On July 2, 2005 a starry opera gala was held at the Cologne Opera House to benefit the German AIDS Foundation, similar in concept and execution to a gala held a year earlier in Berlin and starring some of the same singers. This evening featured the orchestra and chorus of the Cologne Opera under the direction of their music director, Markus Stenz, a rising young German conductor. Probably the biggest star of the evening was the superb German baritone, Thomas Quasthoff, who sang the 'Song to the Evening Star' from Tannhäuser and the satirical aria 'O sancta justitia' sung by the burgomeister van Bett in Lortzing's delightful Zar und Zimmermann. Quasthoff was just a notch below his best form but that's still pretty darn good! Highlights for me included the Alaska-born mezzo Vivica Genaux who scored with both her arias, the vocally acrobatic 'Nacqui all'affano' from Rossini's La Cenerentola, and the tongue-twisting comic song, 'La tarántula é un bicho mù malo' from Giménez's zarzuela La Tempranica. The glorious Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian was also slightly off her best form and one wonders if that is why she was accorded only one aria, 'Bel raggio lusinghier' from Rossini's Semiramide, although she did participate in the finale in which most of the cast of singers did 'Tonight' from West Side Story.
The wonderful Spanish baritone Carlos Álvarez was heard in a sensational 'Leonore, viens' from the French-language La Favorite of Donizetti. Strangely, his second aria was from a movie, Gene de Paul's 'Bless Your Beautiful Hide' from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, not only an odd choice but also done in a very peculiar Western American accent -- think Howard Keel -- overlain by Álvarez's Spanish accent, but magnificently sung for all that. He shone in Bernstein's 'Tonight.' American soprano Michèle Crider sang a lovely 'Pace, pace mio dio' from La Forza del destino and returned in the second half with a dreamy 'Summertime' from Porgy and Bess. A soprano hitherto unknown to me, the Georgian Tamar Iveri, with a lovely lyric soprano, sang 'Dove sono' from Figaro and 'Doretta's Dream' from La Rondine. Saimir Pirgu, a very young Albanian tenor, one with great promise (and movie star good looks), sang 'Una furtiva lagrima' from L'elisir d'amore and the Neapolitan song 'Non ti scordar di me' by de Curtis. With some seasoning he is destined for big things, I suspect.
Neil Shicoff, no spring chicken but in fabulous voice -- the best I've heard from him in a while -- sang, gloriously, the two tenor arias from Tosca: 'Recondita armonia' and 'E lucevan le stelle.'
Best of all: Edda Moser, the veteran soprano with the fabled floating tones in alt, looking sensational, collaborated with two colleagues from the Cologne Opera (soprano Claudia Rohrbach and mezzo Regina Richter, both young, attractive and talented) to sing one of my favorite moments in all of opera, the Trio from Der Rosenkavalier. I was thrilled by it and only disappointed that they didn't go on to do the lovely Schubertian duet between Octavian and Sophie that concludes the opera.
Each selection is introduced, in German but with idiomatic English subtitles, by the humorous German cabaret artist Konrad Belkircher. The DVD is tracked so that his comments for the upcoming number are placed at the end of the preceding number so that at the end of an aria one can easily skip (on the second or dozenth time through the DVD) directly to the beginning of the next number. Clever planning by the makers of the DVD because you'll want to hear the singers again and again, but once is probably enough for Belkircher, although he's a pretty funny guy.
There are no options for sound; it's all in plain vanilla PCM stereo as far as I can determine. The only subtitles offered are those in English. Total running time is about two hours. There are some introductory remarks for the AIDS gala crowd by a dignitary, in German with no subtitles. By the way, the gala garnered contributions in excess of 600,000 euros ($765,000) for the German AIDS Foundation, and there is a short, separately accessed, documentary about their work in sub-Saharan Africa.
A worthwhile DVD with some excellent singing and the discovery, for me at least, of some young previously unknown artists (Vivica Genaux in particular, and the two young ladies from the Cologne Opera) as well as welcome contributions by the familiar Edda Moser, Thomas Quasthoff and Neil Shicoff.