That is how I characterize the gestalt of the evening of song at the ancient Drottningholm Palace Theatre last Friday evening. The singers were mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter and soprano Elin Rombo. Von Otter graduated from the Stockholm College of Music in 1979; Rombo graduated from the University College of Opera in Stockholm in 2003. So there is an age difference of approximately 35 years between these two performers which, I assert, are relevant to said gestalt.
Simply stated, I believe the highly accomplished and internationally successful von Otter offered to showcase the younger woman to those who will attend any concert offered by von Otter, in order that these people become acquainted with her younger colleague.
Consider the structure of the evening:
- It was Miss Rombo who appeared first, and at length, in a reading of Ilias’s opening recitative and aria from Mozart’s opera Idomeneo: “Padre, germani, addio” (“Father, brothers, farewell”).
- Correctly assuming I would next see von Otter on the stage, I was nonetheless surprised and slightly disappointed to see her playing the tenor male role, opposite Rombo’s young female character, dressed in a severe black suit and heavy man’s shoes. I was aware that mezzo-sopranos do play the tenor role in many operas of the period so I quickly adjusted to this reality. Von Otter, a consummate actress, moved so masculinely (certainly non-femininely), she emphasized by contrast the feminine beauty and grace of her counterpart, Miss Rombo. Von Otter sang the aria “Venga pur, minacci e frema” from Mozarts’s opera Mitridate, rè di Ponto, written at age 14.
- Three more arias from Idomeneo ensued, with superb singing by both sopranos in their respective feminine and masculine roles.
The intermission came at this point and I was hoping next to see von Otter playing the role of a woman, as she is quite beautiful to my eye. But no, after the intermission came several recitatives and arias from Gluck’s Orpheus and Euridice in which, once again, von Otter played the tenor role in male costume, except that she wore no shoes! Neither did Miss Rombo in her role.
The curtain briefly dropped to allow the performers to prepare for a final recitative and song together, from Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte: Sorella, cosa dici? and Prenderò quei brunettino. I was grateful that for the ending songs von Otter was in the role of a woman, Fiordiligi, older sister to Miss Rombo’s Dorabella. Both characters were youthful, lively, and playful, emphasizing to me the wide range of Miss von Otter’s acting capabilities.
After the performers, including the conductor and symphony members (about which more below), took their bows, the audience loudly indicated their need for an encore. So once again von Otter reverted to the tenor role, barefoot in black suit. I don’t know the name or composer of the tender duet we received as the encore, but it was rendered as between two young lovers quietly recounting their love of each other, and of life.
So we who were previously unacquainted with Elin Rombo now know her and will watch with great interest the growth of her career and repertoire, just as we have for Anne Sofie von Otter who remains at the top of her profession.
The Drottningsholm’s Court Theatre Orchestra and their conductor, Mark Tatlow, were warmly received by the audience and the two soloists. It is instructive to see that 25 instruments in an orchestra are enough to bring Mozart and other composers successfully to ear of the aficionado.
Post publication bonus: the Drottningholms Slottsteater has published the following two images from the performance in their blog.