Rolando Villazón Sings Mozart in London.


   Rolando Villazón sings Mozart.Rolando Villazón (tenor), Kammerorchester Basel, Florian Donderer (concertmaster). Cadogan Hall, London 6.5.2014. (JPr)


Overture to Lucio Silla, K.135
‘Per pietà, non ricercate’ (K.420)
Two Marches in D, K. 335 (K.320a)
‘Si mostra la sorte’ (K.209)
‘Misero! O sogno – Aura, che intorno spiri’ (K.431 [K.425b])
Symphony No. 38 in D (Prague) – first movement
‘Va, dal furor portata’ (K.21 [K.19c])
Symphony No. 38 in D (Prague) – second movement
‘Dove mai trovar quel ciglio?’ (Lo sposo deluso, K.430 [K.424a]) – realisation by F. Beyer, based on fragments of Mozart’s original score)
Symphony No. 38 in D (Prague) – third movement
‘Or che il dover – Tali e cotanti sono’ (K.36)


A ‘Seen and Heard’ colleague, Sarah Hucal, recently reviewed Rolando Villazón’s stopover in Berlin (review),  one of the dates on a European tour to publicise his recent Deutsche Grammophon CD release of Mozart Concert Arias with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Antonio Pappano. From the vastness of the Berlin Philharmonie he arrived at the more intimate surroundings of London’s Cadogan Hall that can hold 900 people. Unfortunately, for what was ultimately a very pleasing evening of rare vocal and not-so-rare instrumental works by Mozart, the hall was not completely full. I suspect this was due to two reasons: primarily the very high ticket prices (rising to £65) and the long-advertised prospects of the strike on London’s Underground network that in the end never happened.

In 2010 Rolando Villazón was at the Royal Festival Hall for two concerts, early that year there was a poorly received evening when he was singing Handel arias but he later returned on much better form to celebrate the music of his homeland, Mexico (review). In London at that time his profile was high because of appearances as judge and mentor on ITV’s short-lived Popstar to Operastar celebrity show. Recently he was the genial presenter of an entertaining documentary on BBC Four: ‘Mozart in Prague: Rolando Villazón on Don Giovanni’. In that programme he strolled through Prague carrying a cane topped with Mozart’s head and it reappeared on the Cadogan Hall platform for the third and final encore that was a joyous patter-song by Mozart, ‘Clarice cara mia sposa’ (K.256). This involved vocal contributions from two of the musicians supporting him and the overall joy of performing by all concerned brought almost the entire Cadogan Hall audience to their feet and their standing ovation was a very happy ending to the evening.

The tenor is obviously continuing his recovery from a career-saving operation on his vocal cords and has returned to opera, notably with his on-going Baden-Baden Festspielhaus project for DG to record Mozart’s seven best-known operas and with well-received performances as Lensky for the Metropolitan Opera. Even if he could not sing a note he has such an engaging personality that he probably would succeed in whatever field of entertainment he chose. By saying he looks funny I mean this in this in the best possible way and if you look at the cartoons on Villazón’s own website it is clear he appreciates this himself.  I have written before how his appearance is ‘quixotic’ and with his wide eyes, dark bushy brows and curly hair he is a cross between Mr Bean and Harpo Marx. More importantly he retains a genuine ability to communicate to his audience the meaning of everything he is singing.

Mozart’s concert arias were written either when he was precociously young, or for a soprano he was in love with, or perhaps to insert in one of his – or another composer’s – operas; or written for operas that Mozart never finished. They appear to be either reflecting on cruel fate, terrible danger and what duty demands, or gracious beauty and the breezes that carry the sighs of the lovelorn, etc. etc. Many begin with accompanied recitatives in a typically florid style, and then the arias repeat short lines of text over pages and pages of music. Villazón did his very best to be always responsive to bringing some variety to the words he was singing regardless how many times they were repeated such as the four lines about Sigismund in ‘Or che il dover’ (written for a Salzburg archbishop in 1766) that increase in intensity each time.

It was not the tenor’s fault that after a time it seemed that all Mozart’s ardent arias – including his earliest vocal piece ‘Va, dal furor portata’ written when he was just 9 – all sounded rather the same, as do his comic arias represented by ‘Dove mai trovar quel ciglio?’ (in the official musical programme) and two light-hearted and high-energy encores, ‘Con ossequio, con rispetto’ (K.210) and the aforementioned ‘Clarice cara mia sposa’. It was during ‘Con ossequio, con rispetto’ that Villazón lost his way (for the only time) and began again after endearingly admitting his mistake with ‘I just happened to forget the music … I wasn’t going to make it so obvious!’ His first encore had been a plaintive rendition of Don Ottavio’s aria from Don Giovanni ‘Il mio tesoro intanto’.

Rolando Villazón was well supported by the Kammerorchester Basel, a talented group of about 30 musicians mostly playing a mix of period and modern instruments standing up and often swaying to Mozart’s lilting melodies either when accompanying the tenor sympathetically, or in a few purely orchestral items: the Overture from Lucia Silla, Two Marches in D Major and the three movements (played individually) of Symphony No.38 in D major (Prague). The Kammerorchester Basel under their virtuosic concert master Florian Donderer were as musically fresh to listen to as they were beguiling to watch playing. The Symphony had been first performed in the city it is named after at the height of ‘Figaro mania’ and in London was given a potent, eloquent account – dramatically tense and exuberant when required – by the talented musicians who played throughout the evening with confident assurance, vigour and excitement.

Jim Pritchard

For more about forthcoming events at the Cadogan Hall that is celebrating its first 10 years see

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