Thursday, November 22, 2007

A night to remember

It's Thanksgiving, and there are lots of thanks to give...

Well, they did it! Das Wunder der Heliane was a knockout. The score shone out in all its glory, the drama raised the roof, the orchestra and chorus were utterly stunning. The work, and the performance too, started on a high and only went upwards. The last act, with the gorgeous Zwischenspiel intermezzo to begin, the wild crowd scene, Heliane's procession with offstage bells, and the ensuing transformations and resurrections, was absolutely hair-raising.

I've been so involved in this astonishing project that I don't feel I ought to write a review of it as such. Since there were around 50 press present, I'm sure there'll be plenty of write-ups. Still, by way of preparation for what may be said in the official crits: most of the singers were fabulous, but a couple weren't. Patricia Racette proved the Heliane of our dreams. Michael Hendrick as the Stranger and Andreas Schmidt as the Ruler didn't quite match up, though both improved notably in the third act (please do not trust any critic who doesn't discuss the last act - it was the best both in content and interpretation). To be fair, the role of The Stranger is a real killer and demands nothing less than a Kiepura...I can't help dreaming of Jonas Kaufmann. Willard White as the Porter sang exquisitely, ideally strong and sincere, and Robert Tear as the Blind Judge was the real tenor star of the night. Very fine performances too from Ursula Hesse von den Steinen and Andrew Kennedy (a pity he had only 2 lines to sing).

Some people had doubts about the positioning of the soloists - they were at the front of the choir section, behind and above the orchestra, with an acoustic screen behind them. I don't know where else they could have sat. The platform, which was already extended forward, was jam-packed. This opera was evidently designed for the Vienna Staatsoper and few other venues are the right size for it.

Thank you to everyone who came to my talk - there was a great turnout. It does feel weird to stand on the platform of the Royal Festival Hall, holding forth (thank almighty God I don't have to play the piano). Thanks to those of you who came to say hello afterwards, too - it's nice to know that you are real beyond cyberspace!

Thank you to Vladimir, Tim Walker, the South Bank Centre and every one of the performers for letting this evening take place. People flew thousands of miles to be there - and for all of us in the Korngold fan club, it was a night to remember and cherish forever.