Friday, 25 June 2010

Zaide/Sadler's Wells

Founded in 1997 the Classical Opera Company specialises in Mozart so it was only a matter of time before it turned its hand to Zaide, Mozart's unfinished opera from 1779. In a nutshell: Zaide is a favourite of a nasty sultan. She makes the mistake of falling in love with a slave. She runs off with him, gets caught and all hell breaks lose until sultan sees the error of his ways.

Composed when he was only 23, Mozart wrote about seventy minutes worth of music set to a German text (his father thought this would play well with Emperor Joseph II who wanted to start a German-language opera company in Vienna) before putting it aside when the commission for Idomeneo came in.

There have been various stabs at reviving the opera ever since but attempts at staging a complete version have been rare, until now thanks to COC's artistic director Ian Page. Cleverly picking other works by Mozart from around the time he wrote Zaide, Page has concocted a finished Zaide with a new English libretto by the poet Michael Symmons Roberts.

Were this a purely musical exercise then Page's experiment would have paid off. The problem though is the spoken dialogue that links the different arias - melodram, a sort of precursor to sung recitative - provided by Ben Power and the opera's director Melly Still. Totally melodramatic in the modern sense, not even the world's greatest actor would have done justice to this clunky sub-comic book text which comes dangerously close to undermining Page and Symmons Roberts' efforts.

It would have been much better - and fairer on the singers - if this role had been taken by a narrator as has been the convention in past. That way the production team would have been spared the audience's embarrassed titters and we could have all got home a lot quicker. The 19 bus is notoriously infrequent at that time of night.

No comments: