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In Review > North America

Illuminated Heart

NEW YORK CITY
Mostly Mozart Festival
7/25/16

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Daniela Mack, Christopher Maltman, Nadine Sierra, Peter Mattei, Ana María Martínez, Matthew Polenzani, Christine Goerke, Marianne Crebassa and Kiera Duffy in Mostly Mozart's opening night performance of The Illuminated Heart, conducted by Louis Langrée
Photos by Richard Termine
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Goerke and Langrée
Photo by Richard Termine
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Mattei
Photo by Richard Termine

THE ILLUMINATED HEART, the “theatrical fantasy” that opened Mostly Mozart’s fiftieth season on July 25, left divided reactions. British designer-director Netia Jones created pleasant video-driven stage pictures, in front of which nine well-outfitted singers—some of them among the world’s Mozartean élite—performed some wonderful Mozart arias and ensemble pieces. From that point of view, it was a pleasant, occasionally witty amuse bouche to the weeks of Mostly Mozart programming ahead. Yet for all the great music and (largely) great singing, the evening seemed rushed and insubstantial. Leading an orchestra seated in the area of the (cleared) first few rows of David Geffen Hall, Louis Langrée took too much at relentlessly fast a clip, starting with a not especially well-rehearsed Nozze di Figaro overture. The most popular and well-known operas predominated: the da Ponte trio and Zauberflöte. We heard two of the most frequently performed selections from Clemenza di Tito. Granted, one doesn’t often hear the splendid Idomeneo quartet “Andrò ramingo e solo” or Elettra’s final (confabulated) recit and aria at concerts. But otherwise, the only real rarity was Zaïde’s lovely “Ruhe sanft,” sung with feeling and beautiful tone by Nadine Sierra. Given that the summer’s schedule also features concert performances of Così and Idomeneo, mightn’t this program have explored gems from works like Mitridate and Apollo et Hyacinthus?

Well lit by Andrew Hill, Jones’s projected scenery opted for one or two iconic elements to connote each opera: framed butterflies (Nozze), blue sky and clouds (Così), etc. Throughout, the images resembled festival brochure pages more than playing spaces. We saw the very high-end equivalent of a conservatory scenes program, with nary a moment to breathe or think between a strong, well-articulated “Parto, parto” (French mezzo Marianne Crebassa, an incisive artist with real vocal presence) and Matthew Polenzani’s lovely, expertly decorated “Dalla sua pace.” Polenzani here proved anew his command of head voice; elsewhere, he managed remarkably to project cleanly Ferrando’s endless marathon phrases in Così'sfirst finale, despite Langrée’s insane pace. Polenzani’s Idomeneo—coming to the Met this season—exuded musical authority. 

The other truly outstanding performers—not least for their gravitas in recitative, virtually the only psychology on display in this very image-driven evening—were Peter Mattei and Ana María Martínez. The Swedish baritone, in terrific, fluid voice, showed total technical and interpretive mastery in Count Almaviva’s duet with Susanna (the charming Sierra) and testing aria. His exquisite “Contessa, perdono” found eloquent response in Martínez’s sculptured legato phrases. The Puerto Rico-born soprano also showed herself a fiery, rock-solid Donna Elvira in “Mi tradì,” sung with rare command of a wide range and scrupulous taste in appoggiature. 

Christine Goerke’s Elettra, thrilling in scope and dramatic projection despite some spiky high runs, raised the hall’s temperature palpably. The rising, gifted Sierra, still maturing, approached her music through the sonorous but stylistically anachronistic lens of bel canto phrasing. Argentine mezzo Daniela Mack, in her New York debut, showed fine tone and style as Dorabella opposite Martínez’s clarion Fiordiligi in “Ah, guarda, sorella,” the first finale and the sublime parting trio—here joined by Mattei, who—unlike many Alfonsos—could really sing his music. Kiera Duffy impersonated an energetic Susanna during the Nozze overture; while she sang pleasantly, she only appeared in the Così first act finale and in the Nozze finale ultima. Christopher Maltman’s plebeian voice suited Papageno’s entrance; his pawky Champagne Aria evoked an overparted Masetto. Billed as lasting ninety minutes, the intermissionless gala spectacle took only seventy-five, no doubt so that major donors didn’t have to wait long to sit at the festively laid upstairs lobby dinner tables. —David Shengold 



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