Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Fabio Biondi
26 May 2009

Haydn’s “Il Ritorno Di Tobia” , Oratorio Or Opera Seria?

Joseph Haydn's place in the history of the oratorio has been secured by his masterpieces The Creation (1798) and The Seasons (1801). His first appearance, however, on the Mount Parnassus of oratorio was a good quarter of a century beforehand with Il ritorno di Tobia.

F. J. Haydn: Il Ritorno Di Tobia

Orchestra e Coro dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Conductor: Fabio Biondi. Valentina Farcas (Raffaele); Maria Grazia Schiavo (Sara); Ann Hallenberg (Anna); Bernard Richter (Tobia); Johannes Weisser(Tobit). Chorus Master: Filippo Maria Bressan.

Above: Fabio Biondi. Photos by Musacchio & Ianniello.

 

Recently performed at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome (May 16-19) with an all star cast as a part of the celebration for the bicentenary of Haydn’s death. It is also the indication of revival of a nearly forgotten masterpiece: a few months ago Il ritorno di Tobia had been performed in London and Poissy under the baton of Sir Roger Norrington.

Il ritorno di Tobia had had a promising start: in April 1775 Haydn directed the first two performances of his work, written for the Vienna Tonkünstler-Societät. This success was no mere accident: Haydn had tailored his first oratorio as much as possible to suit Viennese taste. At this time Vienna was, to a certain extent, the bastion of the Italian oratorio north of the Alps. An Italian libretto was therefore indispensable, and for his subject matter, Haydn had chosen an exceptionally popular story: in the XVIII century, the Old Testament Book of Tobias was found everywhere, in painting, sculpture, literature and music; in Vienna alone it had been set to music dozens of times. Oratorios were performed in theatres because , during Lent, opera performances were forbidden; from the Playbills of the time we know that tickets for Il ritorno di Tobia were as high as those for a major opera seria performance. There was also some politics: the main theme of Il ritorno is conjugal love and parenthood; this would fit very well Empress Marie Thérèse’s view of the world- a world then rapidly changing , only a few years from Così fan tutte wives’ swapping and Marquis de Sade’s novels.

Within a short space of time copies of the score were circulating throughout Europe and Haydn himself counted the work among his most successful. It is also no surprise, however, that as early as 1781 a planned repeat performance in Vienna failed owing to the subsequent change in public taste; and besides this, as it took almost three hours to perform, the work was considered simply too long. Haydn, , was after all an experienced man of the theatre who had earned his stripes at the Esterházys’ opera house, and as such was perfectly capable of tackling the reworking of his Tobia in view of its difficulties. The parts of the Tonkünstler-Societät and Haydn’s autograph testify to this in a variety of ways: Haydn himself made alterations in a number of places in his score to passages of secco recitative, which, being accompanied only by the continuo instrument, allow the singer greater freedom in which to be creative. On the other hand, the orchestral material contains cuts in much of the extravagant coloratura, and also the repeated sections in the arias. Not only did this bring about the shortening of the work deemed necessary, it also reduced the technical demands of the arias significantly, and so made the rôles easier to cast. It is no longer possible to reconstruct beyond doubt when exactly and for which performance these alterations were made.

Even if the action is not set directly scene by scene, Il ritorno di Tobia still provides moments of striking theatricality. In matters of text setting, the Italianate oratorio of the XVIII century followed the opera seria closely: this begins with the sequence of recitatives and arias and continues with the ways in which these formal elements are given shape. The recitative is characterized from the outset by dialogue and the dramatic structure imposed by the characters’ immediate reactions to one other. This is not even altered by the fact that repeated events already bygone are brought back to life in the recitatives.

IMG_9050.gif

Haydn takes the opera as his model not only for the dialogical texture but also for the aria’s structure. Unlike the opera seria of the time, in which the involvement of the chorus is reserved for particularly festive types such as the Festa teatrale, in the Italianate oratorio both parts traditionally concluded with a chorus; usually the choir also played a part in the opening scene. Besides this, the inclusion of contrapuntal techniques is typical of oratorio. The basic question is still unanswered: it is an oratorio or a grand opera seria?

After performances in Vienna at the Kärtnertortheater in 1775 and in 1784 at the Hofburgtheater, where it was heard again in 1808 , Il ritorno di Tobia faded away until very recently. There only a couple of recording available - and not very easy to find and purchase.

Santa Cecilia’s lavish production is to be considered an Italian premiere. The symphony orchestra was superbly conducted by Flavio Biondi, the creator and leader of the Europa Galante ensemble. To borrow from Giuseppe Verdi one of his favorite quote Biondi “made the orchestra dance” . A few cuts were made in the very long score; I attended the Monday subscription performance starting at 9 pm. Even after the cut, the work, unknown to most of the audience, appeared too to some; at end (well after midnight) only half of the large auditorium (2800 seats) was full but those who sat through the end gave a generous applause to the orchestra, the chorus and the soloist.

The chorus deserves a special mention. There important and very difficult choral sections in Il ritorno di Tobia. They require considerable skills; conducted by Filipp Maria Bessan, the Santa Cecilia Chorus had a warm deserved applause.

Somewhat uneven the soloist cast. Maria Grazia Schiavo was an excellent Sara and gained an open stage applause after her long second act arias where her acute reached very high heights. An Allenberg is a alto specializing in baroque and XVIII century music; she was a very motherly Anne descending to very grave tonalities. Bernard Richter , Tobia,is a lyric tenor: he braved out a role requiring to climb very steep acute mountains. Less satisfactory Johannes Weisser , Tobit , and Valentina Farcas, Raffaele.

Giuseppe Pennisi

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):