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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Zaide, KV 336b/344 (1779-80)
Diana Damrau (soprano) – Zaide; Michael Schade (tenor) – Gomatz; Rudolf Schasching (tenor) – Soliman; Florian Boesch (baritone) – Allazim; Anton Scharinger (bass) – Osmin;
Tobias Moretti (narrator)
Concentus Musicus Wien/Nicolaus Harnoncourt
rec. live 9–13 March 2006, Grosser Saal Musikverein, Vienna, Austria
DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 82876 84996 2 [55:07 + 51:56]

 

In 1779 a theatre group visited Salzburg and Mozart wrote this Singspiel for them, but for some unknown reasons it was never performed and was probably turned down while the composer was still at work with it. With no performances within sight Mozart obviously lost interest in the project and instead set to work on the opera seria Idomeneo, which was first performed in Munich on 29 January 1881.

What is left of Das Serail, which was the original title – the present name Zaide was attached to it in the 19th century – is fifteen vocal numbers: mostly arias but also a duet, a trio and a quartet – much of this is very fine music, the soprano aria Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben in act one even has claims to be one of his most beautiful creations. Very interesting are the two melodramas, i.e. spoken text accompanied by the orchestra, which are to my knowledge unique in Mozart’s oeuvre and point forward to Fidelio and Der Freischütz. He wrote no overture, the final number, the quartet, ends in a state of chaos – being a Singspiel it shouldn’t end in tragedy and the booklet notes say “… it is not clear from the existing sources how a … happy ending was to be reached.” – and the connecting spoken text has been lost. For these performances actor and writer Tobias Moretti has provided a narrative that tries to give a plausible storyline. It is spiced with references to the present times and as a starting point he has the topical opposition between the Muslim and the Christian worlds, and writing this on the five-year-anniversary day of the World Trade Center catastrophy, I couldn’t help feeling a bit uneasy. Mr Moretti is of course very serious in his intention, even though I am not quite sure that this is the best way of preaching. It also prolongs the opera with about 20 minutes; on the other hand all these Zwischentexts are separately banded and so can be skipped at further listening.

The missing overture has been substituted in this recording by the symphony in E flat major, KV 184, which fits well in mood and instrumentation even though it thus becomes the longest of all Mozart overtures at 8+ minutes. According to another source the symphony in G, KV 318, would be a more likely candidate, especially since it is practically contemporaneous with Zaide.

The story and the setting of course makes one think of Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Zaide can almost be seen as a blueprint for that masterpiece. But Zaide has a tone of its own, actually more Sturm und Drang, which makes the symphony KV184 a good choice for overture, with its gawkiness and surprisingly dark undertones. The “jagged” playing by the as always excellent Concentus Musicus, further underlines a feeling of foreboding. In view of this the play ending, not in joy and conciliation, but seemingly in unsolved conflict, is after all logical.

The music is on a high level of invention and Nicolaus Harnoncourt, who can sometimes be a quirky Mozartean with eccentric tempos, here paces the music admirably, with sprightly playing, always rhythmically alert. The only tempo that can be questioned is in the well-known aria Ruhe sanft (CD1 track 6) which is very slow indeed. Compared to the recent recording with Miah Persson on her BIS recital (see review) Diana Damrau takes almost 1½ minutes longer. It is still a fine reading of the aria and Ms Damrau sings it lovely with feeling. Her voice tends to be a bit shrill occasionally, more so in the act II aria Treulos schluchzet Philomele (CD2 track 8), but elsewhere there is much fine singing from her, best of all perhaps the little duet in act I, Meine Seele hüpft vor Freuden (CD1 track 9), where she is partnered by the seemingly omnipresent Michael Schade, one of Harnoncourt’s favourite singers. And he is his usual expressive self, the melodrama – or melologo as it is called here – Unerforschliche Fügung! (CD1 track 4) executed with involvement and intensity and the aria Rase, Schicksal, wüte immer (CD1 track 7) a dramatic tour de force. In the first act we also encounter the slave-master Allazim, sung with sonorous, steady and beautiful tone and a natural feeling for the text, by Florian Boesch. I first heard him just a couple of months ago as Caronte in Harnoncourt’s recording of Haydn’s Orlando Paladino, and I wrote then: “Certainly someone to watch.” Now here he is again and more than fulfilling the expectations. It will be interesting to follow his development.

In the second act we meet the Sultan, Soliman, and he is sung by the powerful Rudolf Schasching in high strung, almost over-the-top readings of his two arias. Mozart would not have expected such outgoing singing but it is unquestionably thrilling. The experienced Anton Scharinger with his round bass voice in fine shape has only one chance to make his mark and he does so with aplomb in this “laughing aria” (CD2 track 4).

I haven’t had an opportunity to compare this recording to earlier offerings, the only one I have had some fleeting contact with is the 30-year-old Bernhard Klee version on Philips with Edith Mathis a charming Zaide, but whatever the merits of that and other offerings I am pretty sure that Harnoncourt has little to fear, with splendid playing on period instruments, lively, un-eccentric readings and with five highly accomplished singers. The music itself is certainly worth a place on anyone’s shelves. Tobias Moretti’s narrative can be both thought-provoking and entertaining (the audience appreciated him a lot) but for future listening I may just skip it. The Grosser Saal in Musikverein is of course famous for its acoustics and the recording is faultless. Full texts and translations plus a good essay by Thomas Betzwieser further contribute to making this a highly desirable set.

Göran Forsling

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