Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Opera at Eszterháza: Arias - La Circe
Infelice sventurata (Aria di Beatrice) (1789*) [4.59]; Costretta a piangere (Aria di Dorina) (1762) [5.37]; Signor, voi sapete (Aria di Rosina) (1785) [3.14]; Solo e pensoso (Aria da Il canzoniere di Francesco Petrarca) (1798) [5.50]; Dice benissimo (Aria di Lumaca) (1780) [1.59]; Da che penso a maritarmi (Aria di Titta) (1790) [3.43]; Se tu mi sprezzi, ingrata (Aria del Cavaliere) (1788) [5.35]; Tornate pur mia bella (Aria) (1790) [6.31]; Begli occhi vezzosi (Aria di Ernesto) (1777) [4.51]; Ah, tu non senti - Qual destra omicida (Recitativo ed Aria di Oreste) (1786)[5.44];
La Circe - the three numbers from the opera pasticcio (1789): Son pietosa, son bonina (Aria di Lindora) [4.04]; Son due ore che giro (Scena di Pedrillo) [7.35]; Lavatevi presto (Terzetto) [9.36]
* All dates are those of the first performances, as stated in the CD booklet
Miah Persson (soprano), Kirstin Chávez (mezzo), Bernard Richter (tenor), Christoph Genz (tenor), Iván Paley (baritone), Manfred Hemm (bass)
Haydn Sinfonietta Wien/Manfred Huss
rec. Floriankirche, Straden, Austria, May/June 2008 (tracks 1-5) and at the Church of the Three Kings, Benedikt, Slovenia, June 2009 (tracks 6-13), SACD
BIS-SACD-1811 [71.31]

Opera at Eszterháza is the latest issue in the collaborative series by BIS, the Haydn Sinfonietta Wien and Manfred Huss. It forms part of 2009’s celebration to mark the 200th anniversary of Haydn’s death in 2009. About a year ago, in June 2009, I had the pleasure of reviewing another of their CDs, namely Acide, a recording of the surviving fragments of Haydn’s first Italian opera. All concerned should be congratulated for their continuing efforts in bringing to the public’s attention forgotten or neglected works by a composer of Haydn’s stature. Sadly, nearly all of Haydn’s operatic compositions fall nowadays into the list of neglects, possibly due to the fact that many of the librettos he used were not very good; most of his operas progress rather slowly and are not rich in dramatic action, making them difficult to stage. Haydn also composed a great number of operas, concert arias, scenes and extra arias to be inserted in operas by other composers, with the aim of suiting a particular singer, as was customary in his day. This disc contains a selection of some of the best examples of such works.
The first four arias of the disc are for soprano and two, Infelice sventurata and Signor, voi sapete, were written for other composers’ operas; respectively Domenico Cimarosa’s I due supposti and Pasquale Anfossi’s Il matrimonio per inganno. All four pieces are immediately pleasing to the ear, wonderfully proportionate with clever orchestrations, revealing that Haydn was comfortable with writing both gracefully moving arias, like Infelice sventurata or Costretta a piangere, and witty pieces as Signor, voi sapete, which is one of the gems here and possibly my favourite. Swedish soprano Miah Persson sings these first four pieces splendidly. She has a beautiful voice with a crystal clear tone, easy high notes and elegant phrasing, all supported by an excellent technique, making these pieces the most enjoyable of the whole disc.
The four soprano arias are followed by an insertion aria, Dice benissimo, which Haydn wrote for baritone Luigi Rossi and Antonio Salieri’s opera La Scuola de’ Gelosi. It is a short but rather interesting piece, cynical in tone but with undoubtedly great music. It suits Colombian baritone Iván Paley’s voice and he makes an excellent job, delivering it with technical precision and great humour.
These initial five pieces are then followed by five arias for tenor, sung here by young Swiss tenor Bernard Richter. I was very impressed with Richter in last year’s BIS CD of Haydn’s Acide (which I mentioned above) but here I did not find his performance so convincing. He has a crystalline tone, very clear diction and appears comfortable in the highest as well as the middle and lower ranges of his voice. However, while in Acide he was spot-on, here he sounds sometimes a shade dry, his style slightly declamatory and his phrasing not as refined. On occasion, his voice sounds a little nasal in the top notes (perhaps he was suffering from a cold?), which although it does not distort, it makes the effect less attractive. Nevertheless, his performance is not at all bad; on the contrary, he delivers all five pieces very effectively. This is particularly true of the beautiful aria Tornate pur mia bella where he displays an excellent legato technique and performs the piece with great delicacy and tenderness, perfectly expressing a young man in love, as the piece describes.
The final CD tracks, as stated in the booklet notes, come from an opera pastiche, La Circe,which Haydn arranged from music by several composers. We are offered three pieces: an aria, a scena and a terzetto. The aria entitled Son pietosa, son bonina is sung by young American mezzo-soprano Kirstin Chávez who to me was the revelation in terms of singing ability. It was the first time I heard her sing though I have read various revues about her performances in Bizet’s Carmen, which tend to praise her voice but mainly to rave and revolve around her sensual, striking beauty. However, Ms Chávez really does possess a remarkable voice, with a velvety rich tone and is dramatically very expressive. Her high notes are warm and easy, she displays a solid coloratura and she has an exquisite dark edge in the lower range of her voice, which gives her performance a certain degree of exoticism. The only thing I would say is that her diction could be better; there are a couple of occasions during the aria where it is a little unclear.
Bernard Richter returns on the final two CD tracks: Son due ore che giro the scena and then in the terzetto Lavatevi presto where he is joined by German tenor Christoph Genz and Austrian bass Manfred Hemm. Both pieces are effectively delivered by all three singers and Hemm’s resonant bass is particularly impressive.
The Haydn Sinfonietta Wien and Manfred Huss are in great form throughout the CD and deliver a fulfilling, technically flawless performance, full of delicate nuances, effectively showcasing their expertise in music of the classical period in general and of Haydn in particular. Their rendition of these forgotten and nearly lost operatic compositions is as beautiful as it is precise and a joy from beginning to end.
The recording quality of the work is excellent whether one listens to it on normal CD or SACD equipment; however, only on SACD does one get the glorious detail of each instrument or of the voices and the gorgeous sound of the orchestra as a whole. The booklet notes are also better than most: expertly written by Manfred Huss in a clear, attractive style, simultaneously informative and enjoyable; not too long; not too short and accessible to all whether one has a deep knowledge of music or not. The notes are in English, German and French as well as the biographies of Huss and the two main singers: Persson and Richter. For information on the other singers, their websites are clearly listed. The booklet also includes all texts in the original Italian with English translations.
Overall, Opera at Eszterháza is an excellent work though the real star is not the singing but Haydn’s music. This, I believe, was Huss’s intention. Haydn’s music is superb in its adventurous orchestrations, full of wit and subtle emotions and, most of all incredibly beautiful. I loved this CD and it made me wonder why musicians do not record Haydn’s operatic works more often; they may have a slow moving action but surely on disc that is not so important!
Margarida Mota-Bull