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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732 - 1809): Opera arias

[I] "Opera at Eszterháza"
Miah Persson, sopranoa; Kirstin Chávez, mezzosopranob; Christoph Genzc, Bernard Richterd, tenor; Iván Paley, baritonee; Manfred Hemm, bassf
Haydn Sinfonietta Wien
Dir: Manfred Huss

rec: May & June 2008, Straden (A), Floriankircheae; June 2009, Benedikt (Slov), [Church of the Three Kings]bcdf
BIS - SACD-1811 (© 2009) (71'31")

[II] "Italian Arias"
Thomas Quasthoff, baritone; Genia Kühmaier, sopranog
Freiburger Barockorchester
Dir: Gottfried von der Goltz

rec: July 2008, Baden-Baden, Hans-Rosbaud-Studio
DGG - 00289 477 7469 (© 2008) (62'34")

[I] Ah, tu non senti - Qual destra omicida, rec and aria for Tommaso Traetta, Ifigenia in Tauride (H XXIVb,10)d; Costretta a piangere, aria from a lost opera (H XXIVb,1)a; Da che penso a maritarmi, aria for Leopold Gassmann, L'amore artigiano (H XXIVb,16)d; Dice benissimo, aria for Antonio Salieri, La Scuola de' Gelosi (H XXIVb,5)e; Il mondo della luna, opera (H XXVIII,7): Begli occhi vezzosi, ariad; Infelice sventurata, aria for Domenico Cimarosa, I due supposti Conti (H XXIVb,15)a; La Circe, opera pasticcio: Son due ore che giro, scena (H XXXII,1a)d; Son pietosa, aria (H XXXII,1b)b; Lavatevi presto, terzetto (H XXXII,1c)cdf; Se tu mi sprezzi, ingrata, aria for Giuseppe Sarti, I finti eredi (H XXIVb,14)d; Signor, voi sapete, aria for Pasquale Anfossi, Il Matrimonio per inganno (H XXIVb,7)a; Solo e pensoso, concert aria (H XXIVb,20)a; Tornate pur mia bella, aria for an unidentified opera (H XXIVb,22)d
[II] Armida (H XXVIII,12): Se dal suo braccio oppresso, aria; Teco lo guida al campo, aria; Dice benissimo, aria for Antonio Salieri, La Scuola de' Gelosi (H XXIVb,5); Il mondo della luna (H XXVIII,7): Che mondo amabile, aria; Non aver di me sospetto, duetg; L'incontro improvviso (H XXVIII,6): Noi pariamo santarelli, aria; L'infedeltà delusa (H XXVIII,5): Non v'è rmedio, aria; L'isola disabitata (H XXVIII,9): Chi nel cammin d'onore, aria; La fedeltà premiata (H XXVIII,10): Di questo audace ferro, aria; Mi dica il mio signore, aria; Sappi che la bellezza, aria; La vera costanza (H XXVIII,8): Non sperate ... mi disdico, aria; Orlando Paladino (H XXVIII,11): Mille lampi d'accese faville, aria; Ombre insepolte, aria; Un cor sì tenero in petto forte, aria for Francesco Bianchi, Il disertore (H XXIVb,11)

Many years ago the operas by Haydn were recorded unter the direction of Antal Dorati. That was in the vinyl era. For some reasons Haydn's operas have never really made it into the opera houses. Only now and then an opera was performed, but it is only relatively recently that they are taken really seriously, as the growing number of recordings and live performances show. Nikolaus Harnoncourt and René Jacobs are two of the conductors who have paid attention to Haydns output for the theatre.

The two discs to be reviewed here both contain arias by Haydn which should convince sceptics about the quality of Haydn's operas. Nobody less than Mozart had no doubts about Haydn's theatrical instincts: "Nobody can do all of this - flirt and unsettle, provoke laughter and deep emotions - as well as Haydn!". If I am not mistaken Haydn is better known for the laughter than for "deep emotions". And that makes it all the more valuable that these two discs don't fail to show that side in Haydn's music for the theatre as well.

The first disc brings mostly arias which Haydn wrote to be included in operas which were performed at Esterháza. In his programme notes Manfred Huss writes that between 1780 and 1790 Haydn conducted more than 1,000 opera performances. Among the most popular composers whose operas were performed at Esterháza were Domenico Cimarosa, Pasquale Anfossi and Giovanni Paisiello. It was quite common to add arias to operas written by someone else. Haydn did more than adding arias: he sometimes changed the scoring - for instance by extending the strings with wind -, the tempi or the dynamics. Huss believes Haydn has written about 60 arias for operas by contemporaries. Today 23 of these arias are known, and to that three have to be added which were the subject of Haydn's adaptation or arrangement.

The arias are very different in character. 'Signor, voi sapete', written for Anfossi's Il Matrimonio per inganno is a typically buffo aria, whereas 'Infelice sventurata' for Cimarosa's opera I due supposti Conti is a really emotional aria: "Unhappy wretch, I am oppressed by fate". To the same category belongs the concert aria Solo e pensoso on a text from Petrarca's Il Canzoniera. One of the most dramatic parts is the recitative 'Ah, non senti' and aria 'Qual destra omicida' for Traetta's Ifigenia in Tauride. Here vocal and instrumental parts perfectly work together to depict the state of mind of the protagonist. The orchestral score in the scene of Pedrillo from La Circe is also evocative and graphically illustrates the text. This is part of Haydn's contributions to this work, a pasticcio which dates from 1789. It begins with an aria for Lindoro, and ends with a trio about a meal which is reminiscent of Rossini.

On the whole I am quite pleased by the performances. The largest number of arias are sung by Miah Persson and Bernard Richter. I would have liked Miah Persson to use a bit less vibrato, and 'Costretta a piangere' could have been given a little more weight. But whereas in some opera recitals, in particular by sopranos, it is hard to understand a word they are singing, Ms Persson's delivery is excellent, and she generally captures the character of the arias well. Solo e pensoso is especially well done. Bernard Richter was a new name to me, and I am impressed by his contributions, not only because of his vocal qualities, but also by the way he expresses the content of his arias. The recitative and aria for Traetta's opera and the scene from La Circe are brilliantly sung. The aria 'Dice benissimo' for Salieri's La Scuola de' Gelosi is sung by Iván Paley as well as Thomas Quasthoff: they sing it differently, but both are convincing - it just shows there is more than one way to interpret an aria. I am less impressed by Kirstin Chávez: I don't find her voice very attractive, and she spoils her only aria with too much vibrato. In the trio Christoph Genz and Manfred Hemm give good accounts of their roles.

The Haydn Sinfonietta Wien plays well and considerably contributes to the character of the arias. But it is not comparable with the Freiburger Barockorchester which is really a class of its own. Dynamically and in regard to colouring it surpasses Huss' orchestra. Thomas Quasthoff remains closer at home: apart from the above-mentioned aria 'Dice benissimo' and the aria 'Un cor sì tenero in petto forte' - written for an opera by Francesco Bianchi - he sings arias from Haydn's own operas. But this programme also contains large contrasts. 'Non v'è rimedio' from L'infideltà delusa is a rage aria, whereas Bonafede - what's in a name - from Il mondo della luna is a simple-minded character whose aria isn't only sung but also includes whistling. Assuming Quasthoff is whistling himself he performs this aria excellently, just like the before-mentioned rage aria. From La fedeltà premiata we hear three arias from two different characters, Perrucchetto and Melibeo, which are quite different, but Quasthoff deals with them impressively.

If a singer of Thomas Quasthoff's calibre gets involved in singing Haydn's operas - even if it is just some arias from them - one can only applaud and hope this will have a positive impact on the appreciation of Haydn's output for the theatre. It seems to have been his own idea to devote a disc to arias by Haydn, and in the programme notes he is quoted stating that he enjoys them the more often he sings them. His voice is pleasant, with a natural vibrato, and he doesn't use any tricks to try to make the repertoire more interesting or to put himself into the spotlight. This is what a disc of opera arias should be like. Quasthoff gets great help from the orchestra which - like in the recordings of Mozart's operas under René Jacobs - shows to have a perfect feeling for theatrical music.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Thomas Quasthoff
Bernard Richter
Freiburger Barockorchester
Haydn Sinfonietta Wien

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