The Charm of Thomas Quasthoff

Classic Arts Features   The Charm of Thomas Quasthoff
The singer joins the New York Philharmonic to perform Mozart concert arias and Haydn's The Creation.

Bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff is not only the possessor of an extremely beautiful voice, which he combines with superb musicianship; the German singer, 44, also has become known as one of those rare performers whose personality leaps across the pit and footlights to establish a little community in the concert hall.

It's a phenomenon he creates purposefully: "Normally I have the feeling that an artist is 99 percent sitting on a little throne on stage. There is that kind of art wall‹'we are the audience and he is making the art.' I think we have to break that wall to get a better connection to the audience. Only if there is that contact can we go on a journey together."

Mr. Quasthoff especially seeks "the feeling somebody is creating the piece right at that moment on stage." His idea is that "there is a human being on stage who wants to bring an audience for two hours into a very, very beautiful world."

This month, Mr. Quasthoff will sing in seven concerts with the New York Philharmonic: four conducted by La Scala's Riccardo Muti and three performances of Haydn's The Creation with Music Director Lorin Maazel, with whom he worked several years ago in Israel, in Ein deutsches Requiem. "He was very, very sweet to me," the singer recalls. "He's an outstanding, incredible conductor and as a musician he's unbelievable!"

For this singer the key to The Creation is "the relation between the music and the text. Even if you have no text, you hear what's going to happen‹you hear the animals, you hear the sounds. Haydn was brilliant in this. I know that with Barbara Bonney singing [he has duets with the soprano] this will be a smash!"

In his performances with Maestro Muti, Mr. Quasthoff will sing four Mozart concert arias for bass, including "Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo," which he notes was originally written for the opera Cosí fan tutte. The aria, says Mr. Quasthoff, is "beautiful and full of humor."

His own irrepressible humor pops up as he notes the difficulty of the double-bass player's part in another of the arias,"Per questa bella mano": "A double-bass player in Mozart's orchestra fell in love with Mozart's wife. So Mozart said, 'I will give him exercises so he has not the time to put his eyes on my lady!' That piece was Mozart's revenge!"

Jeannie Williams writes about opera for various publications, and is the author of the biography Jon Vickers: A Hero's Life (1999, Northeastern University Press).

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