Vera CostanzaFranz Joseph Haydn - La Vera Costanza

Opéra Royal de Wallonie, Liège 2012| Jesús López-Cobos, Elio De Capitani, Federica Carnevale, Andrea Puja, Arianna Donadelli, Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani, Cosimo Panozzo, Elier Munoz, Gianluca Margheri | Live Internet Streaming - 31 January 2012

Watching this delightful production by the Opéra Royal de Wallonie in Liège of a rarely performed 1779 opera by Franz Joseph Haydn, a romantic comedy of amorous and unfaithful aristocrats mixing with the lower classes, it’s difficult not to be reminded of several of the works of Mozart – a contemporary of Haydn – and it’s inevitable that one is going to drawn to make comparisons. The verdict is never going to be in Haydn’s favour, but living in the shadow of Mozart has always been Haydn’s fate, the genius of the younger man recognised and admired even by Haydn himself. Taken on its own terms however, particularly when viewed in such a production that gets right to the heart of the wonderful interplay between the music and the drama, La Vera Costanza has much to recommend.

Commissioned as Kapellmeister to Prince Eszterházy, the composer in residence at the family’s palatial Einsenstadt residence, was something of a blessing and a curse for Haydn. Coming from a humble background, the post gave Haydn the security and freedom to compose some great works, but he and those works remained largely out of the eye of the Viennese public, many of them created in isolation for the entertainment of the Eszterházy court. As a consequence of this arrangement, Haydn never developed the kind of dramatic or musical instinct of someone like Mozart, who – to his cost – refused such kept positions, but by the same token Haydn never had the opportunity to work with a librettist of the quality of Lorenzo Da Ponte, or with material as explosive and revolutionary as that of Beaumarchais.

La Vera Constanza doesn’t perhaps then have the satirical bite of Mozart’s best work in this genre – The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni or Così Fan Tutte – but it can hold its ground to rather more lightweight and conventional treatment of questions of romantic constancy and fidelity as they are played out in something like Die Entführung Aus Dem Serail, Hadyn’s work having more than its own share of beautiful arrangements and charming melodies that are characteristic of the composer. The plot of La Vera Costanza is certainly dramatically contrived, opening with a conventional storm and gratuitous shipwreck that brings the Baroness Irene and her party to the fishing village of Rosina and her brother Masino. The Baroness wants to put an end to an improbable romance between the humble fisherwoman, Rosina and her nephew the Count Errico, and plots to marry her off to the Villotto, who is fabulously rich, but rather ugly and foppish. She is unaware however that Rosina and Errico have already been married in secret, but that he has now abandoned her, without knowing that she has had a child by him.

Costanza

The opera then reveals these ties across the course of its three acts, with stirring emotional journeys along the way where the fidelity and love of one or other of the parties is doubted and agonised over, and with a few additional complications thrown in by the machinations of the Baroness, her consort Ernesto – a noble who wants to marry the Baroness by winning her favour – and by Villotto. Even Errico, doubting the fidelity of the woman he has abandoned, at one point plots to have Rosina murdered by Villotto, only to immediately repent when appraised of her true constancy (“la vera costanza”) by the maid Lisetta. There are no great surprises in other words, it’s all laid out in a conventional manner, set to lovely arias and musical arrangements, and all the complications are eventually ironed out without feathers getting overly ruffled.

The approach to the staging under the direction of Elio De Capitani then is best summed up in a brief interview given during the Internet live-streaming broadcast by assistant director, Clovis Bonnaud. When asked whether the class satire of the opera had any relevance to today, his response is a straight, emphatic and unelaborated, “No”. La Vera Costanza is not the kind of opera then that bears up well to reworking or modern revision – it’s firmly of an old tradition, written as an entertaining diversion and nothing more. Here, at Liège, it looks like, is dressed like, and plays like a colourful pantomime, with attractive set designs that transforms beautifully in Act II to a forest for Errico to be an Orpheus rescuing his Eurydice, and imaginatively uses drops of the Baroness’ forged letters to “tie the knot” again between Errico and Rosina, who have seen through them. It all looks lovely, perfectly suited to the material and the singers clearly have a lot of fun with it, falling into the rhythm measured by conductor Jesús López-Cobos that dictates their movements, gestures and delivery.

Costanza

It helps also that the cast are almost entirely made up of fresh, new, young singers and this kind of opera gives them the perfect opportunity to test their ability, gain experience and show what they can do, and all of them enter fully into the spirit of the piece. It’s an opera that is designed to showcase individual talents, each of the principals given the opportunity to deliver charming arias, but there’s nothing too demanding or extravagant. Some trims to remove excess repetition helps also to make the piece work for a modern audience. The opera was very well-sung and performed at Liège, Federica Carnevale in particular singing Rosina’s arias with heartfelt sincerity and charm, Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani’s bringing a sympathetic touch to the otherwise fickle Errico, with Gianluca Margheri enlivening proceedings and presenting a good sense of comic timing in his singing and performance as Villotto. As with another recent production of a rare Haydn opera – Il Mondo della Luna – it just shows how well a youthful freshness and vitality can serve these kind of little-known and somewhat out-of-fashion works.

La Vera Costanza was broadcast live on the Internet from the Opéra Royal de Wallonie in Liège on 31 January 2012 and rebroadcast from 10th – 12th February 2012. The next free live internet broadcast from the opera house is a rare early Rossini opera, L’Equivoco stravagante on Tuesday, February 28, 2012.  See the Opéra Liège live web page for details.