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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Arias and Orchestral Music

Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), K492 (1786)
Se vuol ballare, signor Contino
Non più andrai
Hai già vinta la causa …Vedrò mentr’io sosprio
Minuet in C major, K409 (1782)
Don Giovanni, K527 (1787)
Madamina, il catalogo è questo ‘Catalogue Aria’
Fin ch’han dal vino ‘Champagne Aria’
Deh, vieni alla finestra (Serenade)
Six German Dances, K571 (1789)
Così fan tutte (Thus do they all), K588 (1790)
Non siate ritrosi
Donne mie, la fate a tanti
Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo, K584
Adagio and Fugue in C minor, K546 (1788)
Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), K620 (1791)
Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja
Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen
Papagena! … gute Nacht, du falsche Welt
Teddy Tahu Rhodes, bass-baritone
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra/Ola Rudner
Recorded Federation Concert Hall, Hobart, Tasmania, June, October 2002
ABC CLASSICS 472826 [66:57]


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Teddy Tahu Rhodes, a native of New Zealand, teams with an Australian orchestra and Swedish conductor in this new disc mixing Mozart opera arias with a few of his orchestral pieces. This type of programming is not unusual and has the advantage of enhanced variety. Of course, the main player is the vocal soloist as attested to by the color photographs of Rhodes. There is a small black and white photo of Rudner; he and Rhodes could easily be mistaken for brothers.

In opera, an attractive voice is not usually of prime importance. Through expressiveness, the singer must enter the heart and soul of the character played, and this is the area where the young Teddy Tahu Rhodes does not pass muster. He has an eminently pleasant voice, but he consistently neglects to bring his characters to life.

In "Le nozze di Figaro", both The Count and Figaro are underhanded sexual schemers with sharp tongues and a flair for bravado. The problem with Rhodes is that he does not well express any sharpness of diction; his phrasing is too rounded, and he sounds more like a crooner than schemer. Although Ola Rudner is sufficiently sharp in his attacks, Rhodes refuses to follow suit.

Mozart’s "Don Giovanni" revolves around the familiar tale of Don Juan and his insatiable appetite for sex with women. Eventually, this all-consuming pastime catches up with him as he kills the father of one of his conquests only to be dragged to Hell by the father’s stone statue. Appropriately, the libretto was written by Lorenzo da Ponte who was also an extreme womanizer who had a magnetic appeal to women even after all his teeth were lost through medical ignorance. From my view, any man without teeth who can still dazzle the women rates instant admiration.

Don Giovanni spends all his time in the hunt and conquest of women regardless of their situation, facial features, body shape or age. We could call him an ‘equal opportunity’ lover who never allows any thoughts of morality to influence his actions.

In Track 5, Don Giovanni’s servant Leporello parades the list of women his master has conquered which extends to a grand total of 2,063 females. Clearly, this is a humorous monologue although some might find it alarming. Rhodes sounds rather flat, conveying neither humor nor alarm. As in the "Figaro" arias, he is too smooth of tone and not sufficiently detailed. On the plus side, the more poignant moments are sung very well; when crooning is needed, Rhodes gives full measure. This also applies to Track 7 where Don Giovanni serenades his next victim. However, a really gorgeous voice is best for the Serenade, and Rhodes does not possess one.

I don’t want to become redundant, so I will simply report that Rhodes maintains the same regimen in the arias of the two remaining operas. Just once, I wanted to hear Rhodes snarl, but such displays are apparently not within him.

As I hinted at earlier, Ola Rudner is a splendid conductor of Mozart’s music. The orchestral pieces are vivid and robust which is more than I can say for Rhodes. Also, Rudner excellently captures the stern and austere qualities of the Adagio and Fugue in C minor. Sound quality is quite good, but I would have preferred a less integrated soundstage.

When the purely orchestral music is more enjoyable than the Mozart arias, you know that something is askew. As fine as the orchestra might be, this is essentially a cameo disc for Rhodes that stands or falls on his artistry. With less than sterling characterization and only a mildly attractive voice, Rhodes can’t possibly compete with the dozens of alternative singers on record in these Mozart roles. When I am finished with the review, I am going to spend a couple of hours listening to Walter Berry’s Mozart. Berry, a superb singer and actor, reveals just what Teddy Tahu Rhodes is missing. If Rhodes has a goal of being one of the leading Mozart singers of our time, he will need to learn how to better portray Mozart’s characters.

Don Satz

 



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