Mozart. The Supreme Decorator
with Diana Montague, Elizabeth Futral and Majella Cullagh
The Hanover Band
Charles Mackerras, conductor
Opera Rara, 2005
The marvellous recording Mozart. The Supreme Decorator is not only an occasion of musical pleasure, but to explore one of the most common practices of the XVIII century, to write down the embellishments and decorations of the arias requested by the singers, to free them from the anxiety of improvisation and to study them in advance. As conductor Charles Mackerras points out in the booklet, «it is appropriate to look into two aspects of Mozart’s composition which are not usually commented on but which actually give us new insight into the way this great composer’s mind worked. The first will show Mozart ornamenting his own vocal music in order to teach a young singer (with whom he was in love), how he could heighten the expressiveness or the brilliance of an aria by the judicious addition of extra notes, effects and cadenzas. The other aspect of Mozart, which will be shown on this CD, is that of Mozart the Borrower. He was often inspired by another composer’s work and determined to write a composition in similar style. In doing so, he often transformed a quite pleasant and charming original into pure gold, so that it became a work of genius».
The recording offers the comparison between original and embellished version of three arias, two from Johann Christian Bach’s Adriano in Siria (Cara, la dolce fiamma and Non so donde viene) and one from an opera by Mozart himself, Lucio Silla (Ah se a morir mi chiama), in addition to other pieces from Die Entführung aud dem Serail, La clemenza di Tito and two others from J. C. Bach’s opera La clemenza di Scipione. There is also an embellished version for Cherubino’s second aria from Le nozze di Figaro (Voi che sapete), which is intriguing because it makes clear once and for all how Mozart’s embellishments are appropriate and how trivial, artificial and out of place are instead those composed by the now forgotten composer, voice teacher, publisher and impresario Domenico Corri, which are an attempt to the fine and delicate line of Voi che sapete.
Diana Montague, Elizabeth Futral and Majella Cullagh are very good singers and some little imperfections here and there are not decisive when you consider the charm and command with which they face these difficult arias and duets. In the first part of The Supreme Decorator, Futral and Cullagh perform the arias composed for Aloysia Weber (the «young singer» mentioned by Mackerras), while Montague sings only the original version of Cara, la dolce fiamma. Futral is a little colder than Cullagh, but both of them are wonderful and, if Cullagh shows greatest firmness and energy, Futral is appreciable for her kinder approach and her crystalline voice – this is clearer in Non so donde viene, rather than in Cara, la dolce fiamma and in their duet from La clemenza di Scipione at the other end of the album. Later, Futral sings another two arias and in them too she is a little aloof, so that her formidable coloratura does not impress as it should be.
Montague has here her usual expressiveness and solid technique, but Voi che sapete with Corri’s variations is completely corrupted and, even if the singer tries to portray a youthful and unfortunately sophisticated page, she is definitely more enjoyable in the duet with Futral from La clemenza di Tito, where a true Mozartian atmosphere reigns.
Charles Mackerras’s conduction is gorgeous and reveals immediately a fine and experienced interpreter of Mozart. He leads the Hanover Band with taste and precision and obtains from it all the colours he wants. I dare to say that the conduction is the most expressive part of The Supreme Decorator. Mackerras really understands this music and his accompaniment can replace with its vivacious, thoughtful and melancholic character the possible detachment of some of the singers, as it happens, for example, in Marten aller arten. At last, I would like to remember the dreamy duet from La clemenza di Tito, a rather quiet moment after the virtuosity of the previous pieces and the right conclusion for this album.