We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Baritone Ulrich Hartung
We hate to write a poor review of a sincere attempt but after suffering through an hour plus of the slow tortuous murder of Schubert's masterpiece "Die Winterreise" we have no choice but to warn you against Sunday afternoon's repeat performance.  We can scarcely imagine what the good folks at New York City Liederkranz had in mind in supporting this presentation by The German Society of the City of New York.  The program notes that this is a New York Concert Opera Production.  An internet search reveals that the singer, Ulrich Hartung, is the conductor of this organization which supports putting the conductor and musicians right onstage.  Right.

The lengthy program notes reveal that Maestro Hartung wrote a dissertation in his salad days, analyzing the original order of Wilhelm Müller's poems which was altered by Herr Schubert.  This is undoubtedly of interest to scholars but of little value in the appreciation of this profoundly moving cycle.

We are not even complaining about the prosaic photographic projections by Adryan Hartung (probably a family member) which seemed to be multiple views of Central Park.  They were inoffensive and barely distracting.

We have no quarrel with Stefan Kozinski's orchestration of the work because it gave us something to listen to as we tried to close our ears to the gravel-voiced Mr. Hartung whose phrasing and intonation were equally deplorable.  If he was ever a singer he is not one now.  We cannot even praise his diction since it sounded as if he, like Demosthenes, had a mouth full of pebbles.  Final consonants were often missing. To make matters worse, his stage presence involved a lot of distracting flapping of the arms  which appeared to be an attempt to show that he felt the music deeply.  Who are we to say that he didn't? 

We exempt the wonderful pianist Juan Pablo Horcasitas who also conducted the ensemble in a most unusual orchestration.  Eric Lemmon played the viola and Lenae Harris played the cello.  There were a number of wind instruments providing some coloration to the elements of nature mentioned in the text; the versatile Shelly Bauer played clarinet, bass clarinet, flute and saxophone; Lis Rubard played a very recalcitrant Flügelhorn and French Horn.

We reviewed a number of "Winterreise"s this year that ranged from good to extraordinary.  This was the first that was truly egregious.  When the singer picked up the saxophone for "Der Leiermann" we wanted to crawl under our chair. The next time we take a winter's journey we want to take it with a fine singer.  This is one trip where we could say "I wish I'd stayed home".

© meche kroop

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