Salzburg’s Whitsun Festival hosted a Gala on Monday evening, May 21, 2018. Conducted by Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle, Berlin, it was a splendid event. Cecilia Bartoli and Jonas Kaufmann did the vocal honors after Rolando Villazón canceled for health reasons. Bartoli and Barenboim included additional music to supplement the absent singer, and Jonas Kaufmann sang solo from the Wesendonck Lieder with Barenboim himself accompanying him on the grand piano. The evening shone.
The First Half-Rossini
Highlighting Rossini and Wagner, Barenboim opened with Rossini’s Overture to “The Barber of Seville,” kicking things off with musical high spirits. The audience roused in response. Then Bartoli appeared in her royal blue satin, elegant and confident, taking command of the stage with her colleagues. With her characteristic high spirits and total musical and dramatic vitality and beauty, she sang the iconic aria “Una voce poco fa” from “The Barber of Seville.” Everyone practically cheered. She dazzled, her voice completely present, every note a sumptuous articulation, full, rich, and expressive. Here was Rossini as it could be. She gave the composer a totally living rendition.
Bartoli followed that with selections from Rossini’s “Otello,” a more than artful complement to Rosina’s expressive and technically challenging aria, the harp accompaniment underscoring the plaintive “cri de coeur.” From joy to melancholy, Bartoli bridged the gap with ease; it seemed effortless and artistically seamless. Depth and drama and technical virtuosity were her calling cards. No one wanted her to stop.
The Second Half – Wagner
Barenboim began the second half with a stirring version of the Overture to Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger.” Once again, Wagner’s highly textured and rich integration of the opera’s theme filled the auditorium and the satisfied audience let him know. Jonas Kaufmann then came on, putting his imprint on the evening. He offered “Am Stillen Herd,” from “Meistersinger,” his singing fastidious and graceful. The quiet and poignant words penetrating the silent auditorium with expanse of a different kind than Bartoli’s elaboration of tone and image. Thoughtful and warm, the aria enabled us to probe another layer of musical beauty.
The “Preislied” followed, Stolzing’s magical contribution to the singing contest that dominates the last act of the opera. Kaufmann sang this with great fluidity in the first two stanzas and then with more urgency in the final one. Stolzing’s character allows for that, especially by the time in the Contest in the opera when his uncertainty has subsided. No more the naïf, he became the successful artist who knew when to withhold and when to give. Kaufmann did this very thing with sublime ease and aplomb.
Then came the the penultimate piece of the evening – Barenboim accompanying Kaufmann on the large grand piano wheeled out for the occasion- from Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder. For this occasion he chose the“Traume” (Dreams) and sang with a smooth and gorgeous tone. It was sheer pleasure to hear Kaufmann perform a movement from a cycle he has dominated for so long.
Barenboim rounded off the concert with both the “Prelude and the Liebestod” from Wagner’s masterpiece as well, a stirring completion to a vocally and musically fine event. Flowers were not even enough for the guests at the Whitsun Festspiele to say thank you.