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Robert Levine, August 2009

This 1990 performance from the jewel-box, Drottningholm Theatre in Sweden is one of a series of Mozart productions the venerable, perfectly preserved, 450-seat, 18th-century theatre has become famous for. Played on period instruments and presented using stage machinery as it would have been used 200-plus years ago, these performances are invariably fleet, honest, and without any modern-production interpretations. Indeed, Mozart would have recognized the style and purpose of the productions, and probably would have been pleased.

Arnold Östman is a conductor devoid of sentimentality, and his orchestra plays superbly, with timpani thwacking away, reeds biting, strings attacked firmly. The painted flats and costumes are colorful and atmospheric (Carl Friedrich Oberle is credited), true to the period and “Turkish” location and feeling. Christina Hörnblad’s direction is straightforward operatic—plenty of hand-to-heart gestures and melodrama, but it’s never campy and the singers are all poised and graceful actors.

The only internationally known singer in the cast is Richard Croft, who performs Belmonte about as well as I’ve ever heard it. His tender singing is sweet and heartfelt, his breath control and use of dynamics superb. Even the very difficult third-act “Ich baue ganz”, with its endless runs, is successful, and Croft partners his Konstanze graciously in their duets. Konstanze is Aga Winska, a soprano with all the notes, firm coloratura, and plenty of temperament. The voice is not truly lovely and she occasionally sounds at the end of her tether, but she gives a fine performance.

Elisabeth Hellström’s Blonde is properly pert and sassy, and only the very highest notes give her trouble (Östman’s fast tempos in her first aria almost invite failure). Bengt-Ola Morgny is a good enough Pedrillo and the Osmin of Tamas Szüle may lack the big bottom notes, but he has everything else and does not act the fool. Emmerich Schäffer is a suitably dignified and scary Pasha. In brief, this set may not be a grand showcase for star singers, but it presents Mozart’s great Singspiel energetically, convincingly, and thoroughly musically.

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