René Pape’s bass showed considerable velvet sheen and elegant dynamic play; purely as singing and star presence, he impressed.
David Shengold, GCNews
Born in Dresden, Pape has been a member of the Berlin State Opera since 1988, but considers New York’s Metropolitan Opera his operatic “home away from home.” Since his house debut in 1995, he has appeared every season at the Met, in 18 roles and more than 160 performances, including four major debuts: Méphistophélès in Faust, Gurnemanz in Parsifal, Escamillo in Carmen, and the Old Hebrew in Samson et Dalila. But it was at the famous Unter den Linden – home of the Berlin State Opera – where Pape honed most of the great roles of his career.
Music Director Daniel Barenboim was an early supporter, and the Berlin State Opera has played host to Pape’s performances as King Marke in Tristan und Isolde; King Heinrich in Lohengrin; Sarastro in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte; Pogner in DieMeistersinger; Rocco in Beethoven’s Fidelio; Fasolt in Das Rheingold; Hunding in Die Walküre; and the title role in Don Giovanni. The opera house was also the venue for Pape’s appearances as Ramfis in Verdi’s Aida; Figaro in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro; Leporello in Don Giovanni; and Orest in Strauss’s Elektra. In 2006 he expanded his repertoire to include the title role in Boris Godunov, which won him the title “Artist of the Year” from the German Critics Association.
Mr. Pape’s 2017/2018 season highlights include his signature role of Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte at The Metropolitan Opera and at Wiener Staatsoper, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at Staatsoper Berlin, Gurnemanz in Parsisfal at The Metropolitan Opera and at Staatsoper Berlin and Rocco in Fidelio at Semperoper Dresden. In concert, he sings with the Suwon Philharmonic Orchestra in Seoul, Korea and will perform Schubert’s Scenes from Goethe’s Faust at Staatsoper Berlin with Daniel Baremboim conducting.
His 2016/2017 season included performances in another signature role, König Marke in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, at The Metropolitan Opera. He was the featured artist in Gala Concerts from Moscow to Munich and beyond, including The Met’s 50th Anniversary Concert at Lincoln Center, and sang Philipp II in Don Carlo at the Zurich Opera. Pape also presented a recital at London’s Wigmore Hall, and starred as König Heinrich der Vogler in a new production of Lohengrin at Opéra national de Paris.
Pape recently sang at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in the role of Méphistophélès in Gounod’s Faust, and also brought the role to The Metropolitan Opera (in a production directed by Des McAnuff). It was his role debut as Méphistophélès at the Met Opera in 2005 that prompted Martin Bernheimer of the Financial Times to write: “The evening was stolen…by René Pape, the powerful, playfully sardonic Méphistophélès. His basso, more cantante than profondo, rolled, roared, and crooned, as needed, with easy insinuation. Strutting through the evil charades with a different costume from a different period in each scene, he underplayed the menace, and doubled its impact. This devil got his due.”
Following his Met turn in Faust, Pape presented recitals in Geneva and Barcelona before traveling to Berlin for performances of Tristan und Isolde (King Marke), Das Rheingold (Wotan), and Die Walküre (Wotan) followed by King Philip II in Don Carlos in Vienna.
Pape also released the album Wagner, a collection of favorite arias featuring the Berlin Staatskapelle conducted by Daniel Barenboim on the Deutsche Grammophon label. When it was released in Europe, the reviewer for the U.K.’s Guardian exclaimed: “He is unquestionably magnificent. This is very lyrical Wagner singing, sensual, even sexual in tone, noble in utterance, and shaped as much through the line as off the words.”
Pape sang the title role in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, and increased his recital activities around the world in recent seasons. Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times praised Pape’s role debut as Boris at the Metropolitan Opera: “With his towering physique and unforced charisma, Mr. Pape looks regal and imposing. Yet with his vacant stare, the haggard intensity in his face, his stringy long hair and his hulking gait, he is already bent over with guilt and doubt. Mr. Pape has vocal charisma as well, and his dark, penetrating voice is ideal for the role. Not knowing Russian, I cannot vouch for the idiomatic quality of his singing. But his enunciation was crisp and natural. And in every language, Mr. Pape makes words matter.”
Early in 2011, Pape gave his recital debut in Los Angeles, of which Mark Swed, chief critic of the Los Angeles Times wrote: “Vocally, Pape is a complete singer. His lows vibrate with a satisfying subterranean buzz, his highs have a baritonal smoothness. He doesn’t fuss. Wolf’s three Michelangelo Songs were the closest he came to soul-searching opera, these examples of raw, inconsolable inner anguish. Pape ended the first half with Schubert’s ‘Prometheus,’ a Goethe text in which the distressed poet…rails against Zeus. I would not have liked to have been that god facing Pape.”
2009 was a landmark season in Pape’s career. He gave his first solo recital to a sold-out Carnegie Hall audience, having chosen a program of serious German lieder for the occasion; the reviews were ecstatic. He also participated in the Met’s final presentation of Otto Schenk’s popular production of Wagner’s Ring, first staged at the Met more than 20 years ago.
Pape’s first CD of solo arias, Gods, Kings & Demons, was released in 2008 on Deutsche Grammophon with his hometown orchestra, the Staatskapelle Dresden conducted by Sebastian Weigle. The disc won a coveted “ECHO” award, the German equivalent of a Grammy.
Pape made his first DG recording when a childhood friend, Dresden composer Torsten Rasch, hand-picked him for Mein Herz brennt, a song-cycle based on works by the industrial rock group Rammstein.In addition, Pape has participated in a number of complete opera recordings, many available on DVD – including Die Zauberflöte with Claudio Abbado for DG. He sang his signature role – King Marke in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde – on an EMI Classics CD starring Plácido Domingo. Pape joined tenor Rolando Villazón for a new recording of Verdi’s Requiem, released by EMI Classics in October 2009. In fall 2010, the Mariinsky label released Valery Gergiev’s first Wagner recording, Parsifal, which featured Pape singing the role of Gurnemanz.
Pape made his debut in Bayreuth as Fasolt in Das Rheingold in 1994; at London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden as King Heinrich in Lohengrin in 1997; at the Opéra National de Paris as King Marke in Tristan in 1998; and at the Lyric Opera of Chicago as Pogner in Die Meistersinger in 1999. He has sung at France’s Orange Festival; Glyndebourne; Carnegie Hall; Avery Fisher Hall; and with the touring Metropolitan Opera in Japan. He was one of a quartet of singers chosen by James Levine to participate in a unique “Schubertiade” at Carnegie Hall in 2004.
Pape received his musical education in Dresden as a member of the world-famous Dresden Kreuzchor, and completed his studies at the Dresden Conservatory. He first won international recognition when Sir Georg Solti invited him to sing Sarastro in a new production of Die Zauberflöte at the 1995 Salzburg Festival. Musical America named him its 2001 Singer of the Year, and in 2006 he was one of five leading figures in the world of opera honored by the Opera News Awards.
René has been a long-time collector of rubber ducks, and in 2017 he released a limited-edition “PapeDuck” in his likeness, available for purchase via renepape.com.