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From Purity’s Drawers: Kasarova in Munich

An absolutely lovely post on Parterre Box about the fantastic Baroque Mezzo Ann Hallenberg (touring extensively all over Europe next season so plenty of chance to catch her live) reminded me of how I feel about my own Mezzo Diva – Vesselina Kasarova. In times gone by a good “friend” of mine blogged about her opera adventures under the nom de plume Purity Mccall. The blog is no more but the contents are still knocking around so it seemed a nice idea to start an occasional series of “Posts from Purity’s Drawers” (apologies non-British readers but the double entendre is an affectation Purity is much afflicted by) with this account of her experiences at a Kasarova concert given in Munich in December 2009.

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Handel Lives: Kasarova in Munich

So finally a small gap in the busy Munich schedule, and sufficient time to have descended from cloud twenty-nine to cloud nine, and the promised review of Vesselina Kasarova’s Handel concert in Munich with the Freiburger Barockorchester in the Herkulessaal. The usual caveats exist – what I know about music could be written on the back of a very tiny tiny envelope and still leave enough room for a shopping list and a note reminding yourself to get the car oil changed next week. I’m not a music critic. But I am an experience junkie, and I’ve been around this planet enough times and had enough of them to know the difference between a good and a bad one. All comments are therefore written in the spirit of someone out there hunting moments of joy and appreciating deeply folks who go out there and try to provide them for us. But before we get down to the music, let’s deal with some important issues for the White Shirt Army out there:

  • ‘White Shirt’ count (female) – high, very high, even allowing for your correspondent’s natural inclination to believe that everyone is a ‘White Shirt’ (female) until proven otherwise (well hey, you gotta start somewhere). Particularly impressed by the large number of couples – VK is obviously becoming the dyke equivalent of a chick flick date night. No obvious necking going on though. Shame.
  • ‘White Shirt’ count (male) – high, very high, surprisingly so. At previous VK events I’ve noticed a fair few but this night was extremely high. Of course my observations were aided by the fact that I was on the arm of not just My Own Personal White Shirt Lady but My Future Husband – who given his role as my future husband seemed entirely too busy attracting young gay men for my liking!
  • ‘Famous Twins’ count – 2, as per usual. Yes I finally got to see the famous older lady twins who apparently are always to be seen at VK Munich events.
  • Uniform details – sadly it was a rather chilly night in Munich so the white shirts were rejected in favour of black polo neck jumper (me) and silvery fluffy jumper (MOPWSL). Future husband – as is his wont – was a vision in pastel pinky orangey suit-ey things. I did however sport the black DMs in honour of our Lady Cecilia (though with some very cute Max Mara trousers just for fun!).
  • Seating – MOPWSL and I sat on the fourth row just to the left of middle while future husband sat in the second row smack in the middle (more on that later!).

OK, enough with the White Shirt Army intelligence report. Now the important information…. how did she look? Well, as hinted at previously, I don’t think it would be too over the top to say she looked stunning. Slinky black dress with a very obliging slash right up the side. Hair slightly shorter than it has been for a while. She was simply glowing. Whatever she’s taking can I have some please! Seriously she looked unbelievably beautiful both during the concert and in her ‘civvies’ later at the signing (no – of course I didn’t – I was dragged there by my German companions who once again insisted on testing my British reserve by making me wait in the queue with them. Yes fellow Brit readers, shudder at the thought indeed!). I was rather taken aback by how amazing she looked when she first entered the stage, but what followed I think explained it… it’s hard not to look amazing when you are floating in a sea of musical joy.

So, the music. The real reason (well… mostly) we were there. First let me say I have never seen the Freiburger Barockorchester before. I will be again though, as often as I possibly can. I am now an orchestra junkie. Led by violinist of great charm Gottfried von der Goltz, they truly rocked the house. These guys love each other. These guys love the music they play. These guys love their audience: how else to explain the energy they put into their performance? that was ‘above and beyond’. They sparkled and played and had fun with each other, and with Vesselina, and she with them. If we were in the 60s I’d say this was more a love-in than a concert. And as they rocked and she scorched the air with her coloratura I suddenly knew why she was looking so incredible. She was in her element and we all knew it. The joyfulness and love was infectious. She strode out on stage with an air of ‘I think this might be a special night’ (no Mr critic… she did not look nervous). Of course, she was right.

From her first aria – Dopo notte atra e fenestra – she had the (almost sold out) audience in the palm of her hand. I was reminded at various points very strongly of being in a folk pub in Scotland after hours with the place crammed full of inebriated locals carousing while the musicians shoved in the corner belt out a reel, and then stilled completely when the slow airs are played. OK not so much reminded as dreaming. But sadly once again I felt myself bemoaning the fact that I was stuck in a row like a schoolchild at a church service, reduced to surreptitiously tapping a foot and unable to move and cry (or even howl – more on that later too!) as the mood took me. Though an older lady in the row in front seemed to see no reason not to sit there bobbing her head furiously in time to the music. But if that first aria had us all going the Scherza infida was a revelation. There were new ornaments all over the place and the voice sounded so utterly sure and secure and powerful. And sexy black dress or not, as the Abendzeitung critic didn’t quite put it she had enough testosterone in her voice to fill a football stadium on World Cup finals day. When she sang it was as if Ariodante himself was in the room.

At this point I think even the non-rabid Kasarova fans in the room were getting the message that this was a special night. The incredibly cute gay boys (she said making wild assumptions, again!) who seem to be the VK Cheerleading Squad didn’t have to work too hard to get the whole audience cheering and bravo-ing wildly. And from there on in it was joy unalloyed. And this experience junkie was fully sated. Con l’ali di costanza was like watching a world class sprinter break the 100m dash record. It was fascinating to see how she used her body and her interactions with the orchestra – especially the very sweet conductor – to build energy for her voice. I guess Handel singing makes for a pretty good workout. I have to say though that much as I love a good hair singeing now and again from a rocking Handel aria, it’s the slower arias that really take me to Baroque heaven. Caro amor, sol per momenti is my absolute favourite from her Sento Brillar CD and tonight she and the Freiburger Barockorchester took my heart, sliced it into hundreds of tiny pieces and scattered them in the air to fly around the world planting trees of joy wherever they landed. But if I thought that was good, her encore of Verdi prati revealed to me that it is possible to survive for quite some time when your heart and lungs have stopped working. I had been struggling all concert to keep the tears to a minimum, but I got seriously worried about half way through that I was going to completely humiliate myself by letting out an enormous primal howl of … what?… joy mixed with pain mixed with love mixed with some other thing that has no word but is something about the moment your heart and soul finally connect with the universe. And in the middle of all of this the orchestra kept astonishing us with yet more incredible Baroque jewels. It would be unfair to single any out for musicality, they were wonderful, but I would say I have never seen a group of people clearly have so much fun performing. And clearly enjoy VKs singing so much too. They looked every bit as overwhelmed as we did.

But of course like all good things the night had to come to an end. And there was nothing left to do – British reserve be dammed – but join the entire rest of the audience and stand and cheer and applaud till long after she finally left the stage. Needless to say at this point, so utterly drained of the ability to think clearly, my companions pounced and in my confusion lured me to join them in the autograph queue after. My Future Husband tried to distract me by seducing me into some indiscrete photographs which I trust will not surface on the interwebs in years to come and besmirch my reputation as a fine upstanding White Shirt Army foot soldier. Luckily I came to my senses and managed to escape just before they reached her at the table, whereupon My Future Husband wooed Frau Kasarova with his charm and she noted that she had indeed seen him in his second row middle seat. Well of course she did Future Husband with your shameless flirting… I saw! Meanwhile MOPWSL was so overcome by the concert (she says) and/or how cute VK looked (I say) that she entirely forgot her single task of the evening – to get a snap. So I am afraid dear reader that you will have to go now, as we did into the chilly Munich night, with nothing but a half remembered idea of how she looked to keep you warm.

But I’ll tell you this, courtesy of Vesselina Kasarova and the Freiburger Barockorchester Handel lived that night in Munich; and reminded the entire audience of reason why he, above all, (for some of us at least) is the surest way to experience heaven. And make silly comments about her voice or the orchestra if you want music critics (yes I mean you Süddeutsche Zeitung), for the audience they were perfection. And you can’t take that away from us!

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