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 Performances

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Eleonora Buratto as Susanna [Photo by Maurizio Montanari]
07 Jul 2011

Scenes from Two Marriages

By 1825, as Rossini’s operatic vein was approaching exhaustion, the Neapolitan Saverio Mercadante ranked as a front-runner for his succession alongside Bellini and Donizetti; much more so, however, in the field of serious drama than in opera buffa.

Saverio Mercadante: I due Figaro, o sia il soggetto di una commedia (1826, libretto by Felice Romani)

Conte di Almaviva: Antonio Poli; Contessa: Asude Karayavuz; Inez: Rosa Feola; Cherubino: Annalisa Stroppa; Figaro: Mario Cassi; Susanna: Eleonora Buratto; Torribio: Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani; Plagio: Omar Montanari Orchestra Giovanile “L. Cherubini", Vienna Philharmonia Choir. Emilio Sagi, director. Riccardo Muti, conductor. Teatro Alighieri, Ravenna, Italy. Performance of 26 June 2011.

Above: Eleonora Buratto as Susanna [Photo by Maurizio Montanari]

 

His nine titles sparsely revived so far since the 1910s, starting from Il Giuramento through La Vestale and Il Bravo to Caritea regina di Spagna and Elena da Feltre (to quote only the most successful), seemed to confirm that old judgment. Mercadante, a learned composer and a pious man who atypically devoted a large share of his output to both church and purely instrumental music, was hitherto construed as unfit for the comic.

Thus I due Figaro, whose original manuscript was recently unearthed in Madrid’s Biblioteca Histórica Municipal by the young Italian researcher Paolo Cascio, may appear a big surprise. It certainly was to Riccardo Muti who, on recalling his first reading of a few samples from the critical edition (later published by the same discoverer in collaboration with Víctor Sánchez Sánchez), declared: “I was unaware of [Mercadante’s] knack for comedy. Those pages came to me like a bolt from the blue.” To the Maestro’s credit goes the decision of presenting such an unknown score both at the Whitsun Festival in Salzburg and at his proprietary Ravenna Festival, if only for a short run of two nights each time. Next comes Madrid’s Teatro Real in 2012, but one may comfortably guess that many an opera house is already queuing for joining in. Our TV-oriented culture is so much dependent on prequels and sequels that success cannot lack.

The same was true also for early 19th century Madrid, not a provincial backwater at all, rather a flourishing colony of Italian opera outside Italy as much as it was during Farinelli’s tenure of the court theatres a century before. Mercadante, appointed as resident composer-cum-conductor at the Teatro del Príncipe, wrote there his I due Figaro, on a libretto by the starring poet Felice Romani previously set to music in 1820 by Rossini’s pupil Michele Carafa. The completed score was signed by Mercadante on October 26, 1826, but under the reactionary rule of Fernando VII the local censorship was unhappy with the representation of empowered women and gullible husbands, so the premiere was cancelled. It was only in 1833 that the opera crept its way on the Spanish stage, although the exact whereabouts are unknown; then an equally obscure revival took place in 1836, then nothing more.

To put it in a nutshell, the ‘scandalous’ story is about how, twelve years after Figaro’s marriage with Susanna, life goes on in Almaviva’s castle. In competition with Beaumarchais’ own nondescript sequel as La mère coupable (1791), the actor Honoré-Antoine Richaud Martelly produced in 1795 his Les deux Figaros, where Cherubino, now a colonel in the Spanish army, is in love with Inez, the daughter of Count and Countess Almaviva. Figaro number one entices the Count into having the girl married with Torribio, a servant disguised as a nobleman, in order that both accomplices can share her dowry fifty-fifty. Yet Susanna, Inez and the Countess finally defeat their home tyrants as Cherubino, entering the Count’s service as a self-styled Figaro number two, outwits the original with a salvo of tricks and succeeds in exposing his schemes. Inez and Cherubino are allowed to marry, while Figaro barely escapes being fired.

I_Due_01.gifRosa Feola as Inez and Annalisa Stroppa as Cherubino [Photo by Silvia Lelli]

Despite a necessary suspension of disbelief, the French comedy (and the Italian libretto derived from it) is less a farce than a semi-serious drama, a study in characters where psychological depth is not missing. Both veteran couples, the masters and the servants, seem worn-out and complain about the ephemeral nature of romance; moreover, the Countess is aware that Almaviva is still attracted by Susanna, so that the general reconciliation in the finale seems highly perfunctory. Is there such a thing as a happy marriage in the long run, and will the brand-new couple escape what seems a general fate? A further sequel was perhaps in sight, but none has written it so far.

Mercadante’s music adheres to the subject matter with admirable cleverness, if not with a particularly idiomatic style. One tastes now and then Mozart’s subtle characterization of both vocal and instrumental color, but more often the model is provided by Rossini, up to quotations or paraphrases of individual themes. Intoxicating accelerandos and crescendos in the large-scale multisectional ensembles were rather commonplace at that time, as were extended cantabile arches or abrupt dramatic twists in the harmony. Summoning such names as (again) Rossini, or Bellini, or Donizetti would seem unnecessary, were it not to avow that in most instances Mercadante can well stand up to the paragon.

I_Due_10.gifEleonora Buratto as Susanna and Mario Cassi as Figaro [Photo by Silvia Lelli]

Everything as expected, except for a decided vein of local color: not only the fandango once so dear to Mozart, but a regular orgy of rhythms and forms from Andalusia (after all, the action takes place in the castle of Aguas Frescas near Seville). Bolero, cachucha, polo and tirana keep infiltrating over and over the principals’ cavatinas and even the overture, while the large Italian-style arias, studded with virtuosic coloratura, demand vocalist with considerable natural gifts, technical skills, and style awareness.

Eleonora Buratto, whom I recently heard in Modena as a model Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, towered here in the role of Susanna, with all the remaining ladies accompanying her in triumphal procession: witty Asude Karayavuz as the Countess, mellow Rosa Feola as Inez, and Annalisa Stroppa as a Cherubino already eligible for the toughest Colbran roles. Among the gentlemen, duels of both physical and vocal energy between Mario Cassi as Figaro number one and Omar Montanari as Plagio, the playwright in distress much in the mould of Prosdocimo in Rossini’s (and Romani’s) Il Turco in Italia. Passion and melancholy in store from the high tenor Antonio Poli as Almaviva; Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani, a promising Baroque specialist, seemed underutilized in the cameo role of Torribio. Incredible but true: within such a brilliant company, hand-picked by Riccardo Muti, none exceeds the age of thirty; the same is more or less true for the youth orchestra “Luigi Cherubini”, another brainchild of Muti’s.

I_Due_13.gifAnicio Zorzi Giustiniani as Torribio, Mario Cassi as Figaro and Omar Montanari as Plagio [Photo by Silvia Lelli]

Emilio Sagi’s stage direction kept the action revolving within and around a patio decorated with eight columns in white plaster and lots of flowers. Everything, including costumes, as Spanish, rural and historically informed as one could wish. To be sure, Ravenna Festival is not the proper place for Eurotrash. The audience, having to face a complex plot without any subtitles to help them, seemed to appreciate, but the loudest applause was as usual for the local darling Muti, the man who is bringing Ravenna back on the international map of opera.

Carlo Vitali

I_Due_14.gifEleonora Buratto as Susanna and country lasses [Photo by Maurizio Montanari]

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):