Claudio Abbado was born and grew up in the shadow of La Scala in Milan, with the result that he practically imbibed a love of Italian opera with his mother’s milk. He was principal conductor of arguably the world’s most famous opera house from 1980 to 1986, and during his time with the Berliner Philharmoniker, too, he rarely missed an opportunity to turn his concert orchestra into an opera orchestra. For his second Waldbühne concert in 1996 he presented a dazzling operatic gala in the form of “An Italian Night” made up of popular favourites by Verdi, Bellini and Rossini. He was joined by three outstanding soloists, Angela Gheorghiu, Bryn Terfel and Sergei Larin, and the Berlin Rundfunkchor.
The evening began with the Overture and Chorus of Hebrew Slaves from Verdi’s first successful opera, Nabucco. Later on in the concert the Berlin Radio Chorus was no less brilliant in the equally famous Anvil Chorus from Il trovatore and the perennially popular Triumphal Chorus and March from Aida. In the case of a series of highlights from Otello the orchestra was able to take advantage of the fact that only six months early it had given two concert performances of Verdi’s complex late opera under Abbado’s direction in the Philharmonie in Berlin. According to the orchestra’s concertmaster, Rainer Kussmaul, this was, as always, a delightful task, since “accompanying singers is by no means an activity of only secondary interest: the more fascinating the soloist, the more pleasure it gives us to react to them”.
In their various arias and duets Angela Gheorghiu and Bryn Terfel – two singers still at the start of their careers – were both beneficiaries of this interaction, and the same was true of the leading Russian tenor Sergei Larin. Gheorghiu was an enchanting Juliet and Desdemona, while Terfel first played the villain in Iago’s Credo before slipping into the role of the true friend of the heir to the Spanish throne, Don Carlos, in his duet with Larin. A special treat was in store for the audience at the end of the evening, when Abbado worked motifs from these arias and duets into the inevitable performance of Berliner Luft, bringing the concert to an end on an authentically Italian note.