Bass-baritones with voices as deep and plush as Rene Pape's rarely become superstars, but he's on the verge, I think. Diehard fans already exist in plenty, and every time his name appears on the bill at the Met for a performance of Tristan, Parsifal, the Magic Flute, or Fidelio, you know that the A-list cast is on. It's nice to see this native Dresdener, now 44, paired with the great Dresden Sttaatskapelle (even if Weigle's conducting is no better than satisfactory).
In keeping with the theme, we start off with three flavors of Mephistopheles by Gounod, Boito, and Berlioz, all of which Pape handles with stylish panache. His voice is so velvety and smoothly produced that he never resorts to barking or melodramatic hamminess. On stage I imagine he would add a few more teeth to his bite, however, and quite a lot more snarl. King Philip's soliloquy from Don Carlo is beautifully sung and touchingly acted.
The one snippet of Pape's noble Wotan taken from Das Rheingold is tantalizing (too bad the conducting is particularly draggy here), but then we get a signature role, King Marke singing the entire Act II monologue. As pure singing and vocal acting, this couldn't be improved on, but once again I msut point out the sagging Weigle, who lets down the orchestral side. The last lengthy extract is Boris's death scene, which Pape keeps on the restrained side -- but how can one complain when such artistry is at work?
Here's the full program:
Voice des roses (Air de Méphistophélès)
Devant la maison from La Damnation de Faust
Ecco il mondo, vuoto e tondo from Mefistofele
Beda! Beda! - Celý svet nedá ti
Le veau d'or est toujours debout from Faust
Serenade: Vous qui faite l'endormie (Mephistopheles) [from Faust]
Oy, dusno, dusno! - Proscay, moy sïn from Boris Godunov
Scintille, diamant from Les Contes d'Hoffmann
Na vozdushnom okeane
Ne plac', ditya from Demon
Ella giammai m'amò (from Don Carlo)
Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge from Das Rheingold
'Tatest du's wirklich' - King Marke's monologue from Tristan and Isolde