For the opening of the 50th season of Mostly Mozart, you had to guess Jane Moss and the folks at Lincoln Center had something pretty special planned (other than this command performance, of course). So it was last night at David Geffen Hall, when Music Director Louis Langrée led the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and nine of today's leading singers in "The Illuminated Heart": a 90 minute selection of arias and ensembles from Mozart's operas commissioned by Lincoln Center and billed as a world premiere.
In his astonishing 30 year career - which began when he was 5 - Mozart wrote a total of 21 operas, many of which have never left the repertory. Last night's performance drew from seven of these operas: from Zaide, written when Mozart was 23, to The Magic Flute, completed two months before his death in 1791. Taken as a whole, it was a remarkable testament not only to Mozart's enduring genius, but also to the depth of his humanity. As director Netia Jones writes in the program:
"The Illuminated Heart traces fragmented moments of human emotion and interaction in these vivid works - the moral obscurity and exposure of human failure and heartbreak, alongside displays of the greatest strength and resilience...We see the composer in the context of the 18th-century Enlightenment, while also recognizing his characters in ourselves."
Jones argues that Mozart's moments of emotion and enlightenment reach their fullest expression in the hands of great singers, who were not in short supply last night. Indeed, it seemed as if someone had dug a tunnel underneath the plaza for the express purpose of stealing over the best members of Met roster, several regarded as among today's leading Mozart singers: tenor Matthew Polenzani, sopranos Ana María Martinez and the riveting Christine Goerke, and Peter Mattei, whose astonishing baritone boomed all the way to the back row of Geffen.
But, there were also several startling new discoveries. British baritone Christopher Maltman sang powerfully as both Papageno in The Magic Flute and the title character in Don Giovanni. Soprano Nadine Sierra stunned with a tender aria from Mozart's rarely-heard Zaide. And Kiera Duffy showed off her prodigious acting chops in the pants role of Cherubino from Marriage of Figaro. Rounding out the cast were the impressive up and coming mezzo-sopranos Marianne Crebassa and Daniela Mack.
The performance began with the famous overture to Figaro, played with energy and brio by Langrée and the Festival Orchestra. Appropriately enough, it ended with the ensemble Finale of the same opera, bringing back onstage all of the singers to send us off with a joyful reminder of precisely why we keep coming back to Mostly Mozart, year after year, for the past half-century.
"Friends, lovers, to dance, to play,
set off the fireworks!
And to the sound of gay music
let us all run to celebrate!"