German singers tend to go about their business more efficiently, consistently, and thoughtfully than their southern European counterparts. As a result their art, as exemplified by soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, is more subtle in its emotional shading, but it’s also visibly less demonstrative–which is probably why Germany and other Nordic countries have yet to produce superstars with the mass appeal of the three tenors. Peter Schreier, the lyric tenor who’s performing at Ravinia this week, is the quintessential German singer. His voice, sweet and pure yet sturdy, is ideally suited to Bach’s oratorios and Mozart’s operas; his extensive repertoire, which runs from the Baroque period through the late 20th century, is loaded with lieder. He made his vocal debut at age 9, as one of the three boys in a 1944 production of The Magic Flute; since then he’s made a reputation as a Mozart specialist in Dresden, Vienna, and Berlin (where he’s a permanent member of the Staatsoper) and sung Mozart heroes at the Met and La Scala as well. He approaches his roles with simplicity of expression but an impeccable attention to the contour and meaning of the words. Schreier is also an ace conductor, with memorable recordings of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and Saint Matthew Passion under his belt. At Ravinia he’ll reaffirm his passion for Bach’s choral writings, which he first encountered as a choirboy in Dresden, from both the stage and the podium. Never mind the certified crowd pleasers on the program–two of the Brandenburg Concertos (nos. 3 and 4) and the stately Orchestral Suite in D–the real gems are the three tenor arias from lesser-known cantatas, which Schreier will sing, and the magnificent Cantata no. 55 (“Ich armer Mensch, ich SŸndenknecht”). All will be performed by the Ravinia Festival Chamber Orchestra, an ad hoc midsize ensemble of players mostly drawn from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Lyric Opera. The chorus, coached by Schreier, is culled from Ravinia’s Steans Institute for Young Artists. David Owen Norris accompanies on harpsichord. Monday, 8 PM, Martin Theatre, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100. TED SHEN
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.