Haydn, Joseph

SpezialeFranz Joseph Haydn - Lo Speziale

Théâtre Artistic Athévains, 2012 | Andrée-Claude Brayer, Anne-Marie Lazarini, Jean-François Chiama, Karine Godefroy, Laurent Herbaut, Xavier Mauconduit, L’Orchestra-Studio de Cergy Pontoise | Paris, 29 February 2012

It isn’t often that you get the chance to see a rarity like Haydn’s Lo Speziale performed. Haydn’s thirteen Italian operas, completed during his term as court composer to Prince Eszterházy at Einsenstadt, were eclipsed in their own time by the brilliance and inventiveness of Mozart’s comic operas, and that sadly remains the case today. Who is going to put on a production of an obscurity like Lo Speziale for a few hundred people when you can draw the crowds with another Marriage of Figaro?

Well, how about a small French theatre company in Paris’s 11th Arrondissement? The Théâtre Artistic Athévains has previous experience in this field with a production of Cimarosa’s Secret Wedding and Haydn’s Lo Speziale offers not only an opportunity to put on a lively work of 18th century comic music-theatre, but it also comes with a libretto written by the great Venetian dramatist of the time, Carlo Goldoni. A dramma giocoso per musica, Lo Speziale is not a particularly complex drama, and it has to be said, not a particularly witty one either, but, as with the recent Opéra Liège production of another rare Haydn work, La Vera Costanza, there’s a lot that can be brought out through performers who are able to find the necessary comic rhythm of the piece.

It makes it slightly easier to do this and do it moreover in a small theatre, when there are only four characters in the opera, a consequence of Goldoni’s libretto being trimmed, probably by the original tenor Carl Friberth who played the role of Sempronio, cutting back any serious content in the work to make it a purely comic piece. Essentially then, the drama revolves around the battle for the hand of Grilletta, a young woman under the tutelage of Sempronio, a Venetian speziale, a homoeopathist specialising in the production of medicinal herbs and spices, but also perfumes, tinctures for paints, wax for candles, paper and inks. Grilletta has a number of admirers, among them (as far as this version is concerned), Sempronio’s young apprentice Mengone - who is secretly engaged to the young woman - and Volpino, one of his customers. The master speziale however has designs on marrying Grilletta himself.


The comic content inevitably involves lots of trickery and donning of disguises as each of the suitor seeks to gain the upper hand, regardless seemingly of Grilletta having any choice in the matter. Mengone and Volpino turn up disguised as notaries with high-pitched voices at one point and put their own names on the certificate of marriage instead of Sempronio, but their ruse is soon discovered. Eventually Volpino tricks Sempronio with the offer of a commission in Turkey, donning another disguise and making another play for the hand of Grilletta, but having made up their differences, Mengone and Grilletta take advantage of Volpino’s plan, dressing as Turks and getting Sempronio to give his blessing to their union.

Much of the success of making this farce work is down to the performers and the musicians entering into the lively spirit of it all, and that’s achieved here wonderfully through Anne-Marie Lazarini’s stage direction working hand-in-hand with the musical direction of Andrée-Claude Brayer. The six musicians of the Orchestre-Studio de Cergy-Pontoise are placed on a Venetian bridge that overlooks the small piazza of the speziale’s shop, the stage simply decorated but brilliantly evocative of the colours and light of Venice. The musicians interact with the performers in small but entertaining ways, making it look like their rehearsals and playing forms part of the everyday life in the little district. It’s a simple touch, but effective in allowing a rhythm to develop between the music and the singers.


And it’s all about the rhythm. It may seem like a simple farce, but the pace and rhythm are essential to make a dramma giocosa like Lo Speziale work well and that was delightfully evident in the production. The singers - Jean-François Chiama as Sempronio, Karine Godefroy as Grilletta, Laurent Herbaut as Volpino (the role changed from a trouser-part down to baritone for this production) and Xavier Mauconduit as Mengone - also clearly recognised that this is by no means an opera seria and accordingly not a work for high-flown individual expression (arias are relatively restrained and shorn of repetition), but one that works collectively, and the interaction between them was perfect. Appropriately handled then as a light and refreshing entertainment in a lovely intimate environment away from the big Parisian opera houses, Lo Speziale is a rare opportunity to see a little-known Haydn work in a delightful production. Performed in Italian with French surtitles that catch the spirit of the original language, it runs at Théâtre Artistic Athévains (www.artistic-athevains.com) until 29th March 2012.

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.


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.


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.

LunaJoseph Haydn - Il Mondo della Luna

Theater an der Wien, 2009 | Concentus Musicus Wien, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Tobias Moretti, Bernard Richter, Vivica Genaux, Dietrich Henschel, Christina Landshamer, Anja Nina Bahrmann, Maite Beaumont, Markus Schäfer | Unitel Classica - C-Major

This 2009 production of Haydn’s Il Mondo della Luna for the Theater an der Wien, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt for his 80th birthday celebrations, is a treat for anyone interested in seeing rarely performed opera of quality and distinction, and seeing this particular ‘dramma giocoso’ done playfully and intelligently with respect and understanding for the material.

It’s understandable that some would rather see a faithful period production of the 1777 opera, but there is nothing in Il Mondo della Luna that is period specific or anachronistic in a modern setting. While the one notable event is the fact that man has in the meantime now walked on the moon, its mysteries remain. Those mysteries are delightfully exploited by Ecclitico and his friend Ernesto, the two of them wishing to marry the daughters of Buonafede, while Ecclitico’s servant has designs on his maid, the rather formidable Lisetta. They plan an elaborate scheme to trick the old man into believing that they have transported him to the moon in order to show him the foolishness of his ways and turn his outdated ideas about women against him.

The world on the moon, it transpires, is the mystery of the workings of women, who the opera playfully labels “lunatics”, their behaviour strange, mercurial (to mix planetary metaphors), inconstant and inconsistent. It’s a subject evidently that is as contemporary now as it was then, or even when Mozart tackled the subject somewhat later in a similarly humorous manner in Così Fan Tutte (or even perhaps The Magic Flute, to which Il Mondo della Luna feels like a closer relative).

Appropriately, the drama and singing are low key, with no grand exhibitions of vocal virtuosity, the performances rather delicate, modest, playful and charming, each of the singers however all getting their moments in the spotlight in an opera that is principally made up of a running series of arias with short recitative in-between (although there is one beautiful duet towards the end, ‘un certo ruscelletto’). The staging is modern and just a bit too glittery, but it uses technology well without ever contradicting the libretto or the intentions of the drama. The craft of the staging is impressive, a revolving stage, imaginative props and some minor acrobatics keeping the action fluid and always interesting.

The technical aspects of the Blu-ray are faultless - the 16:9 image clear and sharp in a 1080i transfer, the sound mix available in LPCM stereo and DTS HD Master-Audio 5.1 giving a good stage to both the orchestration and the singing. A 25 minute Making Of featurette is included and is of particular interest for a good interview with Nikolaus Harnoncourt.