López Cobos, Jesús


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.

MascheraGiuseppe Verdi - Un Ballo in Maschera

Teatro Real, Madrid, 2008 | Jesús López Cobos, Mario Martone, Marcelo Álvarez, Violeta Urmana, Marco Vratogna, Elena Zaremba, Allessandra Marianelli | Opus Arte

I’m always surprised that the likes of Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball), Stiffelio, Oberto and some other early to mid-period Verdi operas, are not better known and more frequently performed. They certainly have the right balance and full complement of revolutionary plots, illicit liaisons, dire threats of revenge (what’s a Verdi opera without an exclamation of “Vendetta!” somewhere in it?), rousing choruses and good old-fashioned belt-em-out crowd-pleasing melodies and arias. What they lack in sophistication – certainly when compared to later Verdi – they make up for in the pure thrills, sensation and entertainment that are the principal reasons why Verdi’s most famous operas (La Traviata, Aida, Rigoletto) remain popular favourites.

Un Ballo in Maschera (“A Melodrama in 3 Acts”) has all the above criteria in spades. It’s far from sophisticated, it has a revolutionary plot combined with an illicit romantic love and doomed relationships and it has some terrific singing roles for the performers to show their range. It’s the kind of storyline that is laughably ridiculous and wouldn’t work convincingly anywhere outside of an opera stage. But it is an opera, and if it works there (although not everyone will think it does) it’s because Verdi’s propulsive score carries you through the weaknesses with such memorable tunes that you are swept along (humming to yourself) rather than trying to assess the credibility of the drama.

Perhaps surprisingly, the plot is at least loosely based on the real-life assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden, the libretto written by Antonio Somma, based on a work by Eugène Scribe. Un Ballo in Maschera was indeed originally composed as Gustavo III, but the opera was banned by the authorities while it was in rehearsals in Naples in 1858 after the attempted assasination of Napoleon III , as the opera contained a conspiracy plot.  The opera was reworked for Rome with the setting changed to America where Riccardo, the Earl of Warwick, is the English governor of Boston, Massachusetts. His rule is not universally accepted and there is consequently plots brewing for deaths that have occurred under his governance, but Riccardo refuses to let such rumours restrict his movements or his social gatherings. When papers are delivered to him to have a fortune-teller Ulrica banished from the state, Riccardo, out of curiosity, dons a disguise and takes his guests to see her. She also foresees death for Riccardo, and at the hands of a close friend.

You don’t need to be a fortune-teller however, just a familiarity with Verdi operas, to guess that his death will come to pass at the hands of his secretary and best friend Renato, since Riccardo has been seeing Renato’s wife, Amelia in secret. That familiarity with opera conventions will also serve you well as far as swallowing other expositional elements of the plot and the dialogue. “Heavens, my husband!”, exclaims Amelia, when the two secret lovers are in danger of being discovered, and when Renato does start plotting with the conspirators to carry out the deed (“Vendetta!”) at the convenient occasion of a masked ball, the skulk around whispering a secret password so that they can recognise one another. The secret password? “Death!”, of course.

Un Ballo in Maschera is consequently not the kind of opera for modern updating or interpretation, it’s firmly tied into the opera tradition of the period, and accordingly, this production from the Teatro Real in Madrid is a very conservative affair, a period production with stand-and-deliver performances in the Grand Opera tradition. It’s hard to put any real dramatic feeling behind this kind of a plot, what it really needs is a strong bravura performance to carry it through, and that’s what you get with Marcelo Álvarez as Riccardo. There’s no real acting ability here, Álvarez conveying everything by striking standard opera poses with his arms, but the Madrid audience just laps it up. The other singers similarly fit into this old-fashioned style, delivering a by-the-book production that alone would be good enough, but it helps when the performances are committed and that’s certainly the case here.

This 2008 production at the Teatro Real looks rather dark, which leads to strong contrasts in the Blu-ray HD presentation, but the image is sharp and deeply saturated. The audio tracks – LPCM Stereo and HD Master Audio 5.1 – are both superb in their clarity and dynamic range. Other than a Synopsis and Cast, there are no extra features on the BD.