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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Lo speziale - Dramma giocoso in three acts (1768)
Attila Fülöp (tenor) – Sempronio, apothecary; István Rozsos (tenor) – Mengone, his assistant; Magda Kalmár (soprano) – Sempronio’s foster daughter; Veronika Kinces (soprano) – Volpino
Liszt Ferenc Chamber Orchestra, Budapest/György Lehel
originally published 1978
Italian libretto and Hungarian, English and German translations enclosed
HUNGAROTON HCD11926 [72:03]
Experience Classicsonline

Lo speziale
(The Apothecary), to a libretto by Carlo Goldoni, was Haydn’s third opera and the first to be performed at the newly-built opera house at Eszterhazá. The vocal resources were modest and Goldoni’s libretto, which had been set fifteen years earlier for the carnival in Bologna, had to be rewritten and reduced to suit the four singers available. This involved the necessity of casting a woman in the role of Volpino and transferring one of the other male roles from the bass clef. A cast with two tenors and two sopranos, which is musically and dramatically unsatisfactory, is in other words no whim of the librettist and/or the composer but a practicality. After the Eszterhazá performances the work fell into oblivion but was transiently revived in the late 19th century. Then it was drastically changed with little left of Haydn’s original. In this form it was performed by conductors like Mahler and Weingartner.

It was not until the late 1950s that an authentic edition was published, based on an incomplete Budapest score. The greatest problem is that there is a lot missing from the third act: an aria, a duet and lots of recitative. Luckily the complete libretto has survived and instead of trying to reconstruct the missing music, Hungaroton have chosen to print the complete text and leave it to the listener to the listeners to ‘fill in the blanks’ with their imagination.

The libretto is a rather traditional buffo story with amorous complications and faked marriage contracts. Where it differs from other similar stories is that here there are no less than two notaries appearing – Mengone and Volpino, both in disguise of course and with dissembled voices. He music is mostly delectable with a spirited and lively overture, starting presto, and followed by a soft andante in ž-time, whereupon there is a short reprise of the opening theme. The action is carried forward through secco recitatives – not very original – and a string of arias. The only ensembles are the three act finales, and they are welcome departures from the solos. Not that the arias are in any way bad, quite the contrary in fact. And what’s more, several of them are structured in a kind of sonata form, which shows that Haydn was not yet a fully-fledged dramatist. But this is interesting anyway, and while there is not always motivation in the texts for contrasting themes, the development work is skilfully carried through. Haydn uses a lot of coloratura, not primarily for decoration or for showing off the singers’ technical brilliance, but for structural purposes. I can’t help feeling though, that this ‘symphonic’ approach is rather over-ambitious for the simple story. Later, in his mature full-length operas, he found a compositional style more suited to the subjects, and several of them are master-pieces, not least Orlando paladino.

The thirty-year-old recording wears its years lightly and the playing of the Liszt Ferenc Chamber Orchestra is first class. György Lehel (1926 – 1989) was a versatile conductor and his recorded oeuvre covers many different periods and styles. With the Liszt Ferenc Chamber Orchestra and some of the same soloists as here he recorded among other things a complete St John Passion. He catches the exuberant youthfulness of this relatively early Haydn work. Attila Fülöp is a bright and expressive Sempronio, singing with fine legato, but the high tessitura seems at times uncomfortable for him. István Rozsos has a fine lyric tenor and he is fresh and appealing though a bit uneven. As Volpino, Veronika Kincses is expressive and sings dramatically convincing in the aria Amore nel mio petto. Like Rozsos she changes her voice admirably for the ‘notary’ scene. The best singing of all is however delivered by Magda Kalmár, whose Grilletta is lovely: beautiful voice, fine coloratura and immense musicality. Her discography for Hungaroton is vast and I have through the years returned quite frequently to several of her complete operas.

While Lo speziale as a work isn’t in the class of Haydn’s more mature operas it is interesting and attractive. It is good that it has been reissued during Haydn year. There are by the way several other Haydn operas in the Hungaroton catalogue, and Antal Dorati’s series for Philips also contains riches galore. As far as I know this is the only CD recording of the work but there is a DVD on Silverline Classics 80020, which I haven’t seen. It is a Swiss production from 1982, conducted by Marc Andreae with Antonella Manotti, Carmen Gonzales, Luigi Alva and William Matteuzzi as soloists. In its own right the present disc is however a worty representation of Lo speziale. 

Göran Forsling 




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