The closing gala concert at Salzburg's Whitsun Festival was to have featured the Festival's director, Cecilia Bartoli, together with tenors Jonas Kaufmann and Rolando Villazón, and the Staatskapelle Berlin under the baton of Daniel Barenboim. A line up that almost justifies the more than €300 ticket price.
Villazón cancelled at the last moment “for health reasons” leaving Bartoli to pick up the pieces. With no time for finding a replacement tenor, and the elegant Festival audience about to arrive, La Ceci had little choice but to sing something extra herself. Instead of the planned selection from Rossini's Otello with Villazón, only the Willow Song remained possible, so she added in Una voce poco fa before it, and the rondo finale from La Cenerentola to close the first part.
Having sung the low-lying role of Isabella in L'Italiana in Algeri the night before, it was hardly surprising that Bartoli wasn't comfortable when she got to the cabaletta section of Rosina's cavatina though, of course, she carried it off. The Willow Song was classic Bartoli with great intensity in the quietest of notes and long, suspenseful phrasing. Unfortunately, a distracted Barenboim broke the thread when after the end of the harp section, he indicated for the harpist to stand to take his applause. When Bartoli politely whispered that it wasn't finished yet, he took up his baton once more and the orchestra picked up from where they left off.
He also didn't keep up with Bartoli's breakneck attack of the final section of the Cenerentola rondo. Odd, as they have performed it several times together, but it was one of those surprises of an improvised programme. A startled Bartoli turned to face the orchestra and, in a beat, managed to join them.
The first-half of Rossini contrasted with Wagner in second-half. The two composers did meet, once, in Paris, in 1960. Wagner remarked that “the ‘swan of Pesaro' was the one truly great figure amongst all the musicians he had met in Paris”. Rossini attended a performance of Tannhäuser, and while saying, “It is music one must hear a number of times,” he added, “but I won't be going again.”
After an exhilarating account of the Die Meistersinger overture, with the Staatskapelle Berlin's compact, warm sound, came Kaufmann in thrilling form. Gone was the tired rasp and yawning pianissimi that were creeping in before his enforced break a couple of years ago due to a burst blood vessel on his vocal cords. His heroic, clean top and bronzed lower register, together with his always affecting musicality, made for exciting listening as he sang two of Stolzing's arias – Am stillen Herd and Morgenlich leuchtend.
Maybe he had been worrying about the €300 seat price because a piano was brought on and as an unannounced extra he sang Träume, exquisitely, with il Maestro at the keyboard.
The orchestral version of Tristan und Isolde's Liebestod concluded the programme, its broad waves of sound played with passionate but restrained intensity and, after a great deal of applause, Salzburg's chic, sophisticated crowd slid out satisfied.
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.