This is another volume in Brilliant Classics’
Mozart series. As with other opera boxes in the series they have made
some slightly strange choices regarding the pairing of the operas and
the performers. This box combines Mozart's early Festa Teatrale 'Ascanio
in Alba', performed on original instruments, with the incomplete Singspiel
'Zaide' (a precursor of 'Die Entführung aus dem Serail') performed on
modern instruments but with period specialist Ton Koopman in charge.
'Ascanio in Alba'
was written for wedding celebrations of the Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand
to Maria Ricciarda Berenice d'Este in Milan, when Mozart was 15. The
rather silly plot could hardly have given Mozart cause for rejoicing,
it is full of nymphs and shepherds with a pair of lovers going through
some vastly unnecessary complications before the happy ending. Venere
(Claudia Patacca) encourages her son Ascanio (Maaike Beekman) to become
ruler of the Kingdom of Alba. There, he falls in love with Silvia (Nicola
Wemyss) who is supported by the priest, Aceste (Tom Allen) and Siliva
is in love with an unknown man (this turns out to be Ascanio). But Ascanio
is twice forbidden by Venus to reveal himself. Finally Ascanio and Silvia
are united, but the happy ending is a long time in coming, the work
lasts 150 minutes. Of this, around 50 minutes is taken up with secco
recitative. After the overture and opening chorus, Venus has 3 minutes
of recitative before getting around to her first aria. For a little
known work, with a printed libretto in Italian only, this is rather
too much recitative and the work would have benefited from some judicious
cuts. There are a number of attractive arias, but these are let down
by the sheer quantity of the recitative. Lacking in any real drama,
the recitative can be rather uninteresting. All the singers do their
best, performing the recitative stylishly and their singing is not without
interest, though the harpsichord continuo does go a little overboard
But the quality
of the arias would make it worth the wait were it not for the performances
here. All the singers perform quite creditably, but I felt that few
of them were completely comfortable with the elaborate style of the
arias. Claudia Patacca has an attractive voice but her top does not
respond well to pressure and some of her notes are rather squally. Maaike
Beekman (variously described in the booklet as a Soprano or Mezzo-Soprano)
has a warm voice with a fairly significant vibrato which makes it rather
unsuitable for this style of music and the role seemed to lie a little
low for her. Tom Allen has a pleasant, well focused tenor voice, but
he seemed very unhappy in the passage work. Claron McFadden has a fine
sense of style, but the high tessitura of her part taxed her considerably.
The best and most stylish singing on the disc comes from Nicola Wemyss,
it was always a relief and pleasure to listen to her arias.
punctuated with a series of short choruses. Musically these are rather
repetitious, Mozart definitely on auto-pilot, but the Vocaal Ensemble
Coqu perform them stylishly, making much of very little. Music ad Rhenum
sounds quite a small group. They perform crisply and incisively for
Jed Wentz but his speeds are a little on the fast side and occasionally
the performance sounded a little rushed.
not had that many incarnations on record. It was included in the Philips
complete Mozart Edition in a rather ordinary performance by the Salzburg
Mozarteum conducted by Leopold Hager, with Agnes Baltsa, Edith Mathis
and Arleen Auger. There is also a French performance, with Michael Chance
in the title role, on Naxos. I wish I could be more enthusiastic about
this new recording, but though performed adequately, none of the singers
(apart from Nicola Wemyss) performs the florid arias with the sense
of bravura that is required. After all, this was a wedding entertainment
so the listeners would expect to be dazzled by the virtuoso singers.
'Zaide' is incomplete, there is only the music for 15 numbers and no
surviving dialogue. It was discovered by Constanze Mozart after the
composers death and was not performed until 1866. It was written in
1780, 2 years before 'Die Entführung aus dem Serail'.
'Zaide' is performed
here with a linking narration in German spoken by a character called
Zaram though the author of the narration is uncredited in the booklet.
As with the other Singspiels in this Brilliant Mozart series, the spoken
passages are not printed in the booklet so following it is restricted
to those with good German. As there are also two long melodramas then
a substantial amount of the recording is given over to the spoken word.
Linking narration might sound a good idea, but on a recording it gives
the members of the cast little time to develop the characters. Here
it sounds less than involving. reducing the piece to a disconnected
series of arias. If I had this recording on my library shelves, I could
see myself programming my CD player to skip the spoken passages. It
does not help that the narration seems to be spoken in a different acoustic
to the music.
Zaide, gets the bulk of the material with a duet with Gomatz and three
arias, including the most well known number 'Ruhe sanft'. Sandrine Piau
(Soprano) sings her arias beautifully. She performs with great poise
and the role holds no terrors for her but I wanted a greater sense of
line rather than a disconnected sequence of (beautiful) notes. I felt
that her voice was perhaps a little too light for the role, but then
the first person I heard singing Zaide was Rita Hunter. Sandrine Piau
manages the dramatics of Zaide's final aria, 'Tiger! wetze nur die Klauen',
finely. But how you respond to her stylish singing will, in the end,
depend on how you like her distinctive voice production and I know that
I could not live with it.
Max Ciolek (Tenor)
as Gomatz, makes a fine hero, he has a clear, bright, focused voice.
But he does not really sound comfortable with the passage work and his
voice does not always respond well to pressure in the upper register.
Gomatz disappears from the second half of the singspiel, apart from
an appearance in the final ensemble. Instead, the sultan Soliman, played
by Paul Agnew (Tenor), has two arias. He is stylishly imperious in his
arias and I rather wished that a way could have been found for him to
sing Gomatz as well.
(Bass), who sings both Allazim, the Sultan's gardener and Osmin, has
a pleasant enough voice but in Allazim's first aria sounded distinctly
uncomfortable with the fioriture. He seemed more comfortable in Osmin's
aria. Apart from the passage work he has a mellifluous tone, but he
does not have the lower register necessary for Allazim's second aria.
The Dutch Radio
Kamerorkest play well for Ton Koopman, giving a stylish account of the
score and Koopman paces the music well. But I felt that they do not
quite generate the sort of élan that Mackerras brought to his Mozart
recordings with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
dramatically 'Zaide' feels like a dummy run for 'Die Entführung aus
dem Serail'. Though ‘Die Entführung aus dem Serail' has the advantage
that not only is it complete, but its long gestation period meant that
it is far more developed than a standard singspiel. This performance
of 'Zaide' sets quite a good musical standard, but the attempt to turn
it into a complete drama has the effect of stretching the material beyond
its natural limits.
This is an interesting
pairing. Neither piece is perfect and neither performance is ideal.
But there is a lot of interest in music by Mozart, even on an off day.
And both these performances are more than serviceable. At super budget
prices, this boxed set is highly recommendable for those wanting to
explore the byways of Mozart.