We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


 "The Illuminated Heart"--Selections from Mozart's opera performed at the 50th Anniversary of Mostly Mozart

Not even the rainy weather could dampen the spirits of the glittery members of the sell-out crowd gathered to celebrate the opening-night program of Mostly Mozart, Manhattan's yearly summertime orgy of music-making.  It was an auspicious beginning with a veritable cornucopia of talent onstage and a conducting genius in the pit.

Maestro Louis Langrée got the evening off to a rousing start with the lively overture to Le nozze di Figaro, inarguably one of Mozart's best operas, although even his less wonderful offerings will never be neglected. Onstage, we had a servant girl doing chores, tossing laundry into a basket in time with the chords--a most effective bit of stagecraft. She wiped the walls on which words were projected; as she did so the words disappeared. This was probably the finest moment for the visuals.

Mozart was a master of melody and a champion of characterization. A great artist can sing one of his arias and, in a holographic miracle, the entire opera takes shape before your very eyes. There was no shortage of great artists onstage last night.

Capturing our heart was soprano Nadine Sierra for whom we have a special fondness, having started reviewing her work when she was considered "promising". Her promise has been fulfilled. She delights the ear with her silvery soprano and involves one with the inner life of the character she portrays.

As Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, deceitfully promising Count Almaviva her sexual favors, there was no doubt in how she felt about her employer and his unwelcome advances. When he pulled her onto his lap, you could just tell that she was physically aware of his arousal (to put it delicately). Her scene partner, baritone Peter Mattei, conveyed all the blindness and feelings of entitlement that Lorenzo Da Ponte intended in the brilliant duet "Crudel! Perchè finora".

Ms. Sierra was brilliant in every role-- but the role which totally blew us away was one we'd never heard before from an opera which Mozart never finished. We were so enthralled by "Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben" from Zaide that we longed to see Ms. Sierra perform the role in its entirety; we were sad to learn that only parts of it survive.  So...a superb concert piece it will remain. Ms. Sierra produced such a finely wrought decrescendo that we held our breath.

Soprano Christine Goerke blew us away in another manner.  She is a veritable force of nature and sang Elettra's aria of rage "O smania! O furie! ...D'Oreste, d'Aiace" from Idomeneo. Her steely soprano cuts through an orchestra like a knife through butter and swells to fill the farthest reaches of any theater. Her emotional commitment drags you into the aria and all its pain.

A fine showing was made by soprano Anna Maria Martinez and mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack as sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella in Cosi fan tutte; their voices blended beautifully in Mozartean thirds in "Ah, guarda sorella" and later, with Mr. Mattei as Don Alfonso, in "Soave sia il vento".

Ms. Martinez was riveting as Donna Elvira in "In quali eccessi, o Numi...Mi tradi quell'alma ingrata" from Don Giovanni. We loved the way she colored each section differently as she went through all the emotions of a woman scorned by a man she can't stop loving.

When mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa sang "Parto, parto, ma tu, ben mio" from La clemenza di Tito we realized that one may readily think of it as a duet with clarinet. Jon Manasse's clarinet echoed the vocal line in such an artistic fashion we wondered why we had never heard it so clearly before. Ms. Crebassa also did credit to herself in a duet with Ms. Sierra from the same opera--"Ah perdona al primo affetto".
As a matter of fact, there was much in Maestro Langrées conducting that brought new clarity to old favorites.  It was also admirable the way he controlled his Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra so that they supported each singer.  No one was drowned out.

A rewarding performance of the difficult "Dalla sua pace" from Don Giovanni was given by Matthew Polenzani; he was at the very top of his form both vocally and dramatically. The phrasing, the coloring, and the timbre joined with his tasteful gestures to create a picture of a man besotted and submissive to his adoration of the ambivalent Donna Anna.

Only baritone Christopher Maltman failed to impress with a somewhat lackluster "Champagne Aria" from Don Giovanni and a charmless "Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja" from Die Zauberflöte.

These were just the highlights of the evening which ended with the Finale of Le nozze di Figaro--bringing us back full circle.

As much as our heart was illuminated, the faces of the singers were not. We wish we could be as enthusiastic about the direction, design, and illuminations of Netia Jones or the lighting of Andrew Hill-- but we cannot.

On the positive side, there were some charming moments of direction that were dramatically valid. Projections succeeded at creating the illusion of depth in the hall's shallow stage; costumes effectively suggested 18th c. silhouettes while highlighting the cut and fabrics of contemporary times. But many of the projections were weak or non-specific, or unsupported by the story.  If mixed media is going to replace sets then it had better be more effective.

Happily, that minor disappointment did nothing to tarnish the luster of the voices. After an intermissionless 90 minutes, we left fulfilled.  But we would have gladly returned for another 90!

(c) meche kroop

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