Opera + Classical Music Reviews

The Classical Opera Company / Zazzo @ Wigmore Hall, London

21 September 2011

‘Happy shades’ indeed – these little glimpses from the pre-teen and teenage years of the greatest of all opera composers, are well worth bringing into the light when they’re performed like this, with the Classical Opera Company’s enthusiastic commitment and Lawrence Zazzo’s passionate advocacy.

The showpieces of the programme were, understandably, the two arias from Mitridate, re di Ponto which was Mozart’s first big operatic success, just a few weeks before his fifteenth birthday. Both ‘Venga pur, minacci e frema’ and ‘Già dagli occhi il velo è tolto’ express the sort of extremes of emotion which present challenges to any singer – in the former, the character is fulminating against his father, and in the latter he is undergoing a sea-change in his whole approach to life – and Lawrence Zazzo rose to most of them. He sings with forceful confidence, very much in the Deller-ish, ‘I’m a counter-tenor: live with it’ style, always bringing the drama of the lines to life, even if, in the process, that means sacrificing some beauty of line.

Beauty of line was very much to the fore with Ian Page’s directing of the orchestra; the sound he gets out of this relatively tiny band, crammed onto what is essentially a recital platform, is especially remarkable for its clarity, sonority and quality of phrasing. Mozart’s 10th Symphony and the D major one which may or may not have been by him, are hardly repertoire staples, but here they sounded not only fresh but sufficiently beguiling to be heard again, especially in the final movement of K81.

There is obviously a special rapport between this singer and orchestra, most finely shown in the wonderful aria ‘Al mio ben mi veggio avanti’ from Ascanio in Alba, the opera which prompted the composer Johann Adolph Hasse to say of Mozart “This boy will consign us all to oblivion”. I don’t share the view that Zazzo is the “king of countertenors” since that title is already taken, but he’s certainly a prince among them, as he showed most convincingly in his encore, Handel’s exquisite ‘Yet Can I hear That Dulcet Lay’ – despite a few shaky notes here and there, this was as eloquently, and sometimes daringly, performed as the arias in the main programme.

The Classical Opera Company has some enticing events coming up, especially a concert performance of Il re pastore at Kings Place on November 11th and 12th; the soloists here include Sarah-Jane Brandon and Thomas Hobbs, both of whom Ive praised highly in their postgraduate performances at the RCM – the soprano also features in a Wigmore concert on January 30th, when she will sing Mozart arias including ‘Dove sono’ with the composer’s 40th symphony also in the programme. The COC seems to have got it just right with the philosophy of nurturing young singers whilst cultivating some starry names and presenting imaginative programming.

Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org

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