Edinburgh Fringe 2012
The Impresario is a relatively unknown and little performed piece from Mozart. But this was a more than competent staging by Oliver Zeffman involving Melos Sinfonia and four singers complete with a brand new English libretto.
Mozart’s The Impresario was composed specifically for an evening of entertainment being hosted by Emperor Joseph II of Austria in early 1786. Mozart collaborated on his contribution to the festivities with Joseph Gottlieb Stephanie, perhaps better remembered as the librettist for Mozart’s Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail.
The premise of the play, believed to have been suggested by Emperor Joseph himself, concerns an actor, Buff, and his boss Frank (the impresario) and their attempts to assemble a company of actors for a production in Salzburg. The sopranos, Madame Herz and Mademoiselle Silberklang vie for the position of prima donna, whilst the tenor (in this case Buff) attempts to mediate.
This production sees an entirely new libretto by Sebastian Freeburn and Oliver Zeffman, who also conducted the piece. It keeps to the original storyline but shifts everything forward by 200 years or so to the present day. All the non-singing characters have been cut, reducing the cast to the two sopranos, Buff as the tenor and Frank as the bass.
Orchestral support was provided by Melos Sinfonia, the brainchild of Oliver Zeffman and consists of players from leading music schools and conservatoire. Most of the players are alumni of the National Youth Orchestra, London Schools Symphony Orchestra and Pro Corda and produced that quintessential Mozart sound with a nice balance of strings, woodwind and brass.
Staging was simple but effective and costumes ranged from the elegant (the two prima donnas), dapper (Buff) to the positively flamboyant (Frank, The Impresario). The libretto sometimes lacked sparkle but this was probably more due to the writers trying to stay true to Stephanie’s original story than any lack of acting prowess on the part of the performers.
Musically, this was a well-performed piece with Nazan Fikret (Mme Herz) quite outstanding in her delivery bar perhaps one or two troubled moments of breath control in her opening aria. Victoria Atkinson (Mlle Siverton) had a pleasing tone to her voice but unfortunately lacked strength, particularly in her lower register which meant she rather struggled to be heard in the trio with Herz and Buff. The latter role was sung with panache by the talented Bradley Smith with Samuel Carl (Frank) delivering a cameo bass part during the finale. The short run has now come to an end but I am sure we will hear more from this talented ensemble.