Countertenor Matteo El-Khodr Artfully Weaves The Sacred and The Profane

Nélida Nassar   04.29.2016

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Matteo El-Khodr was back in his native town Beirut to serve up a selection of arias dubbed as a lyrical musical journey. It started with 17th century Neopolitan airs interspersed by two mass excerpts “Esurientes” from Bach Magnificat and “Agnus Dei” from Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle. It was followed by a couple of German lieder by Schumann and Schubert with a finale of 18th century French melodies.

The singer is in his vocal prime leaned as much on his voice as on the projection of his personality and presence. El-Khodr richly beautiful countertenor tone was plump and melodious. He sang with purity of tone, pointing words and dramatic situation with potent economy of means.

The four short concert arias by Caldara, Scarlatti, Pergolesi and Stradella made a fine impression and warmed up the concert’s opening. The major pieces de resistance were Bach’s “Esurientes” followed by the substantial “Agnus Dei” from Rossini’s rarely heard Messe Solennelle. Here El-Khodr coloratura more than usually consistent, and phrases serenely floated with beautiful articulations and modulations.

Schumann “In der Fremde” from Leiderkreis and Schubert’s “Gretchen am Spinnrade” were a continuous and calm flow of remarkable clarity and vocal fluency. The singer conveyed the lied balance found between words and music, a fine absorption into the music of the sense of the words. He succeeded in reproducing and producing every effect beyond the voice line; together he emphasized the expression of the finer details of the poems.

El-Khodr then trundled through his party pieces, Victor Hugo’s poem shortened to few stanzas “Adieux de l’hotesse arabe” and Carmen’s “Prés des remparts de Séville” both by Bizet followed by Délibes’s “Les Filles de Cadix” all with the requisite sparkle and élan.

The program if artfully wove the sacred and the profane, spirituality and love, salvation and louche sexual promise was to be a miscellaneous mixing to have complete coherence. However, El-Khodr had with him, every step of the way, the supportive and enhancing collaboration of the Kurdistan-Irakien Boran Zaza at the piano. During “Adieux de l’hotesse arabe” in particular the piano’s seductively writhing ostinato cradled a vocal line which swooned and swayed on the desert sands in the most sultry fashion. Its sound was of utmost elegance, candor and subtleties in the Shubert. Handel’s “Lascia chi’s pianga” from Rinaldo was dramatic and full of vivid emotion. A young undiscovered group of four soloists Olga El-Kik, soprano; Marianne El-Kassis, mezzo-soprano; Charbel Kadi, tenor and Fadi Khalil, bass infused the vocal numbers with intelligent and charming accounts of Rossini’s and Bizet’s tunes.

A concert that in prospect looked like a sure-fire Easter cracker, bursting with goodies and novelties, exploded its contents in a fiery climax, with Gounod’s “Ave Maria” leaving a wonderful balm and resonance in the air. Despite the church being filled at only the eighth of its capacity, the net effect was positively riveting and the audience duly awarded the countertenor, the pianist and the four soloists an enthusiastic standing ovation for their performance.

Saint Joseph Church
Monot Street
Beirut, Lebanon