Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg in San Francisco

Falstaff and Die Meistersinger are among the pinnacles if not the pinnacles of nineteenth century opera. Both operas are atypical of the composer and both operas are based on a Shakespeare play.

Le Nozze di Figaro, Manitoba Opera

To borrow from the great Bard himself: “the course of true love never did run smooth.”

Arizona Opera Presents Florencia in el Amazonas

Florencia in el Amazonas was the first Spanish-language opera to be commissioned by major United States opera houses.

Viva la Mamma!: A Fun Evening at POP

Gaetano Donizetti wrote a comedy or dramma giocoso called Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali (The Conventions and Inconveniences of the Theater), which is also known by the shorter title, Viva La Mamma!.

LA Opera Norma: A Feast for the Ears

Vincenzo Bellini composed Norma to a libretto that Felice Romani had fashioned after Alexandre Soumet’s French play, Norma, ossia L'infanticidio (Norma, or The Infanticide).

Alban Berg’s Wozzeck at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In order to mount a successful production of Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck, first performed in 1925, the dramatic intensity and lyrical beauty of the score must become the focal point for participants.

Florilegium at Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704).

Leoncavallo’s Zazà by Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà — a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights — is a walking compendium of emotions.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Biedermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.



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):