Howard Haskin
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Second Orphée Howard Haskin brings more character to the role

Franz Straatman, Trouw


AMSTERDAM - It was one week before the Nederlandse Opera was due to start rehearsals for Gluck's 'Orphée et Euridice' when Bruce Ford, the contracted tenor, cancelled. Opera managements, however, cannot just open a can of high tenors (with a knowledge of this infrequently sung French role besides) when this happens.
 
   The solution to the problem can therefore be classified as a miracle. Gran Wilson was prepared to step in at short notice; he also proved to have the required range (the score actually demands ten high Cs and two high Ds) and to know the role. He was only available for the rehearsal period and the first five performances, however, and Howard Haskin was engaged for the subsequent four.
 
   The drawback was that Haskin had to learn the role specially and did the pre-dress rehearsal in the Dans & Muziektheater in The Hague book-in-hand as a consequence. In addition, it was impossible to slot in a rehearsal with orchestra in Amsterdam, so that he had no choice but to jump in at the deep end on Tuesday evening. The role of Orphée itself was a much greater handicap to him, however. It is, in fact, too high.
 
Octave lower 
It nevertheless proved possible to overcome this problem by singing the difficult passages in a number of arias an octave lower. Where the melodic line did not allow this device, conductor Hartmut Haenchen whipped up the tension in the orchestra to such a pitch that this was accentuated and the resulting support gave the singer the strength to cope with the tricky section. But Haskin did, of course, have to force his voice, something which never "serves the realm of beauty," to quote a line from the closing ensemble.
 
   If the audience enjoyed a greater  vocal treat with Gran Wilson on the whole, it is still enjoying a rare treat with Haskin for the last four performances. His voice is bigger, besides being richly coloured and expressive in the middle range, adding a dimension of heartfelt love for Euridice rarely expressed in Wilson's stark, clear tenor. Wilson was very well suited to Peter Te Nuyl's production, which focuses on beauty.
 
   Haskin, however, brings more character to the role; singing it with more of the passion of the opera singer, while also conveying a deeper relationship with the theatrical reality in his acting and posture. The interplay of action and reaction with Euridice (Alexandra Coku, who again sings magnificently) was stronger and more intense as a result.
 
   Where Wilson created the impression of a fast operator in control of every situation—a veritable high-flyer in the arts—Haskin portrayed a vulnerable Orphée, truly fighting back vocally and dramatically to save Euridice.
 
   His aria "J'ai perdu mon Euridice" was all the more impressive as a consequence, complemented as it was with much more understated body language. The director, Te Nuyl, whose production had lost nothing of its power in reprise, sees not so much an expression of the pain of love in this core aria as Orphée's need to create beauty.
 
   This is the reason he had Wilson adopt theatrical gestures, which Haskin, his second Orphée, actually refrains from using. If Te Nuyl was consciously trying out a different mode of expression with Haskin, it is an improvement in my opinion. If the initiative is Haskin's own, I double my praise. It was, incidentally, ungracious of the Nederlandse Opera not to have flowers presented to Haskin; for the achievement of the première and for the fact that he is making it possible to continue the Orphée series.
 
   Original Dutch text copyright © 1990 Trouw (Amsterdam)




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