Watch behind-the-scenes footage and cast interviews
As someone who has never felt entirely comfortable having my diary fixed more than a few months ahead, it might seem strange that I should choose to undertake a project which is going to take the best part of two decades to complete. But the opportunity to embark on a complete recording cycle of Mozart’s operas with Classical Opera, in collaboration with Linn Records and Bärenreiter-Verlag, Kassel, is one which it never even crossed my mind to challenge or reject.
Sir Peter Hall once said that his idea of paradise would be to be perpetually rehearsing Mozart’s operas, and the advantage which recording shares with rehearsal is that, unlike in live performance, if you’re not happy with something you can just do it again.
For so many musicians, myself included, Mozart feels like home. I remember my first proper encounter with The Marriage of Figaro, as a shy and inexperienced rehearsal pianist for British Youth Opera. Although I don’t think I’d ever even listened through the piece before then, not properly at any rate, I had this curious feeling that I’d always known this music, that it had always somehow been in the air waiting to be noticed and befriended.
This does not, of course, mean that it is easy music to perform. I always recall Arthur Schnabel’s axiomatic observation that 'Mozart is too easy for children, too hard for adults', and each time I return to one of the Da Ponte operas it is with a sobering sense of 'How did I miss this, or not understand that, when I last conducted it?'.
This is actually rather a positive feeling, for it protects us against becoming too self-satisfied or over-confident. To perform Mozart’s music well you have to tap into the core of your own compassion and vulnerability. Otherwise – rather miraculously – it just doesn’t work.
For me, one of the most exciting and inviting aspects of our complete Mozart cycle is that only about a third of his stage works are well-known and firmly established within the repertoire. This is in spite of the fact that he is widely held to be the greatest opera composer in history. There are understandable reasons for this. The three Da Ponte operas and The Magic Flute may seem fairly indestructible (though how often do they receive genuinely sensitive and revelatory productions?), but many of the operas, particularly the early ones, are practically impossible to bring off successfully without period instruments, an intimate venue and a cast of intelligent, imaginative and well-schooled singers. Even now I still find the gulf between a good and a bad performance of Idomeneo or La clemenza di Tito extraordinary.
To make a qualitative comparison between the works of Mozart’s childhood and great operas of his maturity is of course to miss the point; as with Shakespeare’s plays, even the least outstanding of Mozart’s operas contain extraordinary things that no one else could have done. The early operas provide a fascinating and important context for the later ones, and Apollo et Hyacinthus, the work with which we begin our series, provides a particularly apt example of this.
The opportunity to record Mozart’s complete operatic output, and to share such an enticing journey with as many listeners as care to come with us, is one which fills me with excitement, even if I will need to find myself a rather longer-term diary system.
Classical Opera’s recording of Apollo et Hyacinthus, the first in their Complete Mozart Cycle, is released on Linn Records on May 14, 2012. The launch concerts are at St George’s Bristol on May 11 and Cadogan Hall, London on May 14, and the programme also includes Mozart’s first symphony and three early concert arias.
See www.classicalopera.co.uk for details.
Watch behind-the-scenes footage and cast interviews on the Gramophone Player below: