The truth about love, Barbican, London

"Tell Me the Truth About Love": Zoë Wanamaker made the request on behalf of WH Auden at the start of this lively "journey through Mozart's operas" in the Barbican's Mostly Mozart festival. The responses were many and varied. The Auden, for instance, was met with anxious questions from Cherubino, the oversexed page-boy from The Marriage of Figaro. And speaking of raging hormones, Simon Russell Beale then proffered a letter from the young Mozart suggesting that infatuation and marriage were somewhat confused in his mind, prompting Papageno and Pamina to contemplate domestic bliss from their different perspectives in the delicious Act I duet from The Magic Flute.

It was that sort of evening – poetry and song leading us in a gentle dance through the ramifications of a true love that never did run smooth. Mozart understood how fragile a thing it was and the richness of his response ensured that for the best part of 20 musical numbers he never once repeated himself. Whoever put together this entertaining confection – and I am assuming it was Ian Page of the Classical Opera Company – made shrewd choices. The juxtapositions were deliciously apt. How touching to have Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 – "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day" – segue into Tamino's first glimpse of Pamina's portrait, "Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd". Andrew Kennedy seemed almost to replicate in his singing the unvarnished truthfulness of Russell Beale's speaking.

Credit, too, should go to Katija Dragojevic, who caught well Cherubino's breathless palpitations, and Klara Ek, who got to sparkle in the high-wire soprano numbers. Oddly disappointing was Garry Magee, whose colourless singing hardly matched his swarthy appearance, though he did raise a laugh as Nardo from La finta giardiniera.

No question about the star turn, though. Rebecca Evans negotiated the prodigious vocal and emotional hurdles of "Per pieta" from Cosi fan tutte with still, sure, artistry, notably shadowed by the natural horns of the Orchestra of the Classical Opera Company. Mozart doesn't make it easy for anyone – except us, of course.

Comments