About a week ago I returned from a much-needed 2 weeks in the Netherlands, visiting my old friends and staying with my ex-and-still-best-friend Wim. It was a very musical visit, not surprisingly since we are both musicians. The day after I arrived I got to hear the Concertgebouw (in which Wim plays) doing the first act of Die Walküre, which only requires three singers and is often excerpted for that reason. Siegmund was a fine American heldentenor, Clifton Forbis, whose work I didn't know but who impressed me a great deal. Hunding was the wonderful English bass Sir John Tomlinson, who studied with my old teacher Otakar Kraus. I know John, just a little, and I am happy to report that at well over 60, he is still singing stunningly well, with a hugely voluminous voice and great expression. The sound itself has changed very little. Perhaps a touch less opulence on top, but that's not needed for this role.
But the Sieglinde!!!
Wim had wanted me to come and hear the relative new-comer, a Dutch soprano named Eva-Maria Westbroek. This summer he had brought over a recording of a broadcast that she had done of Fanciulla del West, which was certainly impressive.. but I was completely bowled over by the intensity, power and beauty by Westbroek's real-time singing Sieglinde. Her voice is large, powerful, effortlessly produced, even in scale, and very beautiful in quality. And she has tremendous presence, with an understated but completely convincing acting style. She is a tall (about 6 foot) statuesque blond woman, with a handsome, large-featured face that works well on stage.The electricity between Siegmund and Sieglinde was palpable from the very start. Whenever Westbroek looked at Forbis and smiled, or tentatively raised her hand in this concert performance, one could sense the growing attraction.
The orchestral playing under Bernard Haitink (approaching 80 now) was spectacularly beautiful. This is a beautiful score to begin with, but I have never heard it sound so good.
The day after we heard Paul McCreesh's group doing a couple of St. Cecilia Odes by Purcell. Beautifully performed but a bit...small...after Wagner. Not usually what I would say, since I love Purcell.
Shortly after that a recital by tenor Christophe Prégardien, which didn't do much for me...I found the singing rather effortful and I don't think that the 'Knaben Wunderhorn' songs work well with the piano. Fine accompaniments by Michael Gees.
A few days later to a very clever and charming production of Delibes's ballet "Coppélia". Whereas I am severely critical of performances in my own field of singing, anybody doing something I can't do, like classical ballet dancing, reduces me to a state of reverent admiration. To watch those men and women seemingly weightlessly floating across the stage, speaking with their hands, their feet, their entire bodies..quite wonderful.
A couple of days later I preceded Wim down to Brussels where we were to meet our friend Charles--I left a day or two earlier to meet another friend of mine in Afflighem (near Brussels) and do a photoshoot. Guido took some really rather good shots of me which I may post here sometime soon. The next day he dropped me off at Charles and Jos's house in Brussels, where Wim had arrived that afternoon, and that evening Jos put together a spectacular five-course meal (she has a professional culinary background). Next day we went to a matinée of "Wozzeck" at the Théâtre de la Monnaie. A good performance, with less than spectacular voices--but "Wozzeck" needs star-caliber voices less than it does a good ensemble and fine acting. As always, the story was shattering--Wozzeck destroyed by his environment, driven to murder his unfaithful wife, meeting death in the pond where he has thrown the murder weapon...
On returning to Amsterdam I got to hear yet another song recital by the English soprano Sally Matthews. She is a spectacularly good singer, what one would call a "large lyric", not the same weight as Westbroek's voice but of ample size, with an unusual almost "echo-y" quality in the middle register. For me the highlight was a performance of Britten/Auden's "On this Island" and within that cycle, her performance of "Nocturne" was especially striking.
Then it was back to Boston and Shelburne, with a load of books, CDs, chocolate, and 'stroopwafels', the Dutch wafers with caramel inside...and now Bill and I are on a low-carbohydrate diet which I am glad to say is working quite well--of course it will be a while before I lose my intended 15 pounds (it's difficult because people constantly tell me I don't need to lose weight--what do THEY know?).
Still more than a foot of snow in Shelburne. I wonder if the daffodils will ever come up or whether our gardener will ever be able to put in the fruit trees and perennials...
It has been confirmed that Bill will be on sabbatical this fall for several months in England. A handy excuse for me to come and finally pay a visit to my dear friends in London, Scotland, and Ireland....not to mention the Netherlands and Scandinavia....watch this space.