Last August I used my Examiner.com platform to declare Thomas Hampson the “unanointed king” of presenting “virtual concerts” through the medium of cyberspace. I so honored him because not only has he established his presence in cyberspace through an intriguing diversity of channels (including the only occasion in which I found myself writing a classical music review of a PowerPoint presentation) but often he seems to have a hand in just how that presence is established. The result is that, as I observed in my Examiner.com article, he is the only performer whose cyberspace appearances I try to evaluate from both a technological and a musical point of view.
Recently I have become aware of the extent to which Christine Schäfer has benefitted from performances mediated by a variety of media, so to speak. Because I am not sure that she has an active hand in how these media products are conceived or delivered, I am not sure that she deserves the sort of regal crown I have assigned to Hampson. Nevertheless, those media products have represented her in a diversity of performances that I might not otherwise have experienced; and I always believe in celebrating performers who try to maintain diversity in their active repertoire.
Like many I first encountered Schäfer singing the title role in Alban Berg’s opera, Lulu. I was fortunate enough to see her do this on the stage, after which I saw the video document of her Glyndebourne performance, now available on DVD. I was not particularly happy with Graham Vick’s stage direction for the latter production, since I tend to be a purist when it comes to Berg’s own specifications; but I certainly could not quibble about the casting, particularly where Schäfer’s voice was concerned. Having come to identify her with Lulu (probably not the healthiest of mindsets), I was, to say the least, surprised when the Metropolitan Opera cast her as Gretel when they decided to produce Richard Jones’ staging of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel (currently available for viewing through Classical TV). Mind you, there was no trace of “innocent childhood” in Jones’ conception of Gretel; but I was still pretty impressed with how Schäfer threw herself into a role that would make Bart Simpson look well-behaved. Then, this morning I discovered, again through Classical TV, that her pendulum had swung to the opposite extreme. She was one of the two sopranos in an Advent Concert of music by Johann Sebastian Bach prepared by Nikolaus Harnoncourt for performance at the Benedictine Monastery in Melk, not the sort of place where one would expect to encounter either Lulu or Gretel!
I have not yet watched this particular Classical TV video. I should be able to do so today. I cannot imagine why a soprano with a firm hold on Berg should not be just as capable in taking on Humperdinck; but Bach is in another league, particularly when you have someone like Harnoncourt giving a historically informed performance. In the current lineup of my Examiner.com projects, this one may be fascinating enough to get Spock to raise his eyebrow!