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

Mozart – Zaide
(semi-staged with interludes from Thamos, King of Egypt)


Concerto Koln/Louis Langree

Peter Sellars – director

The Barbican Hall – 6 July 2006


Zaide – Hyunah Yu

Gomatz – Norman Shankle

Allazim – Alfred Walker
lima n – Russell Thomas

Osmin – Terry Cook



This production described Zaide as “an anti-slavery opera for the 21st century” and the first half hour of the proceedings was devoted to talks by Peter Sellars, Aiden McQuade of Anti-Slavery International and Denise Marshall of The Poppy Project, reminding the audience that the evils of slavery and human exploitation are very much a current issue. Sellars' semi-staging, across the front of the platform, echoed the sombre mood and effectively took us into a sweat-shop garment factory with the workers forced to sleep on the floor under their work benches and sewing machines, and where lethargy and violence are part of every day life.


Mozart started to write the opera as a speculative venture and he abandoned it when it became clear that no commission for it was forthcoming, but in the process he made his sole experiment with a peculiar genre known as melodram or melologo. Words are declaimed against a musical background which supplies the emotional tension – it was popularised by Franz Benda in a drama entitled Medea which Mozart had attended in Mannheim . Zaide has a short melodrama at the beginning of each act, though somewhat perversely the words of the first of these were dropped and just the orchestral music played. This would have been declaimed by Norman Shankle (Gomatz) who voice sounded rather out of sorts on this occasion, with a tendency to swallow the ends of his phrases.


The second act melodram belongs to the slave master, Soliman, and Russell Thomas gave it a really gutsy performance hurling out the words “ O Verraterei!” (Oh treachery). Terry Cook also made very decent work of Osmin's laughing aria, whilst apparently enjoying a piece of fried chicken.


Hyunah Yu looked suitable vulnerable in the title role. She gave a charmingly lyrical account of Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben (the only well known aria in the work), and her Trostlos schluchzet Philomele had a distinctly birdsong like tone, but she lacked the weight of voice required for Tiger! Wetze nur die Klauen .


The real vocal honours went to Alfred Walker (Allazim), who displayed a distinctive ringing tone and commendably clear diction. His programme biography lists Telramund (Lohengrin) amongst his repertoire and I would not be surprised to find other Wagner roles following.


The dialogue for Zaide has not survived*, and the gaps were filled by extracts from Mozart's incidental music for Thamos, King of Egypt, composed in the same year. Whilst adding little to the drama, these certainly gave the orchestra a chance to show off its sparkling virtuosity, driven by Louis Langree's incisive conducting.


Serena Fenwick




* See also Zaide/Kroper at Arosa: (Zaide libretto rediscovered by Andreas Kröper)






© Peter Grahame Woolf