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| Joseph HAYDN
Acide, Festa teatrale - Opera fragment
Richter - Acide, (tenor); Raffaela Milanesi - Galatea, (soprano);
Jennifer O'Loughlin - Glauce (soprano), Iván Paley - Polifemo,
Nettuno (baritone); Adrineh Simonian - Tetide (mezzo)
Haydn Sinfonietta Wien (playing on period instruments)/Manfred Huss
rec. Floriankirche, Straden, Austria, May 2008
Booklet notes, artist biographies in English, German, French;
original libretto in Italian with English translation
BIS BISSACD1812 [69.38]
This recording of Joseph Haydn's Acide is part of
a wider initiative related to the 2009 bicentenary of his death.
BIS and the Haydn Sinfonietta Wien are working together to
to the public some of Haydn's rarest pieces. They are re-releasing
works they have previously recorded and complement these with
new material. The present title is one of the fruits of this
collaboration. It's a welcome initiative as Haydn's
operas are still amongst his least known compositions.
Acide, was Haydn's first Italian opera, composed
to a libretto by Giovanni Ambrogio Migliavacca, literary assistant
and pupil of the illustrious Pietro Metastasio. The opera tells
the familiar story of 'Acide and Galatea', and is a
so-called festa or azione teatrale: a festive
opera. These operas were written for great occasions. The plots
were usually based on stories from classical mythology, adapted
to the events, which they were supposed to celebrate. The special
occasion, in this instance, was the marriage of Countess Maria
Theresia Erdödy to Count Anton Esterházy, the eldest
son of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, Haydn's employer.
Migliavacca used Metastasio's Galatea as his starting
point for the libretto but added two new roles and a happy
for the purpose of the Esterházy wedding. The celebrations
went on for a few days and Haydn's opera was performed
on the day after the marriage took place, on the afternoon
Unfortunately, though a copy of the full libretto still exists
in the archives of the Musikverein in Vienna, around half the
music was destroyed in the big Esterházy fire of 1779.
What survives is a three movement overture, four arias, an
recitative for Acide and a final quartet for Galatea, Acide,
Glauce and Tetide - these last being the two roles added by
Migliavacca. Haydn revised the opera before the fire in 1773-4,
though this version was never performed, but from it there
a few additional pieces: an accompanied recitative and part
of an aria for Galatea, and a coloratura bass aria for
Neptune, in fact a reworking of the original aria for Tetide.
All the surviving parts, listed above, were recorded for this
CD. Manfred Huss, who also wrote the very informative booklet
notes, explains that he tentatively completed the fragment
Galatea's aria, which survives from the revised version,
specifically for this disc.
It is obvious from first to last that great care was put into
bringing Haydn's fragmented opera to life. This is an insightful,
detailed performance, lovingly played on period instruments.
The Sinfonietta and Huss are Haydn experts and can certainly
be counted among the best, possibly even the best, in
terms of authenticity and insightful understanding of the composer's
intentions and creative powers. The performance is excellent
and will not disappoint Haydn's fans or scholars, however
I must confess that I was not completely taken by it.
There are some wonderful moments: the overture is beautiful
and extremely well played. Acide's aria La beltà is
a fabulous show-stopper for a tenor. Galatea's aria -
of which only part survives - Troppo felice is moving
and tender and the final quartet sung by Galatea, Glauce, Tetide
and Acide, Ah vedrai is a wonderful ensemble piece. It
would nowadays be described as Mozartian, though Haydn was already
twenty-four years old when Mozart was born.
The problem is that the recorded result just does not work as
an opera. It feels more like a selection of great but little
known compositions by Haydn. It lacks continuity and dramatic
narrative. For example, the overture is like an early Haydn
symphony, which appears to have no relation to the arias that
follow or the quartet at the end. I am left with the impression
of selected highlights rather than a whole dramatic piece of
musical theatre. This is far from surprising when we have the
full libretto but not the complete music. Sometimes, one expects
a different musical sequence after the end of an aria and the
beginning of another or following a recitative. One is then
surprised when the next piece appears illogical or out of context.
As a listener, who had never before heard this piece, I could
not help but think that something important was missing, which
indeed it is.
This notwithstanding, the recorded music is of great quality.
It still serves to demonstrate some of Haydn's adventurous,
forward-thinking characteristics. Undoubtedly the most striking
of these is the final quartet. Young Swiss tenor, Bernard Richter,
is outstanding as Acide. He has a clear tone, with easy high
notes and does full justice to some of the extravagant and difficult
passages that Haydn composed for his star tenor of the day,
Carl Friberth. Italian soprano Rafaella Milanesi sings Galatea
in a rather moving manner, with a particularly beautiful rendition
of Galatea's fragmented aria Tropo felice. Her voice
has a rich, rounded and expressive tone, with great flexibility,
very pleasant to the ear and touching to the heart. Colombian
baritone Iván Paley gives a solid performance as both
Polifemo and Nettuno, though the aria for Neptune would definitely
have benefited if sung by a real bass, with a darker voice than
Paley's. The two remaining roles of Glauce and Tetide are
well performed by American soprano Jennifer O'Loughlin and
Iranian mezzo of Armenian origin Adrineh Simonian respectively.
Ms O'Loughlin possesses a beautiful, pure, crystalline
tone with an assured coloratura, displaying considerable
virtuosity during Glauce's very difficult aria Perché stupisci.
All the singers were very good but the performance that touched
me the most was Ms Simonian's as Tetide. She possesses a
wonderfully rare dark mezzo in the mid-lower range, yet is also
capable of flexible, warm high notes. She sings Tetide's
technically demanding aria Tergi i vezzosi with elegance
and stylish ease. The final quartet is not only musically progressive
but also very beautiful and demanding for the four singers.
It is in reality an ensemble show-piece for tenor, two different
styles of soprano and a dark mezzo. It is here most beautifully
performed by Richter as Acide, Milanesi as Galatea, O'Loughlin
as Glauce and Simonian as Tetide. Richter's wonderfully
crystal clear tenor tone stands out and offers an effective
contrast to Simonian's dark mezzo, harmoniously melting
with Milanesi's rich timbre and O'Loughlin's pure,
bright soprano. The result is a real treat and the definitive
highlight of the CD, which would be worth buying for this quartet
Finally, although this CD did not work for me as a whole opera,
it is still an excellent recording of rarely heard music by
Haydn. Technically, this hybrid disc, as is generally the case
with SACDs, is very good and when played on the relevant equipment
it does make a distinctive difference. The sound of the individual
instruments and of the voices is very clear, displaying a quality
that one normally only obtains when in the live proximity of
the musicians. The soloists, the Haydn Sinfonietta, Manfred
Huss and the record label (BIS) demonstrated great artistic
integrity and dedication to authenticity in bringing this work
to life. It is certainly a wonderful tribute to Joseph Haydn,
in this bicentenary year of his death. It clearly proves, if
proof were necessary, what a great composer he was.
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