Monday, November 15, 2004

Schade Shines in Schubert

Michael Schade

Turns out the much heralded tenor shortage of the early 90s was just chicken little stuff.

Really, who cares that Pavarotti doesn't really have a voice anymore, and that Domingo is getting ready to collect Social Security. These days, opera companies and the world's soloists rosters can be populated with the likes of Ramon Vargas, Ben Heppner, Marcelo Alvarez, Richard Margison, Roberto Alagna, José Cura, Marcello Giordani and Vladimir Galouzine, with plenty of other names to go around. And in the horizon, we see the emergence of fresh, exciting new voices in Daniel Shtoda and Joseph Calleja, side by side with the still young careers of Juan Diego Florez, Salvatore Licitra and Rolando Villanzon.

The numbers have become such that there is even enough room for some specialization among the ranks these days. Case in point, Berkeley's Cal Performances presented on Sunday a recital at Hertz Hall by German-Canadian tenor Michael Schade, a hefty lyric voice of obvious operatic qualities, that nevertheless carries an uncommon sensibility for the art song.

Often, art song and opera don't mix well in the tenor voice, but Schade had already proven himself on both here in San Francisco, when he sang a fine David in Wagner's Die Meistersinger at the SF Opera; and when the tenor made a greater impact -- in the opinion of many, including yours truly -- than Thomas Hampson when Michael Tilson Thomas paired the two for performances of Mahler's orchestral song cycle, Das Lied von der Erde.

Accompanied by the affable Malcolm Martineau at the piano, Schade offered the crowd a voice of seamless beauty and technical ease. He opened the program with Beethoven's Adelaide Op.46, phrased with a pleasant, expansive feel, exemplifying a disciplined and well schooled approach to style.

Interestingly, Schade provided later in the program Schubert's less famous setting of this song, and yet it turns out to be a far more interesting take. Schubert's Adelaide D.95 brims with convincing intensity, while by comparison, LVB's setting becomes mere juvenile infatuation. Schade's theatrical skills soon became evident when he closed the Beethoven set with comic song, Der Kuss ("The Kiss") Op. 128, with well timed ironic pauses and long, moaning notes held in depiction of the narrator's frustration.

But it was in the Schubert set, where the singer displayed his most impeccably controlled artistry, a stylistic approach that was both disciplined and original. The famous Was ist Silvia D.891 ("Who is Sylvia," based on Shakespeare's lyrics) had a deliciously impatient, prancing and confident feeling that this beloved Sylvia woman was safely his already.

Schade's operatic training betrays him a little bit, in Trost: an Elisa D.97, when he raises both his arms in the air and booms his voice at top notes. And though the usually infallible pianism of Martineau was a tad aggressive in the gorgeous song Ganymede, D.544, the results were still quite splendid.

Franz Liszt's triptych of Petrarca sonnets brought the first half of the recital to a rousing conclusion. With ardent displays of messa di voci and impressive, crowning top notes, it was obvious that Schade was comfortable in the Lisztian environment, both in voice and temperament. The crushing, edge-of-despair torment captured by his reading were a perfect reminder that unrequited love really, really sucks.

Curiously, for a singer who is consciously trying to build his appeal as an artist in the Austro-German tradition, Schade's Strauss songs were the least effective. The grand sweep of Cäcilie lacked more translucent, colourist qualities; while the sensuous ethereality of Morgen, suffered from a slight disembodiment in the tone as the singer attempted to scale his voice down to the softest possible pianissimi. The fervent calls of "Heilig, heilig an's Herz dir sank" from Zueignung, the final Strauss selection, showed that Schade is still more at ease with the grand, declamatory statements.

The recital program concluded with a set of four Viennese Folk songs by various composers -- a bit too many bonbons & champagne for my taste, but were all nicely and idiomatically rendered. Reaffirming his affinity for Schubert's songs, Schade returned for encores with Nacht und Träume and Der Neugierige; in addition to an almost obligatory Viennese operetta offering, Franz Lehar's "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz!"

© 2004 C. Chang

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