Familiar Faust, unknown Mozart and Rolando Villazon

Faust sells his soul to the devil in return for youth and the chance to seduce a young girl. Not a story I have ever had much time for, but Gounod’s operatic version is stashed full of wonderful tunes and the Royal Opera house performance that we heard a couple of weeks ago was full of fizz and beautifully sung with a really well-balanced cast (Joseph Calleja, Bryn Terfel, Simon Keenlyside and Sonya Yoncheva). Sonya was new to us and had a charm and her voice was rich and with an ease over the whole range. I could have enjoyed this opera with my eyes shut as the orchestra, under conductor Maurizio Bernini, was in terrific form.

The evening even had its comic moments. The woman behind us, a newcomer to opera, after watching the alluring male ballet dancer behaving badly with a posse of half-dressed nymphs, and then being symbolically shot, uttered a heartfelt “ni…ice”.

A couple of days ago we attend a contrasting evening in the beautiful and more intimate Cadogan Hall in London. This was a Mozart evening featuring the small Kammerorchester of Basel and Rolando Villazon. The orchestra played on early instruments with a leader but no conductor and they stood (except for cellos and a double bass) throughout the evening. Their verve, accuracy and plain enjoyment were a delight. Beyond all this Rolando sang a series of obscure Mozart concert arias giving everyone, musicians and audience, great pleasure. For a taster visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Shi8n1GFj9E . His voice has deepened and darkened over the years. It remains very warm with plenty of ping in the high notes and conveys tenderness, fury and comic bafflement equally well. Above all his total physical and mental engagement with the music and the audience are, as always, utterly engaging.

No photos? A maple in fresh spring growth.


Villazon on Verdi

Someone at the BBC had me in mind when they commissioned this programme (earlier this evening on BBC4). An hour of Rolando Villazon talking with passionate simplicity about Verdi. As he talked, he interviewed equally passionate conductors and singers about what it is that Verdi gives us that works so well. Verdi cared more about moving his audience than about impressing them. He used not just the notes but the pitch, the timbre of the voice or the musical instruments to convey the emotion in the words. More than anything he wanted us to feel what the characters are feeling. (I may possibly have added some of my own views to this summary). We got to hear excerpts from a select quartet of operas and rehearsal sequences with Rolando.

From the hour that I sat right up against the stage and watched the tension of opera singers in the wings as they prepared to walk on, the sweat and the physical effort they threw into producing both small and great sounds, their exhaustion as they reached the end of the opera, I was hooked. I have followed and sought out many singers, especially those whose repertoire centred on Verdi, and Rolando epitomises all the qualities I love best. He climbs right inside the character, he sacrifices perfection for authenticity, the result is very moving and has an edge because giving everything is a little dangerous. Most of all he brings Verdi to life in the way, I am sure, Verdi would have wished.