OAE/Rattle/Malena Ernman, Barbican, London
Tuesday 13 December 2005
Deputising as half of classical music's charmed couple has to be the one-night chance of a lifetime. When Magdalena Kozena sent in a sick note the day before her concert with Sir Simon Rattle, the window of opportunity opened for the Swedish mezzo Malena Ernman. She made her mark at Glyndebourne two seasons ago, the same year as Kozena. Most of the audience were initially busy being disappointed at the no-show, but it was clear that the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment had warmed to her, and by the end everybody knew why.
Tall and stately, Ernman turns out to possess a disarming smile and a voice that can apparently do anything and become anybody. Items from four Mozart roles, including one of each sex from The Marriage of Figaro, found her willing to try out all she could do.
First was Dorabella from Cosi fan tutte, given a dissection that would have sounded clinical were it not for the impact of the voice's wondrous sound. There was a trick with removing vibrato and a clucking staccato that sounded too calculating for a woman who, in the opera, is supposed to be on the receiving end.
Figaro's Susanna, who gives as good as she gets, took better to the treatment. She appeared in two versions, one in an aria written for a specific virtuoso singer and decked in florid runs and jumps. The other Susanna, in the more familiar "Deh vieni", showed that Ernman does languid as well as speedy. Her constant changes of colour sounded contrived, but arguably contrivance is what Susanna is up to anyway. After the interval, Ernman turned herself into Susanna's would-be lover Cherubino, and her singing became notably more fluent and relaxed.
To end, an aria from La Clemenza di Tito produced long, suave phrases over the agitated accompaniment, swooping down into a voluminous contralto, and a single non-operatic number - the showpiece "Laudamus te" from Mozart's C minor Mass - even managed a kind of echo duet between contralto and mezzo ranges among the bursts of energetic and joyous accuracy.
Rattle topped and tailed the concert with orchestral Mozart and Haydn. The Idomeneo ballet music was bold, bursting with counter-point and taut phrasing. A similar approach would have been just right for Haydn's Oxford Symphony, but the best things here were slow, from the questing introduction to an Adagio with the true Haydn feeling of a song of experience, catching the sense of loss.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Cheeky' Nando's under fire for apparently coming onto a customer on Twitter
- 2 Saudi Arabia mosque bombing: Two volunteer security guards hailed as heroes for stopping Isis suicide bomber reaching worshippers
- 3 Playboy model April Summers speaks out about being a victim of revenge porn
- 4 There is something wrong but very right about this Bible illustration
- 5 iPhone 'effective power' text: how to be safe from iOS bug that lets people crash your phone
Jay Z's Tidal could be about to lose Beyonce's music in ultimate humiliation
Royal Academy of Arts' Tim Marlow: Bronze statue of lovers embracing at St Pancras station is a lesson in 'how not to do' public art
Britain's Hardest Grafter: Petition set up as Twitter reacts to BBC 'poverty porn' series pitting low-paid workers against each other
Britain's Got Talent 2015: Jamie Raven divides Twitter as fans expose mind-boggling magic trick
Big Brother contestant Aaron Frew removed from house for 'inappropriate behaviour' after flashing fellow contestants
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
David Starkey 'tells Amal Clooney to shut up and stop over-promoting human rights'