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​One career ends, another begins

Thomas Quasthoff’s conducting debut at the Verbier Festival

Michael Church | July/August 2015

When Thomas Quasthoff makes his conducting debut at the Verbier Festival next month, it will mark an unexpected switch in this celebrated German baritone’s extraordinary career. As the world’s most famous Thalidomide victim, he has spent his life surmounting seemingly impossible obstacles, including a period as an inmate at a 20th-century version of Dotheboys Hall where temporary starvation was a routine punishment. Self-mockery has been his salvation – likening himself to the Hunchback of Notre Dame, or drawing this brutally candid self-portrait: “A four-foot-three-inch concert singer without knee joints, arms, or upper thighs, with only four fingers on the right hand and three on the left.” He has never accepted pity, demanding to be judged simply as an artist among artists.

Quasthoff started singing as a hobby, doing everything from Donizetti to Stevie Wonder, but after having some success as a satirist in jazz clubs he decided to cash in on a wonderful voice and artistry to match. For two decades he was one of the reigning deities in German art-song. But if the remorseless encroachment of his disabilities has finally eroded his voice, it has had no effect on his will: hence his new incarnation with a baton – and a happy smile. ~ MICHAEL CHURCH
Thomas Quasthoff conducts Bach’s St Matthew Passion at the Verbier Festival, July 24th

 

Classical at a glance

The Proms (Albert Hall, London, July 17th to Sept 12th). Some suspect decisions – who really wants to hear all five Prokofiev piano concertos in one evening? – but many solid ones: Nielsen and Sibelius, Bach and Boulez, Bernstein and Sondheim; concertos by Mozart and Beethoven, choral masterpieces by Verdi and Brahms.

Aldeburgh Festival (Suffolk, June 12th-28th). A new chamber opera by Harrison Birtwistle – plus a new production of his “The Corridor” – to kick things off, followed by a gamey blend of Monteverdi, Britten, Boulez and site-specific events.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Glyndebourne, June 13th to Aug 10th). David McVicar’s first Mozart production here has glittering leads in Sally Matthews and Edgaras Montvidas. Robin Ticciati (IL Mar/Apr) conducts.

Santa Fe Opera Festival (July 3rd to Aug 29th). Go for Tim Albery’s new production of “La finta giardiniera”, the rarely seen dramma giocoso that Mozart wrote aged 18. The plot may be absurd, but the cast (Heidi Stober, Laura Tatulescu, Joel Prieto) is not. ~ MC

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