I had heard both of them before, but I really only became aware of Dorothea Röschmann and Vesselina Kasarova when I saw them together as Vitellia and Sesto in the Harnoncourt/Kušej Salzburg production of La Clemenza di Tito. Amid an excellent cast (also including Michael Schade, Elena Garanča, and Barbara Bonney) they stood out for their remarkable singing and even more intense acting. Now, as part of the Munich Opera Festival 2008, I saw both within a few weeks in a Liederabend.
Handel, German Arias, Röschmann / Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
Mozart, Dialogue Cantatas, Röschmann, Quasthoff / Kussmaul / Berliner Barock Solisten
That Röschmann enjoys Lieder is obvious. But whether her robust voice, with that thick center and strong, controlled vibrato, is as well suited for them as it is for opera remains questionable. Dramatic moments that demand plenty power – including those that there are in songs – sound wonderful. But a light and natural, clear Lieder-voice is not so easily coaxed out of that vocal material.
That affected her recital on July 2nd at the Prinzregententheater to the extent that Mahler and especially Hugo Wolf (his songs being more dramatic stuff than most others’) came across very nicely; Beethoven and Schumann less so. Beethoven’s “Freudvoll und leidvoll” and “Klärchens Lied” (both from Egmont, op.84), and op.83/1 (“Wonne der Wehmut”) underscored the perception that this was going to be a good evening if one attended to hear Röschmann’s voice restored to full glory, and less so if one only wanted to hear an example of the art of the Lied. For Mignon and The Flea song from Faust (“Es war einmal ein König”, both from op.75) she very agreeably opened up that voice, instead of giving ‘channeled’ operatic cream. In any case, all Beethoven songs – too rarely performed for my taste – were good to hear.
In Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben, both the open and the concentrated vocal style were observable. Sometimes the switching, purposeful or not, achieved wonderful effects. But it wasn’t until three of Mahler’s songs from “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” were offered that the potential of Röschmann’s voice came to the fore. “Das irdische Leben”, “Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen”, and “Lob des hohen Verstandes” were full of character and bloom. And accompanist Graham Johnson, who otherwise pleasantly tinkled through the songs, gave his very best of the evening. Seven Mörike-Lieder of Hugo Wolf crowned her recital – as did the encores Mignon II (Wolf) and Selbstgefühl (Mahler again) – where melodiousness and dramatic talent melded together to great effect.
Meanwhile Vesselina Kasarova’s “Song Evening” on the 19th of the same month was a bit of a misnomer: only three actual songs were on her program, and most listeners would probably have traded those Mozart ditties in for more opera arias, too – even if “Abendempfindung” offered a premonition of Beethoven’s Adelaïde and might well be Mozart’s best effort in that genre.
Schubert, Brahms, Schumann, Lieder, Kasarova / Haider
Mozart, Arias, Kasarova / Davis / StaKap Dresden
Mozart, La Clemenza, Kasarova / Steinberg / Munich RSO
Handel, Alcina, Kasarova / Bolton / Bavarian State Orchestra
The evening raised the question whether one aria alone might be worth attending a whole recital. Kasarova and Handel answered that in the affirmative with the Ariodante aria “Scherza infida in grembo al drudo” from Act II. It was a highlight and would have been one, even among other highlights. Absolutely terrific on every account, exceptionally dramatic, an electrifying sense of contained power, restrained yet raw.For these wonderful minutes, Kasarova was a female Orpheus.
Next to that, the Handel arias “Dove sei, doce mia vita” (Ottone, Re di Germania), “Bella sorge la speranza” (Arianna in Creta), the scene from Haydn’s Arianna a Naxos, and two Mozart arias from Lucio Silla and Idomeno were curiously pale. Kasarova’s sound was very throaty, strangely distant, seemingly expressive yet without being expressive of anything in particular. Often the text was unintelligible and she sounded as if she had a chestnut in her mouth. Altogether an odd – though oddly fascinating – experience that every so often revealed a marvelous dark hue in that voice of indefinable, ambivalent character. The encore of the Sesto aria (Deh, per questo istante solo) sent waves of cheers through the Prinzregententheater bleachers, but even that could not touch the very special Ariodante-moment.