In review: Mozart's Obscure Opera + Mass in C Minor Malcolm Cook

In review: Mozart's Obscure Opera + Mass in C Minor

Jenna Simeonov

Thursday night was the first of three concerts to be given by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, programming Mozart's fantastic Mass in C Minor, K. 427, with fragments of two of his lesser-known operas, Lo sposo deluso and Zaide (K. 430 and 344, respectively). Paul Goodwin conducts the TSO, both the Amadeus Choir and the Elmer Iseler Singers, as well as the evening's line up of formidable singers: soprano Hélène Guilmette, mezzo Julie Boulianne, tenors John Tessier and Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, and baritone Gordon Bintner.

The TSO started the night off with the overture to Lo sposo. They played so transparently, never letting loud moments linger and become a wash of sound. The scenes from Lo sposo deluso, or The Disappointed Bridegroom, were the only finished sections of the abandoned opera. The opera felt like a mix of La serva padrona and Don Pasquale, with a blustering baritone who buys himself a bride, and a few overlapping love triangles between his intended bride, his marriage broker and his niece.

Gordon Bintner was spectacular as Bocconio, the groom-to-be. He sang with enormous energy, despite how unforgivingly high the role seemed. He seemed an expert on switching up between his cannon of a full voice to funny patter that imitated a plucked double bass. As the unwilling bride-to-be, Eugenia, Julie Boulianne showed a beautifully rich and warm sound, negotiating huge leaps and clear-as-a-bell coloratura. Her aria sounded to me like a combo of Fiordiligi and Konstanze; very cool, didn't sound easy to sing.

Tenor John Tessier sang Don Asdrubale's aria, in which he sells the sham marriage as something to be desired. Tessier sang it well with a that reedy, open sound you want in Don Ottavio and Tamino. I had expected a bit more Dr. Malatesta in this aria, but I don't know the score or text, beyond the translations provided. The final ensemble number brought in soprano Hélène Guilmette and Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, and it was fascinating to hear a precursor of the Act II Figaro finale.

Hélène Guilmette, Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure, Paul Goodwin, Gordon Bintner, John Tessier. Photo: Malcolm Cook

The Zaide excerpts were lovely to hear. I admit to only being really familiar with Zaide's aria, "Ruhe sanft", which is still a popular choice for sopranos. But it's so beautiful, this music. John Tessier sang Gomatz's aria, which had real suggestions of Belmonte from Die Entführung and Tito's arias in La clemenza di Tito. Hélène Guilmette sang Zaide with agility and lightness, and I was dying to hear more. The final trio included Gordon Bintner, as Allazin, who again sounded fantastic. The writing of the trio was similar to the ensembles in Die Zauberflöte, once again piquing the nerdier side of me.

It was amazing to hear these unfinished pieces of Mozart's work. The Mozartness is always there, with beautifully symmetrical phrases and transparent lines; but I noticed a few awkward endings, too-thick orchestration, and lines for the singers that weren't quite organic to the language (or the limits of human lung capacity). This is one of those concerts I wish I could hear with new ears, so I weren't always inclined to compare new Mozart (for me) to familiar Mozart.

The second half of the concert featured the sections of the Mass in C Minor that were completed by Mozart himself. The Mass was where the women stood out, I thought. Julie Boulianne sang the well-known "Laudamus te", with such stillness it was thrilling. It's a difficult sing, and Julie had already showed us that "mezzo-soprano" is simply a word, with her enormous and easy range. It was a wonderful thing to see a singer so calm and grounded, delivering clean and exciting singing. She also didn't bring her music up with her for this aria; performance practice (and perceived blasphemy) aside, it added to the show of it all. Gorgeous dress, too. Hélène Guilmette did most of her work in the Mass, sounding bell-like and florid in her aria, including an extended and exposed cadenza at the end. The "Domine" was a duet with Hélène and Julie, and the two of them couldn't have blended better. The final Benedictus was thrilling, finally welcoming back Gordon Bintner to fill out the beautiful ensemble.

The Amadeus Choir and the Elmer Iseler Singers sounded clean and powerful, and the TSO, as expected, continued the night with seasoned Mozart playing. It's a great night of music, even if you don't nerd out on the Mozart, obscure and famous. The concert reprises tomorrow night, January 24th at 7:30pm at Roy Thomson Hall, and Sunday January 25th at 3pm, at the George Weston Recital Hall. Click here for tickets and details.



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