In the spring of this year, German tenor Klaus Florian Vogt issued a disc of operetta arias by such composers as Kálmán and Lehár, as well as Broadway musical numbers by Bernstein and Schoenberg.  A somewhat surprising departure from his usual repertoire of operas, notably of Wagner, it demonstrates that there is much to admire in operetta and Broadway hits when sung by a singer of solid technique and dynamic voice.  Vogt's voice teacher steered his early training to operetta, which he says prepared him for Wagnerian roles, both to sing dramatically and to articulate texts clearly.

Vogt’s recital in Essen, together with Staatskapelle Weiner conducted by Stefan Solyom, pulls together the two major threads of his singing career; that early training in operetta and his later Wagnerian roles. The first half was devoted to Wagner, with the orchestra introducing an opera by playing an overture or prelude, followed by Vogt singing a selection of scenes. Lest some in the audience were unfamiliar with the opera and its setting, Vogt briefly explained the context of each aria in the opera along with some episodes from his performances in Dresden, Bayreuth, Barcelona and other opera houses.  

The orchestral performances of the Overture to Die Meistersinger, The Ride of the Valkyries, and Act III Prelude to Lohengrin were all excellent, with cleanliness of playing and elegance of phrasing receiving more attention than power and the harmonic complexity of Wagner’s music. Sometimes the tempi seemed too deliberate and cautious, perhaps to articulate each note. Nevertheless, it is a treat to experience the orchestra playing Wagner's music on stage, rather than in the pit. The Essen Philharmonie Hall has good acoustics that seem to emphasize warmth and balance of the orchestra sound.

Vogt’s first two selections from Die Meistersinger showed him in good voice with clear diction that expresses an enthusiasm and idealism of a young knight. His high notes were powerful, yet effortless. His demeanour turned softer when he sang “Winterstürme” from Die Walküre, as if an intimate lullaby to his sister/lover, and yet the legato that leads up to the climax was elegant and full. His calling card “In fernem Land” from his signature role Lohengrin saw him shift into the role of a serene knight who relates his noble origin. Here, Vogt was in his element, with varying shades of his voice perfectly matching the text to convey the otherworldliness and pride of the knight.

After a brief intermission, Vogt reappeared, dressed in tuxedo this time, while he was in a collarless long jacket in the first half. The second half of the programme was devoted to operettas, except for a somewhat odd insertion of Mozart. The orchestra again played brilliantly, comfortable in a flawless performance of The Magic Flute Overture – especially lithe and cheerful – as well as in a somewhat humourless but exquisite rendition of Lehar’s Waltz.

His voice fully warmed up and his stage presence more relaxed, Vogt seemed to relish the opportunity to let his voice freely express the passion and longing of operetta songs. A great deal of attention was paid to each word. His use of soft voice at times was judicious and added tenderness where needed; it was especially effective in “O Mädchen, mein Mädchen”. A couple of times a transition to a higher range caused some awkward glitches, as was the case in “Ach, so fromm” from Flotow's Martha, but his dynamic full voice above the staff more than made up for them. Tamino’s aria, sung almost as a nostalgic nod to his early career as an ensemble member of Dresden Opera, was a masterclass in Mozart singing, with every note and every word clearly articulated and sung smoothly and beautifully on pitch.

Vogt’s voice, especially his high notes, is often characterized as “light”, “clarion”, “choirboy-like” and “weightless” and has been somewhat divisive. While many admire the ethereal and other-worldly quality of his voice and claim his Lohengrin incomparable, others find it difficult to comprehend that a clear and beautiful voice is also capable of such power. As Vogt develops, his middle range is getting stronger and more dynamic, with the result that he now has a solid and full range, with his effortless high notes intact. The recital’s selections were an ideal showcase for Vogt’s developing voice as well as an interesting retrospective on his career.

After the formal program, Vogt returned for two encores, both operetta pieces, to a swooning crowd.