For a year now, concert halls and opera houses across the world have struggled to breathe some life to opera and song, in the face of lockdown. We now find ourselves just a click away from an unprecedented array of video performances – mostly free – of concerts, recitals and opera. Whether it's a question of past performances or played to empty halls, we are truly spoilt for choice. But it must be said that as time goes by, we become less fully satisfied by these evenings in front of a screen, so far from the human interactions which make the live experience irreplaceable. So voracious in those first months, we have become more picky: we concentrate on what matters to us most, on what we absolutely can't afford to miss.

Ludovic Tézier, Thuy Anh Vuong
© capture d'écran de la captation

A clear example of the unmissable was given on Sunday at La Scala by Ludovic Tézier, accompanied on the piano by Thuy-Anh Vuong (replacing Helmut Deutsch). The originally planned programme was similar to the recital that the same pair gave at the Paris Opera four years ago, which split into two parts: the first dedicated to Lieder (Schubert, Schumann) and the second to French art song (Fauré, Duparc, Ibert, Berlioz). Some short while before the concert, this was changed: a number of songs were removed to make space for a third part, devoted to opera: (Les Contes d’Hoffmann, La Dame de Pique, Rigoletto et Andrea Chénier). All the better for variety of repertoire, albeit at the expense of a certain level of coherence.

From An die Musik, which opens the evening in the manner of a meditative prayer, we rediscover Tézier's timbre of rosewood and dark velvet, so skilled at painting the chiaroscuro of the human soul, his noble and serene expression, perfect control, rich midrange, luminous highs. And that's not to mention his service of the text, a wonderful art of speaking and story-telling whereby he gives each word, each syllable its exact pronunciation, its proper place, regardless of the language in which he is singing. Tézier seems to have a particular affinity for certain works: for these, each word, imbued with incredible evocative power, creates a whole landscape of its own. That's particularly the case with Meerestille, where we feel viscerally the slow movements of the sea, with all the suppressed energy behind the calm. From the modest melancholy of the first verses to the wrenching final "Komm, beglücke mich!", Tézier turns Ständchen into a dramatic progression of great intensity, without ever falling into the trap of overdoing things. In the one Schumann Lied in the programme, Hör ich das Liedchen klingen, sadness is set against pain in a subtle balance underlined by the piano of Vuong, who limited herself to a mere accompanying role too often during the evening.

Ludovic Tézier
© capture d'écran de la captation

The second part of the concert was devoted to French song, the most memorable numbers being Duparc's L’invitation au voyage and Fauré's Les berceaux, two emotional peaks suffused with the nobility of perfect vocal mastery. And that's in spite of a level of discomfort which became more evident in the course of the evening (a number of notes were covered or approached from below with a hint of hestiation), perhaps caused by some fluid in the pharynx that the singer was trying to keep under control. While the first three songs of L’horizon chimérique are song in a slightly distanced way, the fourth, "Vaisseaux, nous vous aurons aimés en pure perte", makes the pain of regret tangible and poignant. Similarly, in Ibert's Four Songs of Don Quixote, it's in the last, "The Death of Don Quixote", that Tézier expresses himself with the greatest conviction.

Ludovic Tézier, Thuy Anh Vuong
© capture d'écran de la captation

When we move to opera, the singer's body language shows us an increasing level of freedom. Unfortunately, "Scintille, diamant!", from the Venetian act of The Tales of Hoffmann, suffers dreadfully from sound problems. Next is "Ja vas lyublyu", Prince Yeletsky's aria from Act 2 of The Queen of Spades, a declaration of love that is tender, passionate, anxious, where Tézier's diction is always cultured. With Rigoletto's "Cortigiani, vil razza dannata", we're treated to a brilliant master class in Verdi baritone singing, a performance that's overpowering in every dimension. From there, the official programme closes with "Nemico della patria" from Andrea Chénier. To end the evening, we are given two encores: Richard Strauss's very beautiful Zueignung, where Tézier embodies loving devotion in a particularly touching way, and the "Romance to the star" from Act 3 of Tannhäuser, one of Wagner's greatest hits, in which the "O du, mein holder Abendstern", echoing the first words of the recital, "Du, holde Kunst", projects a glimmer of hope above a lyric horizon that remains all too shrouded in darkness. And we're brought back to that horizon rather brutally by the artists' bows – slow and seeming almost lugubrious in the empty theatre, a smile and a slight wave of the hand from Tézier to the viewer or to the imaginary audience. How sad.


Translated from French by David Karlin

****1