VESSELINA KASAROVA AT THE KONZERTHAUS IN BERLIN
ON 28TH MAY 2017
A year after the last time that Vesselina Kasarova’s schedule and mine last coincided, I was fortunate enough to be in Berlin when she was appearing in series of concerts at the prestigious Konzerthaus. This is an excellent venue with good sight-lines, resplendent décor and (most importantly) superb acoustics.
Appearing alongside the venue’s own orchestra (a top flight band), VK featured in two performances of a full length concert of Haydn (cantata and symphony) and Saint-Saëns (aria and symphony) – plus a shorter morning concert for family audiences in which the Haydn items were featured alongside a Mozart aria. I managed to catch this morning concert and the repeat performance of the full length concert later the same day.
The morning concert was part of a long-standing tradition at the Konzerthaus entitled Mozart-Matinee in which parts of the full-length concert on at the time are combined with something by Mozart to form an hour-long event to which concertgoers are encouraged to bring their children and grandchildren. The presentation is very informal with spoken introductions to each item and onstage interviews with the conductor and soloists. Most of the many children in the audience were very well behaved and attentive. The only exception was a young boy with a clear case of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder who was sitting a few seats along from me in the front row. VK charmingly managed to calm him down during her interview by including him in the conversation. Thereafter he was putty in her hands and sat entranced and alert.
VK opened the proceedings with Haydn’s cantata Ariadne auf Naxos. Dressed in a simple black jump suit but with a resplendent pair of earrings (more about those later), she was given an exceptionally large area between the conductor and the first violins in which to perform – and perform she certainly did. This was no standard-issue concert performance of just the notes. Prowling around her allotted space like a caged tiger, VK gave a full-on operatic rendition of Ariadne’s passion and grief that proved totally involving for the audience. (There was scarcely a cough to be heard from them throughout.) However, it was not just the theatrics that were enthralling. Vocally, VK was in as fine as condition as I’ve ever heard her. There was not a trace of the problems that have occasionally marred her performances in recent years. This was VK at the top of her game and she produced some thrilling singing.
She followed the Haydn with an aria from Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito – not one from her usual character of Sesto but the Non più di fiori of Vitellia. Again this was a superb rendition that was enhanced by something that could have wrecked its effect but which VK took completely in her stride. Halfway through the aria, one of her earrings disengaged itself and fell to the floor. Unfazed, VK whipped off the other earring and then scooped up the fallen one from the floor – all within a few notes and while maintaining character and vocal production. It was an excellent example of her innate stage craft (and also the reason why the earrings do not appear in the photograph of her curtain call above).
Later in the day, VK reappeared on the same stage for the full-length concert – dressed in the flaming red ball gown that features on the cover of her Russian Arias CD. (No earrings this time – presumably so as to forfend against any further malfunction!) She repeated the Haydn cantata to equal effect and later gave her familiar rendition of Dalila’s Mon Coeur from Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila. Although the latter was more of a challenge for VK with her having to contend against a greatly expanded orchestra that she is more used to having down in the pit of an opera house for this aria, both offerings went down a treat with the audience and they gave her sustained applause.
For both concerts, conductor Jean-Christophe Spinosi proved to be a sympathetic accompanist and he came into his own with his witty rendition of Haydn’s Symphony No. 82 (with its multiple false endings designed to provoke premature applause) and his mastery of the huge forces involved in Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony.
All in all, this was a thoroughly satisfying double helping of VK’s artistry.