Il Re Pastore / Mozart Songs, Kings Place, London

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The Independent Culture

Nothing could be neater or sweeter than the plot of Il re pastore, which Mozart wrote when he was 19.

Alessandro (Alexander the Great) decides to install on the throne of Sidon a shepherd who is unaware of his royal blood; fearing kingship would destroy his happiness with Elisa, the shepherdess he loves, Aminta renounces this title. Meanwhile, exiled princess Tamiri is in love with Alexander's friend Agenore: things get in a tangle and tears are shed, but since everyone behaves frightfully well, all are rewarded with kingdoms.

Londoners did not hear this opera until a performance at St Pancras Town Hall in 1954: as performed by the Classical Opera Company at Kings Place a few hundred yards up the road, it still had a vernal freshness. Under Ian Page's direction, the COC's period band provided the perfect musical backdrop for this concert performance, but the five singers – two tenors and three sopranos – made a beautifully balanced ensemble. Alexander Sprague's Agenore had heroic resonance and Thomas Hobbs infused the part of Alessandro with benign mischief; but the glory of the evening lay in the sopranos. Mary Bevan sang Tamiri with idiomatic grace, and Elizabeth Bailey revealed an instinctive feel for drama as Elisa, but what Martene Grimson did with the part of Aminta – despite being a last-minute stand-in – blew me away. The lustrous beauty of her sound was only part of it: she has a lightness and flexibility of manner which allows her to move from comedy to tragedy and back, in a quintessentially Mozartian manner. Covent Garden should sign her to sing the Countess in Figaro at the earliest opportunity.

The following event in Kings Place's Mozart Unwrapped season was no less pleasant a surprise, with two young singers delivering the pick of Mozart's songs with piano accompaniment and a charming introduction by Roger Vignoles. Soprano Paula Sides shaped "Das Veilchen" (the violet) with exquisite precision, and communicated the pent-up sexual excitement of "Der Zauberer" (the bewitcher) with comic relish; she allowed "As Luise burned the letters of her unfaithful lover" to expand into the resonantly operatic event it is. Meanwhile, Hobbs revealed himself as a supremely accomplished recitalist, with a warm, full tone and lovely ability to sustain a melodic line.

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