When Mojca Erdmann’s new debut CD for Deutsche Grammophon was reviewed in the September issue of Opera News, the disc’s cover art showed the lissome German soprano in a thin, revealing white dress, lying on a bed of roses. The album was then called Mostly Mozart. When that review questioned the titling, DG must have gone back to work. The current cover shows the same over-the-top cover art, but it’s now called Mozart’s Garden.
The disc contains eighteen tracks, all featuring pieces by Mozart and his contemporaries Salieri, Paisiello, Holzbauer, and Johann Christian Bach, almost mind-numbing in their sameness. Aside from an effort to bring some fire to Zaide’s “Tiger! Wetze nur die Klauen” and Salieri’s “Pere barbere, arrache-moi la vie!” from Les Danaides, Ms. Erdmann’s singing is rather limpid, bland, general, and lacking in emotional or musical insight. Much of this CD will likely be coming soon to an elevator near you.
Ms. Erdmann has a fresh, pretty light lyric soprano and fancies herself a Mozart specialist. She is always on pitch, but never manages to put any kind of personal stamp on the lovely arias that she undertakes. The Idomeneo arias are approached in exactly the same way as the Figaro arias and the Don Giovanni arias—there is no sense of character change between Ilia, Susanna, and Zerlina. All three characters lack passion and emotional depth, substituting a rather tired, depressed quality.
The voice itself has little warmth, often white-toned and brittle in the higher register. I also have to say that the singing seems “all about her”—there is little sense of singing to someone, and her vocal choices seem calculated and not arising from the music itself.
Perhaps the weakest track is Erdmann’s effortful approach to “Ach, ich fühl’s” from Die Zauberflote, sung at a funereal tempo apparently chosen by Erdmann herself. In the notes accompanying the CD, Erdmann is quoted as saying
What interests me most of all is how exactly [Mozart] intended his tempo indications to be interpreted. Above all with Pamina I’d love to know whether it would have worked for him if the aria were taken really slowly. Although it says “Andante”, it has to be as slow as this for me. If I sang it any quicker, there would no longer be any emotional depth in it.
Well, besides this being the height of presumption, the result is a turgid, dreary reading so disconnected and choppy that it achieves no effect at all.
Andrea Marcon and the period instrument specialists of La Cetra Baroque Orchestra Basel play quite beautifully and have a unique sound, but it can’t lift this disc off the ground. One fears that Ms. Erdmann is being over-hyped and under trained. Looking great in a revealing little shift on the cover may sell some CDs, but it does not make a convincing case for Ms. Erdmann’s being called “A Muse for Mozart.”