Deutsche Grammophon’s projected cycle of the mature Mozart operas, with Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, is central to Rolando Villazón’s efforts to reinvent himself as a Mozart tenor. Villazón and Nézet-Séguin are the two constant factors in the seven recordings, which are to be based on concert performances given each summer at Baden-Baden. The first set, of Così fan Tutte, appeared two years ago; a Don Giovanni followed last autumn, and the fourth instalment, Le Nozze di Figaro, will be recorded next week.
If the Festspielhaus at Baden-Baden, the largest opera house in Germany, seems an odd place to choose for recording Mozart, then on the evidence of this Entführung neither Nézet-Séguin nor Villazón is an obvious point of reference for such a project, either.
The impression of the whole performance is of something old-fashioned which, the odd desultory vocal ornament apart, could have been recorded 40 or 50 years ago. There’s a bouncy enthusiasm to Nézet-Séguin’s approach, with its wide, dynamic contrasts, but not a great deal of subtlety, though the COE is its usual cultivated and alert self. The inclusion of a fortepiano continuo, which can only rarely be heard behind the weight of the modern strings and wind, seems tokenistic, especially with voices placed as far forward in the recording as they are, though the acoustic is consistent, and for once the spoken dialogue seems to belong in the same acoustic as the rest of the performance, with Thomas Quasthoff taking the purely speaking role of the Pasha Selim.
Villazón is Belmonte, but neither his sound nor his style is really plausible. It’s all very generalised, and often he could be singing Verdi rather than Mozart, with coloratura that is laboured, and tone that seems alternately nasal and curdled. The sense of style that’s missing in Villazón’s singing is emphasised by the other tenor, Paul Schweinester as Pedrillo, and especially by Diana Damrau as Konstanze, but Anna Prohaska is a disappointingly anonymous Blonde, and Franz-Josef Selig a surprisingly lightweight, rather unmenacing Osmin. Alongside the best performances already in the catalogue, whether traditional (conducted by Karl Böhm, say, or Colin Davis) or historically aware (William Christie or John Eliot Gardiner), this new version doesn’t begin to compete.