September 21, 2007

Saddam Hussein at the Waldbühne

. . . or: Yes, looks DO matter!

I had an eerie experience yesterday night. I was looking for performances of my all-time favourite singer, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau at YouTube, specifically for Au fond du temple saint from Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles, the aria for tenor and baritone to end all arias for tenor and baritone, which he superbly performed together with Carlo Bergonzi at an age when both guys would never see sixty again. Well, it wasn't there. But I became intrigued nevertheless.

Same concert, different aria.

First, there popped up that performance by Roberto Alagna and Bryn Terfel, which would have been rejected by any self-respecting vaudeville show (and yes, looks DO matter!) and then I stumbled over Placido Domingo and Rolando Villazón (Rolando WHO???) and wished I hadn't.

In open-necked shirt and with straggly gray beard, Domingo performed a fair impersonation shtick of Saddam Hussein, whereas Rolando WHO sported a hairdo, that gave an entirely new depth to the epithet "greaseball" (did I mention that looks DO matter?) and the only good thing about it was that, as one of the commentators at YouTube put it, that Domingo finally sang with the baritone voice God gave him. At the Berlin Waldbühne that was, in July 2006. And better forgotten.

But then I was rewarded for my pains. There they were. At the very bottom of the page. In a recording from 1970. Alfredo Kraus, not even arguably the most underrated tenor in the history of singing and Barry McDaniel, an American baritone who never got the international acclaim he deserved, mainly because he chose to work almost exclusively in Germany. Two guys, exceedingly handsome, immaculately groomed in white ties, no popular gimmicks, no tricks. Just pure art. Boring, eh?

And here was I, thinking that nobody could ever beat Fischer-Dieskau and Bergonzi, but Alfredo Kraus is so awesome that, although his partner McDaniel can, as a baritone, not quite touch Fischer-Dieskau and although Fischer-Dieskau's partner Bergonzi is one of the all time great tenors as well, Kraus outshines all that. This performance wins by a clear head. What effortlessness, what style, what poise!

Actually, Alfredo Kraus reminds me of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in his expression, introspectiveness, total devotion to his art and in his elegant, aristocratic bearing as well (which came, due to the ethnic difference, probably easier to him than to the latter).

Comparisons, specifically between singers of different repertoires, are difficult, maybe even unfair. Other tenors certainly had a more dramatic voice. But compared to Alfredo Kraus, Franco Corelli was just a hunk with a clarion-voice, Domingo a mis-casted baritone, and Pavarotti... well, at least Maestro Alfredo has an understudy in heaven now.