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Mozart, Nothing New

Some people just cannot get enough Mozart, and not only Mozart but the same Mozart. This was apparently the idea behind a free concert given last night at the Austrian Embassy, under the title Mozart through His Letters and Operas. Donations were requested, and no viennoiserie was on offer afterward. Sorab Modi may not have said much about the letters of Mozart, but he provided commentary between aria and ensemble selections from the five favorite Mozart operas (OK, there was one piece from La Clemenza di Tito), sung by members of Washington National Opera's Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program. However, hoping to hear some music off the beaten path (couldn't the Mozart Year be about discovering the composer's other operas?), woven together by passages from the letters about the pieces being performed, I was disappointed.

Magdalena Wór, mezzo-sopranoTrevor Scheunemann, baritone
This is not to say that, for a free concert, there were not moments to be enjoyed. Baritone Trevor Scheunemann had nice turns as the Count and Papageno, with a well-rounded voice and a confident stage presence. I was most impressed by the voice of Polish-American mezzo-soprano Magdalena Wór, who gave a sweet, slightly throaty performance of "Voi che sapete" and a dramatic rendition of Annio's part in "Ah, perdona al primo affetto" (the one piece from Tito mentioned above). Pianist Matthew Ottenlips gave a nice range of color to the various orchestral reductions, especially a fine approximation of an orchestra trying to sound like a guitar in "Deh, vieni alla finestra." He may not have fit in all of Papageno's pipe flourishes, but he played well. Stage director Andrea Dorf did her best to make a recital seem semi-staged, and conductor Benjamin Makino seemed only nominally in control.

Tickets ($25) are still available for the next unusual performance from Washington National Opera, a reduced-price afternoon concert called Welcome to Opera, a week from Saturday (October 14, 4 pm) in the Kennedy Center Opera House. Plácido Domingo will conduct, and I suspect some of these young singers will be performing.


Garth Trinkl said...

Thanks, Charles and Jens for all of your recent expert music reviews.

Charles, I was struck yesterday, when I noticed the WNO's recently added "Welcome to Opera" afternoon concert, that the program consists
completely of selections from Mozart and Puccini!! I myself find it ironic that Washington's recently renamed Washington NATIONAL Opera can't even include some selections from the American opera repertoire in its special "outreach" matinee! I fear that the WNO as an institution will increasingly be caught up in Domingo's PR efforts for his new opera book; which, according to advance word, will say nothing about American opera.

And I wouldn't criticize the Austrian Embassy for the disappointing evening you review above. As you know, usually the Austrian Embassy's music programming is first rate and offers the Washington community first rate unfamiliar programming. Obviously, the WNO appears to have forced last night's program on the Embassy, with little thought of true collaboration.

Wouldn't it be exciting if the so-called Washington National Opera, the NSO, WPAS, LC, and the Kennedy Center would collaborate with Embassies and Univerities on truly outstanding events that matched the artistic quality of much of the cultural programming offered the National Gallery of Art, the Freer/Sackler, and several other smaller D.C. cultural groups and theaters. (For example, the intelligent presentation of classical music as part of WPAS's overall vision is certainly at a low point, at present, in my opinion.)

Charles T. Downey said...

Thanks for that comment, Garth. I did not mean for the Austrian Embassy to take the rap for this event, which was pleasant enough if a little pedestrian. I was only lamenting the delicious pastries that the Austrian Embassy serves at the concerts it sponsors on its own.

jfl said...

...and pending the revival of my computer (two machines dying in two months? what an extraordinary run of bad luck) I will be back tomorrow with fresh stuff from the NSO, last week's Washington Bach Consort review and a selective look at Shostakovich CDs.