Laszlo Polgar, bass, is a man with an aura. If he is there, you know something tragic is going to happen. One of his roles is Bartók`s Bluebeard. With him singing the part you would know the ending was not happy. All ambiguity would be gone.
He was a replacement at the Zurich Opera House for someone else which probably explains the fact that he used a score in the first half, and that the program seemed to change from what was advertised. In order of presentation things seemed to improve as we went along.
Schumann`s Liederkreis was done rather matter-of-factly. Admitedly all song cycles have the same subject--poet has lost his one true love--and this makes them seem a bit alike.
Then came sections from Schubert`s Schwanengesang. The ones that worked well are the ones that best fit his aura of gloom: Der Atlas and Still ist die Nacht.
As we go from section to section the level of gloom deepens and the quality of the performance increases. What Lieder are glomier than Hugo Wolf`s Drei Gesänge nach Sonatten von Michelangelo?
Herr Polgar is Hungarian and therefore not an obvious choice for a Liederabend. He ended his program with something more suitable: Mussorgsky`s Songs and Dances of Death, sung in Russian. In this cycle the singer represents death himself, and who better than gaunt Lazlo in his black silk pajamas and snow white hair? Perhaps when death appears he will look like this. In these songs he was magnificent. He relaxed into the expression, leaned back on the piano and was quite beautiful.