Lawrence Zazzo, Wigmore Hall

As I commented in my review, the recital
amply demonstrated his declared intention to “push the envelope in terms
of what countertenors can do” not just in terms of “different
repertoire or singing higher, but showing that you can give a rounded
performance that’s acceptable on all different levels”.

On this occasion, Zazzo, accompanied by Ian Page and the Classical Opera
company, returned to the more familiar countertenor ‘territory’ of
the late-eighteenth century, while retaining an idiosyncratic twist by
focussing on Mozart’s youthful, and lesser known, operas and concert
arias from the 1770s.

Following a crisp performance of the brief Intrada from Apollo and
, composed when Mozart was just eleven years old, Zazzo opened
with ‘Iam pastor Apollo custody greges’ from this same opera, in
which Apollo appears before the King and subjects of Laconia to reassure them
of his favour and willingness to protect them. Dressed as a shepherd, the god
is modest and unassuming, and Mozart’s vocal lines have a fitting grace
and simplicity. Though he sang with assurance and control, I felt that Zazzo
did not always capture Apollo’s quiet dignity, although his technical
finesse was apparent in the more elaborate melodies of the aria’s second

Indeed, while Zazzo undoubtedly possesses a natural and engaging
theatricality, dramatic impact is sometimes achieved at the expense of vocal
beauty and formal grace. In the first half of the recital, his voice seemed at
times a little unyielding, the phrasing rather rigid. In the 1776 concert aria
‘Ombre felice … Io ti lascio’, in which Alsace bids farewell to
his wife, the accompanied recitative was enlivened and dynamic, but though
penetrating, the necessary contemplative quality was sometimes absent from his
subsequent reflection that they may never meet again.

The sentiments expressed by Farnace in his aria ‘Venga pur, minacci e
frema’ from Mitridate, re di Ponto, were more suited to
Zazzo’s musical temperament. Vowing to defy and overthrow his father, the
King of Pontus, the duplicitous Farnace reaches fiery emotional heights as he
whips up a fierce and furious storm of resentful pride. With breathless
excitement, Zazzo captured in music the vitality upon which the dramatic
situation hinges; the demanding coloratura proved no problem and was employed
as a natural, forceful expression of the aria’s emotion.

After the interval two arias from Ascanio in Alba,‘PerchË
tacer degg’io?’ and ‘Al mio ben mi veggio avanti’, were
delivered with greater eloquence and with a keen appreciation of the overall
musico-dramatic structure of each number. The extended recitative which
precedes ‘PerchË tacer degg’io?’ in which Ascanio vacillates
impulsively between frustration and adoration, was particularly impressive, and
led into an outpouring of uninhibited passion and joy.

Returning to Mitridate, re di Ponto to conclude the performance,
Zazzo revealed how much the dishonourable Farnace has been transformed by his
experiences in an eloquent interpretation of ‘Vadasi … Gi‡ dagli occhi
il velo Ë tolto’, in which Farnace repents his misdeeds. The relaxed
central section was especially relaxed and sincere.

Handel’s delicate ‘Yet can I hear that dulcet lay’ from
Handel’s The Choice of Hercules was a beautiful and moving
encore; Zazzo shaped the phrases expertly and conveyed deeply affecting

The concert also featured two lively symphonies, which may or may not be the
work of the teenage Mozart, but certainly indicated a burgeoning individuality.
Ian Page drew committed and incisive playing from the Classical Opera Company
Orchestra in K.74, striving for energy and textural clarity, although I felt
that the dynamic contrasts were sometimes over-emphasised, diminishing the
overall fluency and elegance. Moreover, while the small forces accompanied the
soloist sensitively, in the instrumental works the two horns were inevitably a
little exposed. Despite this, in the second of the two symphonies performed,
they produced some sweet, sustained pianissimos. In the Italianate
K.81, the violinsts sparkled, especially in the thrilling first movement, the
rushing motifs of which fully display the piquant musical imagination of the
young prodigy.

Claire Seymour


W. A. Mozart:

Intrada and ‘Iam pastor Apollo custodio greges’ from Apollo
et Hyacinthus
‘Ombre felice … Io ti lascio’ K.255
Symphony No. 10 in G K.74
‘Venga pur, minacci e frema’ from Mitridate, re di Ponto
‘PerchË tacer degg’io and ‘Al mio ben mi veggio avanti’
from Ascanio in Alba K.111
Symphony in D K.81
‘Vadasi … Gi‡ dagli occhi il velo Ë tolto’ from Mitridate, re
di Ponto

image_description=Lawrence Zazzo [Photo courtesy of Harrison/Parrott Ltd]
product_title=Lawrence Zazzo, Wigmore Hall
product_by=Classical Opera Company. Conductor: Ian Page. Countertenor: Lawrence Zazzo. Wigmore Hall, London, Wednesday 21st September
product_id=Above: Lawrence Zazzo [Photo courtesy of Harrison/Parrott Ltd]