Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Mozart Il re pastore


Katie Van Kooten, Ana James and Robert Murray (members of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme) Peter Bronder and Anna Leese

English Baroque Soloists/Edward Gardner

Director John Lloyd Davies

We loved this evening at the Linbury and were glad to 'collect' Mozart's serenata, another small chip off the block by this already experienced 19 yr old composer; "a tactful good-luck card for the young Archduke Maximilian..." (John Lloyd Davies).

It uses a familiar (by then) Metastasio libretto set already by many composers, listed in the comprehensive and uncommonly elegant, advertisement-free black-and-white programme book, a collector's item which counterpoints what we watch on stage. We might have been only intermittently engaged by a replication of its modest 1775 premiere (semi-staged without sets, and doubtless with rudimentary acting) but the music does flower in some of the numbers.

John Lloyd Davies (designer and director) packs the evening with ingenious diversions, many of them both witty and charming, and we refute the critically shared belief that he overloads a fragile vehicle. There were many felicities; the remote controlled sheep delighted the audience, why not; Alexander the Great's rostrum speech to the public, with sycophantic applause from his faithful entourage, mirrored exactly the familiar scene as the Leader addresses a Party Conference.

All that was needed was for the cast to develop more confidence and fluency in their expressive gestures, whether dipping their hands in the (real) flowing brook, embracing as if they meant it, and climbing on and off the symbolic Cup of Changing Fortune (which doubled as shepherd's hut) less tentatively; c.f. Toby Spence's climb onto the wobbly olive tree to sing his serenade in The Barber of Seville, and his heavy landing when he jumped down - maybe ROH should engage a gymnast to help their opera singers with the physical theatre now expected of them?

A seal of quality was established by the expert period instrumentalists of the English Baroque Soloists under Edward Gardner (musical director elect of ENO). The young singers enhanced their growing reputations with sound interpretations of their parts, occasional roughness and insecurity easily forgiven.

Of the Jette Parker Young Artists on show, tenor Robert Murray did well in his demanding aria as the loyal diplomat about to lose his love, New Zealander Ana James was admirable as the lover of her shepherd and the simple life, but still treating the coloratura flourishes in her first act aria as exercises. Katie van Kooten (pictured) as the shepherd/king torn between love and duty is a complete artist, with gorgeous voice and already able to treat coloratura as integral to expression.

Are we too naive to be helpful to opera-buff readers?

Or are reviewers of the "nationals" so jaded and sated with wall-to-wall Mozart in this commercialised anniversary year that they vie with each other to be patronising towards John Lloyd Davies, Head of Opera Development for ROH2 ?

(Rupert Christiansen in the Telegraph "Let's leave birthday-boy Mozart's juvenilia where it belongs" can stand for the rest of them.)

See Katie van Kooten's interview in The Independent

Try to see it (heavily booked already) and decide for yourself. Comments welcomed.

Photos of Ana James & Katie van Kooten (Royal Opera House, Johan Persson)

© Peter Grahame Woolf