Impeccable Verdi and Terfel’s Wotan at Verbier (Rebroadcast)

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Verdi, Wagner: Soloists, Verbier Festival Orchestra, The Collegiate Chorale, Valery Gergiev (conductor), Salle des Combins, Verbier, Switzerland. Film director: Anaïs Spiro. Production: Idéale Audience. Broadcast on 25.7.2013 (RDA)

Verdi: Otello, Act I
Wagner: Die Walküre, Act II

With its reputation for artistic excellence, the Verbier Festival is now considered one of the most important in Europe. Every July in this idyllic Swiss town, some of the greatest names of classical music gather for two weeks of exceptional concerts featuring choirs, orchestras, and intimate recitals attended by an audience of more than 40,000. In addition to renowned veterans, younger artists from all over the world take part.

Much of this year’s festival (July 19 – August 4) has been broadcast worldwide on I caught one of the operatic offerings, a concert performance of the first act of Verdi’s Otello with the Latvian tenor Aleksander Antonenko in the title role, Anna Netrebko as Desdemona and Alexey Markov as Iago. After intermission came the second act of Wagner’s Die Walküre with Bryn Terfel as Wotan, Eva Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde and Iréne Theorin as Brünnhilde. Valery Gergiev was at the helm, with the youthful Verbier Festival Orchestra and the Collegiate Chorale.

The performance of Otello was given an impeccable reading by Gergiev, with the Festival chorus doing yeoman’s work in Verdi’s crucially important choral passages “fuoco di gioia” and “innaffia l’ugola.” Antonenko is a true Verdi tenore di forza with the right amount of weight for the stentorian “Esultate!” and the ability to spin out the lyric passages in the closing duet with Desdemona, with Netrebko vocally heavier-than-ever-before but idiomatically assured. As Iago, Markov seems a beefed-up lyric baritone better suited to the more lyrical utterances of a Germont or an Onegin than to the dramatic outpourings of Verdi’s anti-hero. The supporting role of Cassio was ably filled by Francesco Demuro.

In the concert’s second half, Terfel showed why he remains the go-to Wotan of our time. His farewell to his errant daughter was a thing of wonder, with just the right mix of god-like fire and brimstone in his summoning of Loge, evenly combined with the all-too-human pathos of a broken-hearted father. For the female contingent, it seems that these days we have all grown to compromise and accept whatever passes for Wagnerian singing, as we count our blessings as long as the singers can more or less negotiate the notes. Thus Eva Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde and Iréne Theorin as Brünnhilde fit their roles professionally, while not quite managing to erase memories of glories of days past. And in their extended encounter with Brünnhilde, the seven Valkyries acquitted themselves with distinction.

Rafael de Acha