René Pape Embarks on a New Phase with His First Recital at Carnegie Hall

On April 25, when international opera star René Pape took the stage at Carnegie Hall, most of his audience had no idea that this was not only his Carnegie Hall recital debut, but his first solo recital anywhere. Listeners certainly couldn’t have guessed it from his delivery or demeanor, especially not once presented with a golden-age recital of Schubert, Schumann, and Wolf sung by “the world’s most charismatic bass.”* Two nights earlier – and two nights later, too – Pape was on the Metropolitan Opera stage in the role of the giant Fasolt, in Wagner’s Rheingold. According to one critic, Pape “made that character as real as I have ever heard or seen him,” although his character didn’t survive the show (Fasolt is murdered by his brother, Fafner, in a fight over the gold stolen from the Rhine at the opera’s outset). Fortunately, Pape survived both his opera and Carnegie Hall appearances, and is expected to plan more recitals in future.

“René Pape has inhabited both the brighter and gloomier ends of the bass repertory on the opera stage and in orchestral performances ... . ‘Aufenthalt’, which opened the first Schubert group, offered a quick reminder of the depth and power of Mr. Pape’s sound, as well as the subtlety of his interpretive style. ... The dynamic fluidity that both Mr. Pape and his eloquent pianist, Brian Zeger, lavished on ‘Der Atlas’ pointed up the anguish that drives the song, much as a similar marshalling of resources unleashed the anger that propels ‘Prometheus’, in Mr. Pape’s second Schubert group. ... For pure, soul-wrenching introspection, nothing on the program ... quite matched Mr. Pape’s rendering of the Wolf Michelangelo songs ... . Dichterliebe grapples with a more transitory kind of pain, even if the Heine poetry that Schumann set paints the vicissitudes of love in the grandest terms. Here too it was the fine gradation that Mr. Pape and Mr. Zeger applied to the music that gave Heine’s (and Schumann’s) passion flesh and blood. Mr. Pape’s sound was often at its lightest, but in songs like ‘Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen’ and ‘Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet’, that gentleness had an irresistible power.” - Allan Kozinn, New York Times

BeyondCriticism.com – culture writer Matthew Gurewitsch’s blog – includes a paean to Pape’s Wagner performance:

“As Fasolt, the German basso René Pape simply took it away ... . Across the wide orchestra pit, his eyes cast their spell: piteous with heartache for the lovely Freia, blazing with righteous indignation at Wotan’s evasions and deceit. Like [Graham] Clark , Pape used every inflection to deepen the reading of his character’s inner life. The sheer eloquence of Pape’s sound – smooth, noble, yet nobly austere – is a chapter unto itself. Fasolt is small potatoes for a star of his stature, and sources in the house say that with next week’s third cycle, he will retire it. A pity, though no surprise. But what a way to go.”

The web-based ConcertoNet review of Pape’s Carnegie Hall program also singled out Fasolt, with a meticulous report about the full experience of the singer’s performance:

“Whether in star-roles or in cameos ... , his voice illuminates the interior life of the characters he portrays. The results are often surprising (his depiction of a love-sick, emotionally vulnerable Fasolt, for example) as well as deeply affecting. In his move from the opera stage to the recital stage, Pape made full use of all of these talents in a very ambitious program. ... [Schubert’s] ‘Aufenthalt’ and ‘Der Atlas’ showed off the unforced power and sonorous depth of Pape’s voice. ... ‘Der ‘Einsame’ had a sprightly playfulness but, underneath, there was the wistful sadness of the hermit sitting by the fire with only a cricket for company. ‘Heidenröslein’ was sung as a mock tragedy, with beautiful vocal colors and dynamic finesse.

“Between the two sets of Schubert songs, were Wolf’s three songs based on poems by Michelangelo. The second of these, “Alles endet, was entsteht”, sung mostly in half voice, was an emotionally wrenching experience – a memento mori about the transitory nature of life … .”

During the Metropolitan Opera’s recent final showing of its 20-year old “Ring” production, the media paid close attention. In the New York Times’s ArtsBeatBlog, Anthony Tommasini devoted an entire paragraph to Pape’s performance as Fasolt, pointing hopefully to the German bass’s possible future as “King of the Ring,” Wotan:

“The astonishing German bass René Pape was the giant Fasolt, and having such a formidable singer in the part put an intriguing new twist on the familiar opera. Fasolt’s brother, Fafner, sung here by John Tomlinson, is a coarse brute. But Fasolt is the more calculating, strategic, and soulful giant, especially with Mr. Pape in the role. Singing with virile sound and chilling power, Mr. Pape made Fasolt seem a worthy and dangerous partner in the payment negotiations with Wotan. Mr. Pape, who also sings Hunding in Walküre on Tuesday (and repeats both roles in the cycle next week) is readying himself for Wotan down the road someday. I am not the only Wagner fan who can hardly wait.”

René Pape has scheduled his first European recital in his home city of Dresden on June 3. Before then, he gives three performances as Leporello in Mozart’s Don Giovanni in Vienna (May 18-25) and a concert with the London Philharmonic performing the songs of Mein Herz brennt – a work by his friend Torsten Rasch, which Pape recorded to great acclaim for Deutsche Grammophon in 2003.

Meanwhile, the bass’s solo arias disc on DG, “Gods, Kings & Demons”, continues to earn great reviews.

“A beautiful, diverse, and fascinating recital, with Pape deftly switching characters from aria to aria. ... With Philip’s aria [from Verdi’s Don Carlo], we can compare Pape to a host of basses, among them Chaliapin, Kipnis, Pinza, Christoff, London , Raimondi, Ghiaurov, and Van Dam. ... To my ears, Pape sings the most introspective, suffering Philip of all ... . His interpretation [of Wagner’s King Marke in Tristan] has only grown better and subtler over the years.” - Fanfare magazine

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