With the final fugue from Falstaff, Tutto nel mondo è burla, sung by Leo Nucci, the gala celebrating the end of Ioan Holender's 19 year reign over the Vienna State Opera came to a fitting conclusion last night, more than five hours after it began.
Despite his entertainingly big gob and an equally engaging propensity for picking fights ("I wouldn't have liked myself as a boss", he told an interviewer recently), the 75 year old Holender has amassed a truly remarkable number of friends and supporters over the years.
The 52 singers and 12 conductors who took part in the gala (all of whom contributed their services free, to raise money for social projects in Moldova) included Placido Domingo, Anna Netrebko, Simon Keenlyside, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Stefania Bonfadelli, Barbara Frittoli, Natalie Dessay, Michael Schade, Stephen Gould, Thomas Quasthoff, Ramon Vargas, Thomas Hampson, Diana Damrau, Waltraud Meier, Johan Botha, Piotr Beczala, Angela Denoke, Genia Kuhmeier, Adrianne Pieczonka, Krassimira Stoyanova, Simone Young, Bertrand de Billy, Franz Welser- Möst, Fabio Luisi, Zubin Mehta and Antonio Pappano.
And what would a night at the opera be without a cancellation or three? Jose Cura, Ildebrando D'Arcangelo and Elina Garanca were all forced to drop out due to sickness.
A valiant dash from the Simon Boccanegra dress rehearsal at Covent Garden was not enough to get Placido Domingo, Anna Netrebko, Antonio Pappano, Simon Keenlyside and Ferruccio Furlanetto there on time. Some last-minute schedule shuffling was required when their plane landed late, delaying the start of the event and forcing Placido's Walküre extract to be moved from the first to the second half. The latecomers experienced the thrill of a police escort with flashing lights to accompany the final leg of their marathon journey.
Highlights included Piotr Beczala singing Werther, Ferruccio Furlanetto with Philip 's aria from Don Carlos, Johan Botha with the Gralserzählung from Lohengrin and Simon Keenlyside singing Macbeth. Anna Netrebko sported a favourite frock for her exuberantly delivered Manon scene, one of the best-received performances of the night.
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Asked by Die Welt for his greatest night at Vienna, Holender plumped for Der Rosenkavalier under Carlos Kleiber. Kleiber, said Holender, searched for what is behind and between the notes, arriving five days before rehearsals started just to sit in the archives and correct orchestra parts. Here's the overture (with the Vienna Philharmonic), from an unusual angle: