Songs of Love & Desire: New Year’s Eve Concert 1998

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COMPOSERS: Bizet,Mozart,Rossini,Verdi
PERFORMER: Mirella Freni, Christine Schäfer, Marcelo Álvarez, Simon Keenlyside; Berlin PO/Claudio Abbado


Here’s a New Year’s Eve concert that rings in the new and the old, with Mirella Freni topping a bill that includes Christine Schäfer, Simon Keenlyside and Marcelo Álvarez. However, ‘Songs of Love and Lust’ might have been a better title for this gala from Berlin, particularly when Keenlyside’s smooth-singing Don Giovanni turns on the charm for Schäfer’s Zerlina – a rabbit petrified in the headlights of the Don’s desire.

Schäfer is an exquisite Gilda in ‘Caro nome’ from Rigoletto, a stream of unforced tone with vocal decoration kept to an interpretative minimum and every inch a girl in love with a rotter, though Álvarez’s rotter is more a stage villain Duke than the great lover. However, it’s a veteran who shows the youngsters how to do it. The voice is sometimes a golden shadow of what it was, but when it comes to ‘living’ an aria Mirella Freni is peerless. In Tatiana’s letter scene from Eugene Onegin she achieves a musical miracle, shedding the years and becoming a young woman head-over-heels in love before our very ears.


The look on Claudio Abbado’s face tells you everything, but then he has every reason to feel pleased with himself. The Berlin Philharmonic has behaved like the thoroughbred it is throughout. Who would have thought that they could have made you listen to the ‘Farandole’ from Bizet’s L’arlésienne as if you had never heard this old warhorse before? Christopher Cook