Recap: Valery Gergiev Takes the Spotlight at Verbier

Classic Arts Features   Recap: Valery Gergiev Takes the Spotlight at Verbier
The Verbier Festival is always a celebration of music but to make a splash with "big names" is not always easy to pull off. Last year's finale - Don Giovanni with Bryn Terfel, Pape and Quasthoff - is still being talked about. This year it was the conductor, Valery Gergiev, who took center stage.


Soprano diva Deborah Voigt as Richard Strauss' bad girl, Salom_, certainly has star power. She can deliver the notes and attract attention from the world media. But there was something restrained, although she raised the temperature in the Salle des Combins during her final minutes, that cannot entirely be ascribed to the problematical acoustics. And, while it was great to see such retired opera legends as Siegfried Jerusalem and Dame Gwyneth Jones make an appearance as Salome's parents, these roles are important and nevertheless were vaguely compromised. The powerful and snarly Jochanaan of Russian bass Evgeny Nikitin earned the biggest ovation of the night. The secondary characters all made effective contributions.

It was the magic baton of Valery Gergiev that provided all the propulsion to make the night special. With limited rehearsal time he performed a minor miracle with the Verbier Festival Orchestra - all 26 or under but selected from the best talent around the world. It would be hard to distinguish their playing from the other world leading orchestras he conducts.

The concert the previous night was also a victim of the "names" syndrome. The top tenor Rolando Villazon was scheduled and was to perform with French pianist H_lne Grimaud. After recovering from surgery on this throat last year and appearing in only a few recitals recently, he pulled out of a star turn in Munich's L'Elisir d'amore of Donizetti a week before and, only a few days before his appearance in Verbier, cancelled for the official reason of "lack of rehearsal time," an excuse received with healthy skepticism. Not finding a suitable star to fill in at the last minute, the festival cobbled together a recital featuring recent award winners from Placido Domingo's "Operalia" competition. Of the three singers, American soprano Angel Blue, Greek tenor Dimitrios Felmotomos, and Italy's baritone Marco Caria, it was the baritone who came closest to making an impact on the audience.

Much of the buzz of the festival this year was often somewhere else than the main hall. Recitals in the Church by violin virtuosos Sara Chang and Daniel Hope, the pianists Nicolas Angelich and rising star Eb_ne Quartet were memorable. The grand Elisabeth Leonskaja did late-night performances of all the Schubert piano sonatas for the dedicated music lover. A full schedule is at the festival's website,

There was also much buzz also about the master classes given for members of the Academy running concurrently with the festival. Alfred Brendel coaching voice students was a lesson to everyone in the audience as to how such a giant help the young people perfect their art. Another highlight of the festival - again off the main stage - was the Academy performance last Saturday afternoon of Puccini's "La Boheme" at the church. There was much talk about the 17-year-old Venezuelan conductor Ilyich Rivas - certainly a name to watch in coming years.

With something like 25 events every day to compete for your attention, you can only hope to make a few of them. But the concentration of talent in the two weeks of the festival makes the days you pass in Verbier vibrant and memorable. The final concert and most of the others are available free on until the end of September and "Salom_" also can be streamed for free in the coming weeks at

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