Nélida Nassar 12.22.2015
Together and for the first time, siblings countertenor Matteo El-Khodr and jazz singer Riwa El-Khodr took on the stage at St-Elie Church in Beirut. Matteo proved that this past year only strengthened the brilliance and his own confidence in the unique instrument that he has. The two baroque arias Vivaldi’s Motetto di natale: Clarae Stelle and the Gloria: Qui sedes ad dexteram parties that he performed clearly reaching high into the upper register of his voice. He had slight trouble with the soaring notes, but clearly enjoyed himself as he spun off melodic lines.
Matteo took the rest of the Christmas carols in a dynamic range which left one feeling as if all six were cut from rather the same cloth. Riwa, decidedly nervous, started so abruptly and without definition that the duo felt more like two individuals performing parallel to one another without ever truly connecting. Matteo did not seem well-prepared while his charisma and theatricality were intact. His secure, bright falsetto was especially evident in the Adeste Fiddles and the Ave Maria where he sounded outlandish, at the others he seemed light, compensating with ornamentations and embellishments. The quartet of soloists and the orchestra performed harmoniously their polychoral compositions.
However, things took a downturn between the twosome when problems of ensemble, balance and homogenity were coupled with lack of textual clarity from Riwa and a lack of stylistic understanding from both throughout. The duo did not consistently find common tempi, and there was a lack of stability – both in terms of pace and articulation – throughout phrases and some very un-stylistic vocal scooping made it clear that this repertoire was not an ideal choice for the pair. There really is nothing that can replace old-fashioned preparation, and I look forward to hearing both of these artists another time, when they have more opportunity for it.