Sweden Gala Concert, Dala Floda Opera Festival: Paulina Pfeiffer (soprano), Jeremy Carpenter (baritone), Dalasinfoniettan / Marie Rosenmir (conductor), Gagnef Church 11.8.2019. (GF)
Just as last year the Dala Floda Opera Festival ended with a grand finale, a gala concert in the beautiful Gagnef Church, which has a long history going back to the late 13th century. Acoustically it is a bit overly resonant, which tends to muddle orchestral details, and tutti passages can be rather thunderous. Not even a full church puts a sufficient damper on this resonance, which effects the spoken presentations as well. In spite of these limitations, the concert still offered a satisfying musical experience; there was excellent singing and playing.
The programme was built around Mozart and his music with some added works by other composers, all with some connection to Mozart. It was a pity there was no room for information about that other music, nor to give some clues about the operatic numbers that were performed. Not all the arias and duets were probably well known to the majority of the audience.
It opened with the ever fresh overture to Le nozze di Figaro in a swift and vivacious reading, impeccably played. It made me remember what the witty Sir Thomas Beecham once said about the tempo for this piece: it should ideally take as long to play as it takes to boil an egg. With that in mind, one feels that Marie Rosenmir probably prefers her eggs rather runny. This was followed by two arias from the same opera: first the Countess’ sad first aria ‘Dove sono’ sung beautifully and with emotion by Paulina Pfeiffer and then her husband’s agitated aria from the third act, ‘Hai già vinta la causa’, sung with suppressed wrath by Jeremy Carpenter. Paulina has been a longstanding favourite at the festival for many years, while Jeremy was new to the festival but has well known from several performances at the Royal Stockholm for almost ten years.
Joseph Martin Kraus was a true contemporary of Mozart’s, they were born in the same year and Kraus survived the Salzburg master by just one year. For a number of years, he was active in Sweden and left a legacy consisting of a large number of valuable works, including a dozen symphonies. The overture to Olympie, a tragedy by Johan Henric Kellgren, was written shortly before his death. Back to Mozart and Elettra’s aria from Idomeneo, an opera that has never reached quite the same popularity as his other mature operas. The reason for the relative neglect is that it was written in the old opera seria style, which today seems outdated, and yet it contains a wealth of great music, this aria being one of the greatest, which must have touched even those who had never heard it before, in particular in Paulina’s intense reading. Better known is of course the lovely duet ‘La ci darem la mano’ from Don Giovanni, in which the Don almost manages to seduce the innocent Zerlina. Both artists acted well and Jeremy left the stage with a triumphant smile. However many of us in the audience knew that Donna Elvira appears in the next scene and saves Zerlina.
Tchaikovsky was a great admirer of Mozart and the most obvious proof is his 4th orchestral suite, commonly known as the Mozartiana. It was written in 1887 as a tribute to Mozart in connection with the 100th anniversary of the premiere of Don Giovanni. There are four movements, and the second is a minuet, based on a brief piano piece, K. 355. The Köchel number indicates that it was probably written about 1780 but it is more likely a much later piece, possibly from 1789.
The final number before the interval was one of the most wonderful arias Mozart ever wrote, ‘Non più di fiori’ from his last opera, La clemenza di Tito. Here the soprano is partnered by a clarinet or a basset horn. The latter is in the original score but I do not know which instrument Jonas Viklund played, only that he played it marvellously well. And Paulina was the Vitellia of one’s dream.
The French composer Jacques Ibert (1890 – 1962) was also an admirer of Mozart and his Hommage à Mozart was composed in 1955, in time for the 200-year Mozart celebration in 1956. It was an attempt to show what it would have sounded like if Mozart had been alive and written it himself. As always, Ibert’s music is charming, elegant and colourful but not very deep. Played as well as Dalasinfoniettan did it is an attractive showpiece. After that it was time for a duet again, and a charming piece it is, the duet from Die Zauberflöte featuring Papageno and the girl he of his dreams, a feathered Papagena. Visually Jeremy (in tails) and Paulina (wearing a gown) did not conjure up these lovebirds, but vocally they lived up to our expectations, Paulina making her entrance through the aisle of the church.
Zaide is an unfinished opera by Mozart that his wife Constanze found several years after his death. There is no overture, no finale, and no dialogue or recitative so no one knows what the story is about, but the seventeen musical numbers he finished are first class. A soprano aria is quite often heard in recitals but here we were treated to Allazim’s bass aria, excellently sung by Jeremy.
An overture by someone named Martinez probably perplexed the audience and there should have been some explanation in the programme or elsewhere. The person in question was a Marianna von Martines (1744 – 1812), a singer, pianist and composer. The family name is derived from her paternal grandfather, who was a Spanish soldier and settled in Naples. The family became friends with the poet and librettist Metastasio who lived with them, and Marianna and her sister inherited his belongings when he passed away, including his harpsichord and musical library, and for several years they hosted musical soirées in their home, where many celebrities were their guests, among them Joseph Haydn and Mozart. The latter also composed four-hand piano sonatas to perform with Marianna. The overture is a pleasant piece in the traditional style of the time.
In conclusion, two great arias from Così fan tutte were on the programmme: Fiordiligi’s ‘Come scoglio’ with its wide range, forcing the soprano down into the basement, excellently negotiated by Paulina, and the aria ‘Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo’. It was written for Guglielmo’s role, but Mozart subsequently thought it too long for the opera, since he wanted the action to flow, and replaced it with another aria. Mozart scholar Alfred Einstein has said that it is the greatest buffo aria ever written, and it happens now and then that it is performed as a part of the opera. I totally agree with Einstein’s view and Jeremy made the most of it. The ovations were, if not exactly tumultuous, very heartfelt, and Paulina and Jeremy had an encore up their sleeve, the enchanting duet ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen’ from Die Zauberflöte. A wonderful finale to a wonderful concert.