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Known as a reclusive diva with a world-class voice, who likes making herself rare and only appeared in a few select festivals this summer, coloratura soprano Elke Maria Slawitschek was there to sing arias from Puccini's La Bohème and Tryptichon. 'I decided on Slawitschek,' Schwanz says, 'because upon hearing it for the first time, her voice really impressed me. So we immediately went into negotiations with her to appear at Thann this year. It was difficult, but we were aided by the fact that she rides herself and owns a horse. So, eventually, she agreed to come.'

Champion rider and classical music enthusiast: Thann Festival Director Uwe Schwanz (shown here after winning a class at Thann). Photo © 2007 Philip Crebbin
Champion rider and classical music enthusiast: Thann Festival Director Uwe Schwanz (shown here after winning a class at Thann). Photo © 2007 Philip Crebbin

Slawitwschek's 'Quando me'n vo' (Musetta's Waltz from La Bohème) was not, as is often the case, a perky, playful rendition but rather, a dramatically different and sensitive treatment of this aria, which excellently covered the entire range of colors that were captured beautifully by Slawitschek's generous timbre. 'O mi babbino caro', one of her trademark arias, followed the same line, steering away from playfulness and rather focusing on the dramatic elements of the final words. The aria, from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, comes out of the context of a humorous opera, but Slawitschek has, throughout her career, chosen to treat this piece not on its chipper overall context but rather on isolating its psychological impact of a love so all-consuming in its longing that death is preferable to being parted from the beloved. She remains convinced that it is indeed a serious, not light-hearted piece, and so her Mi struggo e mi tormento! O Dio, vorrei morir! Babbo, pietà, pietà! ('I fret and suffer torments, Oh God, I would rather die, Daddy, have pity, have pity!') was rendered in this context, displaying the dramatic elements in the singer's soprano. The audience was impressed and she received plenty of applause in the end.

Elke Maria Slawitschek receives flowers after her performance at Thann. Photo © 2007 Philip Crebbin
Elke Maria Slawitschek receives flowers after her performance at Thann. Photo © 2007 Philip Crebbin

'Appearing at Thann was a challenge,' said Slawitschek. 'This is a very knowledgeable audience, with many of those present being not only equestrian enthusiasts but also well-known patrons of the arts, specifically of classical music and/or opera. The acoustics were surprisingly good. In absence of an orchestra or accompanist, I had to rely on the Dressage Freestyle to Music speakers, which worked amazingly well. The only restriction was that, under those circumstances, I decided to forego singing "Vissi d'Arte", for which I had numerous requests from the audience once it became known that I was to appear at Thann. I considered the risk too great, as this aria does not have an orchestral lead-in. You have to go straight into the singing, and then the music sets in. With the large overhead speakers, I thought the danger too great that one could get behind on the timing.'

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Copyright © 3 September 2007 Tess Crebbin, Munich, Germany

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