July 27, 2016

Celebrating 50 years of Mostly Mozart

One sure sign of summer in New York City is the opening of the annual Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center.  Begun in 1966 as "Midsummer Serenades", it was billed as America's first indoor summer music festival promising first class music at affordable prices in a casual setting.  At that time the works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were seldom performed in the United States and this was an opportunity to present the music to a new audience while utilizing the newly built Philharmonic Hall.  The idea was an instant success with an astonishing 54,000 tickets sold in the first season.

Fifty years later Mostly Mozart continues to draw a devoted entourage, not just of concert goers but musicians, singers and dancers who opt to spend their summers in New York performing at this prestigious festival.  And, as Mozart's compositions have become better known and loved by American audiences, the content has diversified to include works by other composers of his genre as well as contemporary music and dance inspired by the master.

The Festival's Golden Anniversary season kicked off on Monday evening with the world premiere of "The Illuminated Heart" a specially commissioned concert composed entirely of arias from Mozart's operas.  Last night I had the great pleasure to be in the audience at David Geffen Hall for the second performance of this concert and was transported for every one of the ninety minutes of music.

Nine world class singers comprising four sopranos, two mezzo-sopranos, a tenor and two baritones, backed up by the outstanding Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra with conductor Louis Langrée on the podium, performed arias from seven Mozart operas.   Chestnuts like "Soave sia il vento" from Cosi fan tutte and the Act IV Finale "Gente, gente all'armi all'armi!" from Le nozze di Figaro alternated with lesser known but equally sublime works such as "O smania! O Furie!...D'Oreste, d'Aice" from Idomeneo and "Parto, party, ma tu, ben mio" from La clemenza di Tito, giving the audience a fabulous snapshot of the range of Mozart's repertoire.

Complimenting the marvelous singing was an inventive semi-staged set by director Netia Jones.  Through the magic of video technology, Ms. Jones transformed an all white set within the stage into a raging sea, a sky filled with puffy clouds, or a row of doors, each with the English translation of the libretto discretely projected onto the rear wall.  The props consisted merely of a white chair, a white ladder and a white birdcage, while the singers were clad in simple but appropriate costumes and gowns that drew both on 18th century tradition and 20th century couture by Charles James.  It was a simple but extremely effective setting for this showcase of Mozart's musical language.

While some critics complained that "the performance didn't teach us anything about Mozart that we didn't already know", I found "The Illuminated Heart" an absolutely magical evening of wonderful music by one of the greatest composers of all time.  Who could ask for anything more?!

No comments: