair came on to receive more applause, still without music for an encore, there was a slight groan until, with a flourish, Rieger whipped out the sheet of music that he was hiding with a mischievous grin. As the kids say here in Italy… “grande!”
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.