Cher Public

A very little night music

Photo: "The Illuminated Heart: Selections from Mozart’s Operas" Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra Louis Langrée, conductor Netia Jones, director, designer, and illuminations (Mostly Mozart debut) Peter Mattei Dress Rehearsal Photographed: Monday, July 25, 2016 at 11:30 AM at Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center; New York, NY. Photograph: © 2016 Richard Termine PHOTO CREDIT - Richard TermineTo commemorate the 50th anniversary of its Mostly Mozart Festival, Lincoln Center commissioned British theater artist Netia Jones to create The Illuminated Heart, a willy-nilly, thoroughly conventional piece that careened through the composer’s best-known operatic hits. Briskly conducted by festival music director Louis Langrée and nicely performed by some of today’s finest singers, the unevenly-beating Heart unfortunately proved less than the sum of its deluxe parts. 

From top to bottom, the stage of David Geffen Hall was filled by a huge white box that would be the host for a series of mostly abstract monochrome projections. The nine singers entered and exited by doors at the back of each side of the box and the only props were a chair, a ladder and, briefly, a birdcage. Langrée’s excellent orchestra was positioned on the floor of the theater necessitating the removal of numerous rows of seats.

The program informed the gala audience that the show would last 90 minutes (without an intermission): it actually clocked in at around 75. That familiar timing which made me think of the entire enterprise as a spin on an old introductory “sampler” CD where one could easily hit “shuffle” as there was little dramatic coherence in the order of the sixteen numbers. Ten of those selections came from the three da Ponte operas, and sadly none of Mozart’s fascinating early operas were represented.

Yes, the evening began with the overture to Le Nozze di Figaro and concluded with the final chunk of that opera’s conclusion, but otherwise one wondered why Papageno’s “Der Vogelfängler” was followed by the exquisite Servilia-Annio duet from La clemenza di Tito, after which Langrée and his six singers sped frantically through the final five or so minutes of act I of Così fan tutte, etc.

While the evening disappointed due to its lack of a satisfying concept and over-dependence on commonly heard excerpts, there were rewards. Over the past decade Ana Maria Martinez’s New York City appearances have been few, but her superb Cio-Cio-San at the Met earlier this year gave notice that we had been missing out on an impressive artist.

Several selections from Così (partnered by the lush-voiced Dorabella of Daniela Mack) spotlighted her fine Fiordiligi and, after a number of years of inadequate performances of Donna Elvira at the Met, her intensely moving “Mi tradi” was mightily impressive although a more considerate tempo would have helped her. Her ravishing forgiveness of the contrite Count in the Nozze conclusion was the highlight of Heart’s finale.

Photo: "The Illuminated Heart: Selections from Mozart’s Operas" Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra Louis Langrée, conductor Netia Jones, director, designer, and illuminations (Mostly Mozart debut) Christine Goerke, soprano Dress Rehearsal Photographed: Monday, July 25, 2016 at 11:30 AM at Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center; New York, NY. Photograph: © 2016 Richard Termine PHOTO CREDIT - Richard TermineLooking dashing in a previously unseen goatee, Peter Mattei reminded everyone what a marvelous Count he remains, but his domineering Don Alfonso was the revelation of the evening. How often have performances of “Soave sia il vento” been marred by the croaking of a super-annuated buffo? Still in its prime, Mattei’s buttery baritone blended sublimely with Martinez and Mack in maybe the most beautiful rendition of that heavenly trio I’ve ever heard.

Ever the stylish Mozartean, Matthew Polenzani wasn’t given much to do, but once again he cast a spell with his magical “Dalla sua pace” and gave us an intriguing preview of his Idomeneo, due next season at the Met. The pungent mezzo of Marianne Crebassa immediately seized one’s attention in the Clemenza duet, and then she collaborated with the marvelously stylish clarinetist Jon Manasse in a most affecting “Parto, parto.”

Nadine Sierra has been much hyped as a star of the future but although she often sings nicely, but I don’t find the voice particularly interesting nor do I sense much affinity for Mozart. Her prosaic, plodding “Ruhe sanft” lacked warmth and was unaccountably interrupted by applause about half-way through. Christopher Maltman’s gritty and inelegant Papageno and Don Giovanni (in the “champagne” aria) didn’t belong in this company.

Top-billed Christine Goerke only arrived for the final 10 minutes, performing the magnificent Idomeneo quartet and Elettra’s subsequent fiery breakdown “D’Oreste, d’Aiace.” Initially she held back so much during the ensemble that she was hard to hear. The grand scena was more forthright, but upper part of her voice was often so edgy that the aria became truly unpleasant, suggesting Mozart is just no longer for her.

At the early conclusion, the well-fed benefit audience seemed very content, while the singers clowned around affectionately during the bows suggesting that they too had had a fine time. However, I was dismayed that a major festival had spent a great deal of time, money and talent on such an unchallenging exploration of one of opera’s most heartfelt and illuminating composers.

Photos by Richard Termine.

  • Daniel

    How, exactly, is Mozart “just no longer for” any singer?

    • la vociaccia

      When they can no longer sing it well anymore? Not a very difficult concept to grasp. Singers leave repertoire behind.

      • Daniel

        Thanks for the condescension, but I happen to believe that one never outgrows Mozart. There’s always something in his output for any singer, and if you can’t sing it well, then you can’t sing well, period.

        • la vociaccia

          if you can’t sing it well, then you can’t sing well, period.

          No disagreements from me there. But a lot of people seem to be under the impression that she still sings well so… here we are.

          • I think this argument is getting rather pointless. For instance I don;t think Birgit Nilsson covered herself in glory when she sang Donna Anna, but would anyone say that because she wasn’t a Mozart soprano she couldn’t sing well?

            Breath control, purity of line, legato, are super important in Mozart. Not so much if you’re also singing Elektra or Dyer’s Wife.

            • la vociaccia

              Surely there lies a gulf between “singing it well” and “covering yourself in glory.” I agree this is a pointless debate and I don’t think I need to kick a dead horse any further.

              But I disagree that breath control, purity of line and legato are less important in Elektra or the Dyer’s Wife than in Mozart. Those three qualities are really just hallmarks of good singing, period.

            • Ok to use a more contemporary example other than Birgit Nilsson, would you want to hear Anna Netrebko, Sondra Radvanovsky or Dolora Zajick singing Mozart right now? Does this mean they should hang up their shoes? Or … could Waltraud Meier sing Mozart? Marta Modl? Could Franco Corelli? Mario del Monaco?

              Goerke has a rather unusual voice. It’s cavernous and exciting in the lower and middle registers and her upper register is what it is. The amount of roles she can sing well is always going to be limited. She’s not going around the world singing Countess Almaviva. She sang a few arias in a summer concert. Whoop dee doo.

            • la vociaccia

              I never said she should hang it up or anything like that; I’ve said frequently that she’s extremely effective as an interpreter (and she’s really smart as hell in that department, much more so than Rad).

              That doesn’t change my impression that technically she is really off the rails these days. And hey, some critics thought she sounded great last night.

            • armerjacquino

              I know I’m missing the point of the main argument, but I’d love to hear Netrebko in Mozart now and don’t see any reason why it would be a trial.

            • PCally

              Idk, I thought that the Scala Donna Anna was a surprisingly sub-par performance. I kept waiting for her to let the voice rip and she just seemed very intent on holding back in order to avoid overwhelming the music and I thought the result was a lot of sluggish singing and general tuning problems. Not saying I necessarily want her to drop the role altogether (if she’s still singing Violetta there’s no real reason not to keep singing Donna Anna) but at this point there are other things that I think would suit her better. I do wonder what her Elettra would be like however.

              I personally agree with Ivy and I also want to point out that other than a few singers who concentrated on Mozart throughout their careers, many singers dropped his music completely from their repertoire. So I think it’s completely appropriate to claim that Mozart is ““just no longer for” any singer in the same way that certain roles are no longer for singers after a certain period of time.

    • grimoaldo

      The review actually explains why, the “upper part of her voice was often so edgy that the aria became truly unpleasant”.
      Maybe an “edgy” top is OK in certain rep, but not in Mozart, in the clearly expressed opinion of the reviewer.

  • Greg.Freed

    Sierra was actually a lot more interesting out west as Lucia than the Countess. If I were playing mind-reader I’d guess that Mozart doesn’t interest her a great deal as music drama. It’s a bit of a conundrum, as the voice is in truth not well scaled for big-house bel canto but it was really very finely sung.

  • armerjacquino

    Polenzani has done more than ‘offer an intriguing preview’ of his Idomeneo- he’s sung the whole part.

    • manou

      …and got upstaged by a plastic shark.

    • laddie

      I took him to mean that he was previewing the role debut at the MET. He has sung the role in Torino as well as London.

  • Camille

    I was keenly anticipating this “Heart”, but after having read the program only just last evening, (thank you to whomever it was that posted it), I couldn’t see my way to hearing that much Figaro, Così, & Giovanni. Idomeneo almost tippled the scales but not with that singer, mai! So, what was the point of or where was the center of this heart, I am wondering? What about at least a few of his rarely done works, there is that fantastic aria from Il Sogno di Scipione, or Mitridate, or for heaven’s sake, that other “Tiger!” Aria from Zaïde, or Finta Giardiniera, or some more interesting parts of the works which were done, like the sextet from Don Giovanni, “Sola, sola in bujo loco”???? I just don’t understand what was so festive about this illumined heart and the whyfore, that’s all. It’s all been so many times before—there certainly should have been a unifying Überall Konzept to pull it all together, like a Coco Chanel suit, shoes, bag, maquillage—the whole maguillacuddy.

    I look forward very much indeed to the visiting productions of Così fan Tutte and, especially, the Idomeneo, now. Hoping Alex(andrina) Penda(chatska) will be up to her role, as I never heard the Ermione, now some time ago, and understand a lot of water has gone under the proverbial dam with her—nous verrons.

  • WindyCityOperaman

    In 1996 Chicago Opera Theater performed The Jewel Box, which was a Mozart “pastiche” with music from the composer’s concert arias and vocal ensembles. Strung together with dialogue (all in English, with the exception of “Vorrei spiegarvi” there was a very thin plot. Very good singing, not so hot staging. About the only thing I can remember about it was a good sized (hippy, not large) soprano running and climb a ladder -- every good opera stage director knows that’s a no-no.