Concert Reviews | CD Reviews | DVD Reviews | Opera | Early Music | News | Film | Art | Books | Kids

4.11.06

A Slice of Vienna in Washington

Heinz ZednikAn authentic touch of Vienna descended upon Washington last Monday, when Heinz Zednik gave a recital of quintessentially Viennese songs at the Austrian Embassy. Those who have read the Ionarts review of the Pierre Boulez / Patrice Chéreau Ring Cycle know that Zednik is a singer who can elicits raves from me. It’s not hyperbole when I say that his performance of Loge is the single best dramatic performance I have ever seen in opera – live, or taped. The opportunity to hear Mr. Zednik (accompanied by Markus Vorzellner), even at the nadir of his singing career, was not going to be missed.

On top of that, his program was chock-full with composers I had never heard of: Adolf Müller, Sr. (1801-1886), Alexander Krakauer (1866-1894), Emmerich Zillner (1900-1971), and Hermann Leopoldi (1888-1959). Franz Xaver Süßmayr is a familiar name, but usually only in the context of Mozart’s Requiem or as the presumed writer of the recitatives for La Clemenza di Tito, not as a composer of songs. The songs of the first half of the recital were by better known quantities: Mozart, Schoenberg, Wolf, and Mahler – but they all had one theme in common: Humor and story-telling.

There is a good reason for this: Heinz Zednik’s tenor is not a singing instrument anymore, it’s now just a dramatic, theatrical instrument. The production of beauty, per se, is no longer possible, but Mr. Zednik’s talent of story-telling, of conveying the coy, or wistful, or plain funny element of songs that aim to do just that must be unrivalled. Mozart’s “Die Alte” (The Old Lady) is one of those pieces full of hilarity that was perfect in arch-Viennese style with the squeaky old voice that the old lady might have. Schönberg (pre-“oe”) songs from the 1901 “Brettl-Lieder” (Cabaret Songs) were completely unexpected in their sound and could have more easily been associated with Kurt Weill than the master of the Second Viennese School.

If this was interesting and entertaining to an English speaking audience, it was touching and riotous for those who belong to the Bavarian tribes, of which the Austrians are the southern extension. And the discrepancy between satisfied curiosity and total immersion in these variously biting, macabre, funny, and silly songs must only have been more pronounced in the second half, where local flavor and Mr. Zednik’s interpretation and pronunciation of the text were paramount. It left one half of the audience applauding enthusiastically, the other – me included – with tears of laughter and emotion in their eyes.