Winterreise, F Schubert
Ferrucio Furlanetto/ Opera Australia
City Recital Hall, Sydney
27 September 2017
Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto’s performance of Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise op89, D911 for Opera Australia was a masterly and deeply personal performance of a complex piece.
The evening was much anticipated for several reasons, not least of which was Furlanetto’s status as one of the world’s finest basses. He has made his own, the title roles in Boris Goudonov and Don Quichotte and that of Philip II in Don Carlo, which he performed in Sydney for Opera Australia in 2015. Secondly, Furlanetto’s German repertoire is scant, with Oreste (from Richard Strauss’ Elektra) being the standout. Finally, there is the fact that not many basses perform this song cycle which was written for the baritone voice. Most performances and recordings are by baritones, the gold-standard being set by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Exceptions include recordings by tenor Jonas Kaufmann and mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, (both nominated by Gramophone amongst their three best recordings; the third being by Fischer-Dieskau). Young English bass Matthew Rose has recorded the anthology transposed down a fourth, to suit his tessitura.
Both voice and artist were laid bare in the intimacy of Sydney’s City Recital Hall with just the piano in partnership, with Ukranian pianist Igor Tchetuev maintaining a fine balance between soloist and supporter. Furlanetto did not disappoint. A towering voice within a towering presence, he narrated Schubert’s stark song cycle, drawing us into his 90-minute journey which mirrors life itself. With the minimum of gestures, shaped simply by his supreme command of his voice. There was the sense that every word was considered, every emotion measured and matched.
Furlanetto has said that infusing Winterreise with the colours and emotions that it demands, overrides its technical challenges. With him, we gazed at The Linden Tree with tender reminiscence, undertook the relentless trudging in Rest, swayed between the contrasts of Dream of Spring and shared the horror of the Old Man’s Head. We pined for love, were rejected even by death and together searched for courage. Was Furlanetto’s interpretation rather too hot-blooded and operatic in style? That is a matter of individual taste. Given his heritage and the repertoire that has dominated his career this might be so, but it doesn’t invalidate his point of view.
As for hearing Winterreise sung by a bass, Furlanetto avoided becoming too ponderous or leaden and in fact used his voice to maximum effect in this teetering tale, producing tones that were well suited to the mood.
The programme booklet contained the English translation of the songs, but it would have been more complete to be able to follow the German text as well – for singers, for students, for German speakers and for general interest. If you didn’t know the individual songs and their text and looked up from the print, you might have lost your spot in the sequence.
Art song recitals are all too infrequent in Sydney. This is a rare opportunity to see and hear a singer at the top of his game performing singular repertoire.
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©
Ferruccio Furlanetto and Igor Tchetuev present a programme of Russian Art Song by Rachmaninov and Mussorgsky at the City Recital Hall, Sydney on Friday September 29 and at the Melbourne Recital Centre on 2 October, 2017.
He returns to Australia to sing the title role in Don Quichotte for Opera Australia in March 2018.