"Don't applaud ME," Thomas Quasthoff chided the audience in Hertz Hall
today. The snickering and cheers came as he introduced Liszt's "Petrarca
Sonnets" and talked about the composer's "lady-killer" accomplishments.
He then paused, considered the possible application of the title to
himself, said, eyes a-twinkle: "Who knows what the future will bring?"
While not really concerned about Quasthoff's already well-proven popularity
with the ladies, I was in deep thought about what the future may bring in
As Quasthoff -- in great form, good humor, moving the audience (all
genders) to repeated standing ovations in his Bay Area debut -- sang Brahms
(Op. 32), the Liszt, Debussy (ballades to text by Francois Villon), and
three of Ravel's "Don Quichotte" songs, I heard in my mind scores of great
baritone and bass roles in opera.
There *are* lieder and oratorio singers whose voice is not appropriate for
opera, but Quasthoff -- with his range, flexibility, colors, power and
passion -- was born to sing opera.
Shakespeare has best described the range and variety of Quasthoff's voiceS
and his interpretations: he can indeed do "tragedy, comedy, history,
pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical,
tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem
Live performances are of course out of question, but why no broadcasts and
recordings? There should be an international petition drive to make this
happen -- to him, not Deutsche Grammophon, which must be just as anxious as
the singer's fans to hear his Posa, Falstaff, Onegin, Papageno... Wotan!
The singer we heard today could, and *should*, sing anything in opera that
requires a beautiful voice, warmth, and Presence.
There was something else today that made me think of opera: Quasthoff's
"theatricality," the way he establishes contact with the audience beyond
music. He advised stragglers to take their seat, expressing mild,
inoffensive disapproval; his expression showed his feeling about letting
people in during a cycle, in-between songs (a very bad idea); he noted,
with satisfaction, that empty seats have been occupied after intermission;
and he yelled after the couple leaving after the first encore: "Don't
leave! You miss something!" (It was his always-stunning "Swing Low, Sweet
Chariot" those people missed.)
Quasthoff is such a great singer that he could have the extreme awkwardness
of an English tenor, and I wouldn't mind, but it's such a plus that he
relates to the audience the same way he is off-stage: a man without a
phony bone in his body.
Of the many times I had the good fortune to hear Quasthoff, today's
Berkeley recital was the most flawless, the most completely blissful.
Also, it provided some of finest work by Justus Zeyen, the pianist. While
not in perfect sync and balance in some of the Brahms songs, Liszt, Debussy
and Ravel came through as both exemplary accompaniment and an extraordinary
second concert. To witness Quasthoff's repeated and emphatic "command" to
the audience to acknowledge Zeyen is yet another unusual and special
characteristic of this giant of a four-foot singer.
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