Manuela Dumfart, Olga Privalova, Thomas Hansen
Arias, Duets, Trios from Mozart’s Operas

Semper-Aula, ETH Zurich, 2016-12-06

3-star rating

2016-12-10 — Original posting


Concert @ ETH, 2016-12-06: Josef Wallnig, Manuela Dumfart, Olga Privalova, Thomas Hansen (© Rolf Kyburz)
Concert @ ETH, 2016-12-06: Prof. Josef Wallnig, Manuela Dumfart, Olga Privalova, Thomas Hansen (© Rolf Kyburz)

Introduction

The concerts that I have attended so far in the context of “Musik an der ETH“, in the Semper-Aula (located the main building of the ETH), included piano and duo recitals, as well as string quartet concerts. This concert was outside that scope, with three singers and an accompanist at the piano. The event appeared under a double label: for one, as a Christmas concert, and secondly, as concert commemorating Mozart’s death 225 years ago (on the preceding day, to be accurate — Mozart died on 1791-12-05).

Given the unusual nature of this concert, I’m going to deviate from my usual scheme of discussing a concert work-by-work, in favor of a more general, summarizing approach:


The Artists

All three singers studied at the Mozart Opera Institute of the Mozarteum University, Salzburg:

Manuela Dumfart, Soprano

Manuela Dumfart grew up in Oberösterreich (Upper Austria). She first studied at the private Anton Bruckner Private University for Music, Drama and Dance in Linz (the local capital), then at the Salzburg Mozarteum, with Barbara Bonney and Josef Wallnig. Since 2008, when she completed her education, she is pursuing a successful international opera career.

Olga Privalova, Mezzosoprano

The mezzosoprano Olga Privalova originates from Lithuania. Art the Mozarteum Salzburg she studied with Martha Sharp. Later, she attended master classes with Barbara Bonney and Angelika Kirchschlager. She made her first opera appearance 2005 in Salzburg, and since she has successfully launched an international opera career.

Thomas Hansen, Baritone

Obviously not Thomas Hampson, not the late Norvegian country singer Thomas Hansen, nor the Danish soccer player with the same name — Thomas Hansen was born 1989 in Italy. He began his vocal studies 2008 at the Conservatorio “Niccolò Paganini” in Genova, then continuing his education at the Conservatorio Rossini in Pesaro, where he studied with Danusa Luknisova. Since 2012, Thomas Hansen is studying at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg. He concluded his bachelor studies in 2014 (with Boris Bakow), and now he is doing his master studies at the same institution, with Karoline Gruber and Kai Röhrig. He is starting a career as opera singer right now (which is why he is hard to find on the Web!).

Prof. Josef Wallnig, Piano and Moderation

Em. Univ. Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Josef Wallnig was born 1946 in Salzburg, where he started his studies as conductor. He has been assistant to Karl Böhm for many years, pianist-accompanist (Korrepetitor) at the Vienna State Opera, conductor (Kapellmeister) at various opera houses in Austria and Germany. In 1980 he became professor for opera interpretation at the Mozarteum Salzburg, for many years he was director of the Opera Department, and he founded the Mozart Opera Institute in that institution.

In this concert, Prof. Josef Wallnig eloquently commented the pieces that were performed, and he did the accompaniment at the piano. Thanks to his in-depth experience as a teacher, it was both a very instructive, as well as a very entertaining evening!


The Compositions

All compositions performed in this concert were by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791). Most of the pieces were from four key operas in Mozart’s oeuvre (“Don Giovanni“, “Le nozze di Figaro“, “Die Zauberflöte“, and “Così fan tutte“, see below). In addition, the artists added arias that Mozart added to his operasat a later point, or which he later removed from the score. Finally, the artists added three Notturni (for three singers), pieces that are heard rarely in concert. Here, I’m just listing the pieces (all of these were accompanied by Prof. Josef Wallnig at the piano):

Canzonetta (Notturno) “Più non si trovano“, K.549

This is one of six Notturni that Mozart has written. This one (originally for soprano, alto, and tenor, with the accompaniment of 3 basset horns) was written 1788. The text is by Pietro Metastasio (1698 – 1782).
Manuela Dumfart, Olga Privalova, Thomas Hansen

Opera “Don Giovanni“, K.527

1787, libretto: Lorenzo da Ponte (1749 – 1828)

  • Fin ch’han dal vino calda la testa, aria, Don Giovanni (act 1, scene 3)
    Thomas Hansen
  • La ci darem la mano, duet, Zerlina – Don Giovanni (act 1, scene 3)
    Manuela Dumfart, Thomas Hansen

Opera “Le nozze di Figaro” (The marriage of Figaro), K.492

1786, libretto: Lorenzo da Ponte (1749 – 1828)

  • Voi che sapete”, aria, Cherubino (act 2)
    Olga Privalova
  • Al desio di chi ch’adora, aria, Susanna, K.577 (composed 1789)
    Manuela Dumfart
  • Un moto do gioia, aria, Susanna, K.579 (composed 1789)
    Manuela Dumfart
  • Hai già vinta la causa!Vedrò, mentr’io sospiro, aria, Conte Almaviva (act 3)
    Thomas Hansen

The two extra arias (K.577 and K.579) are normally not performed. Mozart added them for a revival performance in 1789, in order to adapt to the voice of the soprano in that production. K.577 was to be used in lieu of the aria “Deh vieni” (act 4), and K.579 was to be used in lieu of the aria “Venite, inginocchiatevi” (act 2).

Concert-Aria “Alma grande e nobil core“, K.578

This is a concert aria in B♭ major, for soprano and orchestra (2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns and strings), on a text by G.A. Palomba, first performed at the Burgtheater in Vienna, 1789.
Olga Privalova

Lied “Abendempfindung an Laura“, K.523

This is the only piece in this concert that was performed in the original setting, for soprano and piano. Mozart wrote it 1787.
Manuela Dumfart

NotturnoMi lagnerò tacendo” for two sopranos and bass, K.437

This is another one of Mozart’s six Notturni, composed around 1783. As with K.549 (see above), the text is from “Siroë” by Pietro Metastasio (1698 – 1782). This one is written for two sopranos and bass, with the accompaniment of 2 clarinets and basset horn.
Manuela Dumfart, Olga Privalova, Thomas Hansen

Opera “Die Zauberflöte” (The Magic Flute), K.620

1791, libretto: Emanuel Schikaneder (1751 – 1812)

  • Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja, aria, Papageno (act 1, scene 1)
    Thomas Hansen
  • Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen, duet, Pamina – Papageno (act 1, scene 2)
    Manuela Dumfart, Thomas Hansen

Opera “Così fan tutte“, K.588

1790, libretto: Pietro Metastasio (1698 – 1782)

  • Una donna quindici anni, aria, Despina (act 2, scene 1)
    Manuela Dumfart
  • È amor un ladroncello, aria, Dorabella (act 2, scene 3)
    Olga Privalova
  • Prenderò quel brunettino, duet, Fiordiligi – Dorabella (act 2, scene 1)
    Manuela Dumfart, Olga Privalova
  • Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo, aria, Guglielmo, K.584 (removed from the score)
    Thomas Hansen
  • Il core vi dono, duet, Dorabella – Guglielmo (act 2, scene 2)
    Olga Privalova, Thomas Hansen
  • Soave sia il vento, trio (Terzett), Fiordiligi – Dorabella – Don Alfonso (act 1, scene 1)
    Manuela Dumfart, Olga Privalova, Thomas Hansen

Encore — Notturno “La Partenza” (Ecco quel fiero istante), K.436

The artists closed the evening with another one of Mozart’s 6 Notturni, “La Partenza” (Ecco quel fiero istante), K.436, composed around 1783, for 2 sopranos and bass, accompanied originally by 3 basset horns. Also this Notturno is based on a  text by Pietro Metastasio (1698 – 1782).
Manuela Dumfart, Olga Privalova, Thomas Hansen


The Performance

One should not underestimate the challenges of such a “small aria evening in front of a small audience”:

Basic challenges

  • Unlike on stage, there is virtually no distance between the singers and the audience. This makes the artists (feel) much more exposed.
  • That gives the audience a closer view onto the vocal abilities of a singer. In the case of opera music, this also really reveals whether a singer can “fill” a role, or—in exaggeration—whether (s)he is “just pretending”: the distance of an opera stage can often mask some of the weaknesses of a singer or actor.
  • With the exception of the Lied K.523 and of the Notturni, all pieces in this concert were written for orchestral accompaniment. A piano can only be a poor substitute for an orchestra, even with a good / experienced accompanist. Combined with this:
  • Mozart composed these pieces within a greater context, into an overall dramatic flow, where one piece leads to the next, up to the end of the act, or the opera. It is impossible to generate the inherent tension / “draw” when performing isolated pieces from a stage work.
  • Often, such arias associate with some stage action. The singer may use some gestures to indicate such action. However, in a concert, these possibilities are limited, and some arias don’t work particularly well when performed like a Lied. The exception to this are concert arias, such as K.578.
  • The singers have certainly done some rehearsing in the venue prior to the concert. However, the presence of the audience alters the acoustics, which forces the artists to (re-)adjust their singing to the acoustics in the live concert.

Specifics to this Concert

  • In addition, some (most) pieces were sung in front of the piano, but others were sung from the podium, behind the piano. Switching between these two settings requires adjusting the volume, possibly also the articulation.
  • On top of that, the artists in this concert certainly can’t yet be called “seasoned”. They have some stage experience, but coping with the above challenges may take them a little more time—and a conscious effort—than artists at the top of their career.

The Singers

I see my comments on individual singers as relating to the above challenges:

Manuela Dumfart, Soprano

From the point-of-view of volume and projection, Manuela Dumfart appeared to have the biggest voice among the three. I saw her as an outgoing, open character, immediately establishing contact with the audience. In the first Notturno, however, she used a fairly heavy vibrato, more suited for Wagner than for Mozart (note that the singers performed this Notturno on the podium). She also used too much volume, hence dominating the ensemble. I also found her voice in K.523 too dramatic for such an unpretentious piece, and K.427 (the second Notturno) seemed to confirm my impressions from the first one. In “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen“, I found her voice too heavy, and she should have taken back the high / peak notes: these easily stand out anyway.

However, over the course of the evening, she must have realized that much less of an effort is far better for this venue / setting: by the time of the encore, the final Notturno, she seamlessly integrated into the ensemble. In that last piece, there is a pp segment where she sings a little ornament in a short solo, all sotto voce—to me, that turned into an enchanting, magic moment, the highlight of the evening!

Olga Privalova, Mezzosoprano

At the very beginning of the concert, Olga Privalova appeared rather inconspicuous, almost shy, overwhelmed by the voice of the soprano. However, already in her first aria, “Voi che sapete”, she opened up, presented herself much better, and revealed a very nice, natural, well-balanced voice, with a good “ping” and projection. Also in terms of acting, she turned out more outgoing over the course of the concert. She really opened up in “È amor un ladroncello“, not just in her voice, but also in her gestures and acting: very nice! Also, in “Prenderò quel brunettino“, she harmonized very well with Manuela Dumfart.

Thomas Hansen, Baritone

Even though Thomas Hansen acted well, made use of gestures and mimics to liven up his singing, it was clear that he has less stage experience than the two other singers. Also his voice still needs (and sure will get) some further development. The advantage, though, was that he never dominated the other voices. Even though not a huge voice (yet) in volume, Thomas Hansen has a natural vibrato and a warm timbre. In his defense, I should state that Papageno’s aria “Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja” clearly is a piece for tenor. Thomas Hansen’s baritone voice appeared too heavy for this aria. The tempo (and the aria) appeared too fast for his voice.

Ensemble

As illustrated above, the initial ensemble pieces weren’t particularly well-balanced, the voices not well-adapted to each other. However, by the time of the last two trios, “Soave sia il vento“, and the NotturnoLa Partenza“, the singers had coalesced to a nice, harmonious, even homogeneous ensemble.

Accompaniment: Josef Wallnig

Prof. Josef Wallnig is an excellent, eloquent presenter. At the same time, he definitely also is a very experienced accompanist, looking back to thousands of hours of rehearsing and accompaniment. He effortlessly played his scores while watching and partly guiding the singers. However, as mentioned, the best piano accompaniment can’t replace an orchestra, nor can it establish the dramatic context, the flow of a live stage production. Wallnig’s prime function here was, to support the singers in their performances—and that he did well.


Conclusion

Even though the concert was (aptly, though) “just Mozart”, it turned out to be an interesting and entertaining, in the end even atmospheric event—very well worth attending!



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