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Elizabeth Watts: “Opera Arias and Overtures by Mozart”

CD Button Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Baldini. Texts and translations. Linn Records CKD 460

Recordings Elizabeth Watts Mozart Cover 1115

IN A PERFECT BLEND of artistry and sound, Elizabeth Watts and the Scottish Chamber Ensemble under Christian Baldini present arias and overtures from six Mozart operas on this delectable CD. Watts’s plush soprano, limpid yet luscious, is a natural fit for the orchestra, who play modern instruments with clarity and more sense of eighteenth-century style than many period ensembles. Glassy, strident violin sound is banished in a historically correct balance that favors Mozart’s inventive and expressive wind writing. The well-known overtures to Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte sound fresh and new, inner voices and brass chords coming to the fore, and Baldini doesn’t rely on breakneck tempos or slashing accents to impart vigor. 

Watts meets the challenge of Baldini’s airy take on Figaro’s overture with a highly personalized reading of Susanna’s “Deh vieni, non tardar.” After an unhurried, finely detailed recitative, the aria moves gently, solo winds curling lyrically above the shapely plucked bassline. The performance is altogether warm and welcoming, and Watts takes particular delight in the final page, where her long-breathed lines allow a gorgeously blooming high A. 

The soprano brings a darker sound, with bite and urgency to “Padre, germani, addio!,” the intense opening to Idomeneo in which the captive Trojan princess Ilia laments her situation. Watts registers spite and anger, along with conflicting feelings of love and horror, each time she repeats “e un greco adorerò” (and shall I now love a Greek?).

There is nothing coy or syrupy about Watts’s Zerlina, and both “Batti, batti” and “Vedrai, carino” showcase her beguiling phrasing and simple, lovely sound. “S’altro che lacrime” from La Clemenza di Tito is similarly captivating, while “Appena mi vedon chi cade, chi sviene” (As soon as they see me, one falls, another faints) lets Watts explore the humor in Serpetta’s flirtatious aria from La Finta Giardiniera with  textual alertness and quicksilver articulation. 

Fiordiligi’s “Per pietà, ben mio, perdono” from the last act of Così Fan Tutte seems just a bit too heavy vocally for Watts, although after so many shorter aria forms it’s a pleasure to hear a full-scale, grand, formal Rondò. As in every selection, Watts’s intelligence, style and musical command shine through, and the playing, especially the solo horn (unnamed), is exemplary. —Judith Malafronte

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