Cher Public

Rosa’s turn

To heck with Bayreuth and Salzburg, Glimmerglass and Santa Fe as Rosa Feola sang Mozart at Lincoln Center Friday night and I wouldn’t have been anywhere else! 

Earlier this year when I posted 16 of the finest concert arias I mentioned that just about the only times I’ve heard any of these gems have been at New York City’s Mostly Mozart Festival. So I was elated to read several months ago that the acclaimed Italian soprano would be performing “Ch’io mi scordi di te,” K. 505 and “Bella mia fiamma,” K. 528 accompanied—in two ways—by conductor-pianist Christian Zacharias.

Feola first attracted attention when she won several prizes at the 2010 Operalia competition. Not long after she made her NYC debut at age 26 in Orff’s Carmina Burana with Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Carnegie Hall’s Opening Night, her only local appearance until this past weekend.

In the meantime Muti has become an important mentor and Chicago audiences have heard her numerous times since with the CSO—as Nanetta in Falstaff and in the Mozart Requiem and a mass by Schubert. On this site last fall Henson Keys enthusiastically praised her debut at that city’s Lyric Opera as Gilda in Rigoletto.

Recent notable new productions in Europe featuring Feola have included her Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi aspart of Munich’s Il Trittico and two bel canto works at La Scala—a rare staging of Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra and Don Pasquale, both led by Riccardo Chailly.

Geffen Hall looked pretty packed on Friday possibly with many primed to hear for themselves just what all the fuss is about. I suspect, however, that the majority had actually bought tickets to hear Zacharias conduct the well-known “Prague” symphony and play (and lead) a late piano concerto—K. 503, not a particular favorite of mine.

Regardless of what got them to the theater, most must have been entranced by the soprano’s radiant voice and intense dramatic involvement in a pair of Mozart’s most intense yet sublime works for soprano. K. 505 was written for “Mlle Storace and me”—English soprano Nancy Storace who created Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro along with roles in operas by Sarti, Salieri, Martin y Soler and her brother Stephen Storace.

“Ch’io mi scordi di te” is Mozart’s only concert aria with a piano obbligato, which he played himself at its 1786 premiere.

The beleaguered unnamed heroine pledges to never forget her lover preferring death to separation. The piano only enters after the introductory recitative at the beginning of the aria proper “Non temer, amato bene” in which it and the singer become equal partners, their voices intertwining in rapt intimacy. Feola and Zacharias revealed an intense chemistry as his dulcet playing perfectly mirrored her unusually slow and nuanced response to Giambattista Varesco’s poignant text.

In both that aria and K. 528 which followed after intermission, Feola showed particular, even relevatory, care for the texts. One can sometimes forget that these two works aren’t—like many of the concert arias are–vehicles for vocal display created to be “inserted” into already existing operas by other composers.

In the Feola-Zacharias performances the performers took to heart that this pair are truly scenas, ten-minute mini-dramas. In “Bella mia fiamma” the male hero Titano takes leave of his beloved as he faces death. Whereas some performers may adopt a subdued stage deportment to perform these works, Feola gestured freely, living these dire predicaments.

Although she has new productions of Lucia di Lammermoor and La Sonnambula coming up soon, I’m not sure I hear her alighting for long in that repertoire. Her rich, full voice gleamed with vibrant life and handled the few coloratura flourishes well but perhaps without effortless élan. The vital top shone particularly in two added high notes toward the end of “Bella mia fiamma,” startlingly effective ornaments I’d never heard before.

Her command of the demanding ending of K.505 with its extremes of range had me wondering if there might be a Fiordiligi or Donna Elvira in her near future; but the dramatic conclusion of K. 528 revealed some stress which made it clear that she’s wiser to stick to Zerlina and Susanna for the moment. Ilia in Idomeneo which is due in Rome in November 2019 (opposite Miah Persson as Elettra!) however should be very special.

I’m almost sure the very first time I heard K. 505, my favorite Mozart concert aria, was via Jennifer Vyvyan’s lovely recording,

followed by Jessye Norman’s more epic rendition. I must be fated to hear it live only every fourteen years. Cecilia Bartoli sang it in 1990, one of her very first appearances in New York, followed by Magdalena Kozena in 2004, both of which I heard of course at the Mostly Mozart Festival. I wonder who will be my prima donna in 2032.

Feola performed the marvelous “Ah! lo previdi,” K. 272 at the BBC Proms two years ago.

New York next hears her in April when she makes her Met debut as Gilda in Rigoletto for a run of just four performances, thankfully opposite Bryan Hymel and not preening showboat Vittorio Grigolo, the Duke earlier in the season.

I think I spied a Met bigwig at Friday’s concert so one hopes he has many more appearances in mind for this special performer.

Having heard Feola, Golda Schultz and Regula Mühlemann each for the first time this season, I would say the world is having a good moment for Mozart sopranos.

BONUS: In January’s compendium each soprano was limited to just one selection so this review gives me the chance to share another super-rare concert aria performance. For a concert with Colin Davis and the Boston Symphony around 1974, Jessye Norman sang the same two arias as Feola. K. 505 was previously offered on “Trove Thursday” and here now for those interested is “Bella mia fiamma.”

Photo: Todd Rosenberg