“The Truth about Love … A Romantic Journey through Mozart’s Operas”
Excerpts from Le nozze di Figaro, Die Zauberflöte, La finta giardiniera, La clemenza di Tito, Idomeneo, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Così fan tutte, and Il rè pastore [Sung in German or Italian with English surtitles]
Readings – by Zoë Wanamaker and Simon Russell Beale – from W. H. Auden, Mozart, Shakespeare, Carol Ann Duffy, Wendy Cope, Robert Frost, A. E. Housman, Roger McGough, John Clare, W. B. Yeats, Dorothy Parker, Brian Patten, e. e. cummings and John Fuller
Rebecca Evans & Klara Ek (sopranos), Katija Dragojevic (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Kennedy (tenor) & Garry Magee (baritone)
Orchestra of the Classical Opera Company
Zoë Wanamaker & Simon Russell Beale (readers)
Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers
Reviewed: 31 July, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
“A Romantic Journey through Mozart’s Operas” (some of!) was the sub-title of this concert designed to uncover “The Truth about Love”. That’s quite an ambition and one that occupied Shakespeare and Mozart throughout their lives, to name just two of our great artists. This quest can be said to be an inherent prerequisite for Civilisation, as appreciation of love for a fellow Human Being is what separates us from barbarianism. In Mozart’s operas love ultimately triumphs, so it is fortunate that this was part of “Mostly Mozart” rather than, say, ‘Purely Puccini’ – otherwise we might have ended the evening rather dispirited by love’s ultimate outcome!
Interspersed with the chosen arias and the odd duet, designed to suggest an idea of what love might be (and here one ought to also include Mozart’s librettists who were shamefully ignored in the programme-book), were readings from poems ably dispatched by Zoë Wanamaker and Simon Russell Beale. It was disappointing that Wanamaker was not given more of the humorous odes as she has a gift for comic timing. Nevertheless, each reading was handled with due appreciation, and Roger McGough’s “At Lunchtime” enjoyed Beale’s deadpan aplomb.
The ordering of the arias seemed to suggest a narrative, whereby love is defined and explained and then its consequences played out. Beginning with the sublime ‘Voi che sapete’ (“The Marriage of Figaro”), in which Cherubino sings of how much love he has to give, and finishing with ‘Pa-Pa-Pa’ (“The Magic Flute”), Papageno and Papagena stammering because their love for each other is so overwhelming, presented an optimistic start and a happy finish. There was rough and tumble on the way, too. Ilia berates herself for having fallen in love with the wrong man (“Idomeneo”) and in “Così fan tutte” love drives the men to trick their girlfriends into being unfaithful: the moral being that love can make people do stupid things.
Rebecca Evans made her presence felt in the “Idomeneo” aria, with attack in her voice, clear diction and with both the stormy and collected moments captured. Her targeted yet melting soprano then found ideal expression in Fiordiligi’s ‘Ei parte … Per pietà’ (“Così”), where dramatic moments played to her strengths in expressive delivery. She lived the words she was singing. The very top notes, if a little exposed, served to heighten the sense of Fiordiligi’s vulnerabilities.
Andrew Kennedy served Tamino at English National Opera last season very well and this experience showed; ‘Dies Bildnis’ (“Magic Flute”) was imbued with optimism and sung brightly. The mezzo of Katija Dragojevic may be gorgeous in sound with a velvet quality but enunciating the words was quite beyond her. In contrast, Garry Magee’s serenade as Don Giovanni (‘Deh vieni alla finestra’) – with oboist Anthony Robson proving adept on the mandolin – showed how the Don managed to seduce his women; there was a blackness buried deep within that made this an arresting contribution.
Klara Ek’s resonant soprano managed the coloratura passages in Tamiri’s ‘Di tante sue procelle’ (“Il rè pastore”) well enough but the approach was too heavy-handed for a sunny aria. The final contribution (‘Pa-Pa-Pa’) paired Ek and Magee in this very funny, full-of-love extract.
Throughout, the (period-instrument) orchestra played with highly-appropriate sympathy. The printed programme included a request for patrons to applaud only at the end of each half. What a pity that Ian Page decided to overrule this – thus the beginnings of most musical contributions were drowned-out by clapping for the readings!
There were two encores (a poem and some more music, a trio). First Wanamaker read “being to timelessness as it’s to time” by e. e. cummings (contrary to popular belief Cummings did not subscribe to the lower-cases used by his publishers) and ‘Soave sia il vento’ from “Così”.