Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Dull Mozart (is that even possible?)

Arthaus Musik has collected the late Nikolaus Harnoncourt's three Da Ponte operas of Mozart on three Blu-ray discs. The operas, recorded around the turn of the century (1996, 2000 & 2001) at the Zurich Opera House, are all directed by Jurgen Flimm, and the casts include some big names. But as impressive as some of the singing is, I was not at all taken with Harnoncourt's overall conception of the music or the drama. His tempi tend to drag, and then he'll make up for it with a whirlwind rush through an especially tender or psychologically significant aria. There's little verve or spark here, which is damning considering the music. Neither did I take to Flimm's staging; everything seems under-lit, and the sets, the schoolroom in Cosi, for example, dingy. 

But let's not forget the soloists. Cecilia Bartoli and Liliana Nikiteanu are outstanding in Cosi, both as singers and as actors. They make you believe in the characters; you feel that the stakes are real, and high. In Don Giovanni Bartoli shines as Donna Elvira, as does Nikiteanu as Zerlina. Nikiteanu completes the hat-trick as an absolutely amazing Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro. This is one of Da Ponte's most original characters, and it naturally drew from Mozart sublime solo and ensemble music. As to other characters, I was impressed enough with Rodney Gilfry's Don Giovanni, as both an actor and a singer, but when you think of Marius Kwiecien's towering Don, there's no comparison. A major disappointment!

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