The Royal Academy Opera's production of Haydn's La fedelta premiatà (Fidelity rewarded) was not only a worthwhile but also a truly uplifting experience. It is, therefore, such a shame that the programme notes - particularly important on this occasion – let down the otherwise excellent event.
Although recorded at least twice (with Dorati on Philips and with Frigyes Sándor on Hungaroton), this masterpiece of Haydn is rarely performed, if at all. This time the Royal Academy got in first by a few days: from Tuesday 17 March, Adam Fischer conducts a run of performances at the Zurich Opera House.
Although in their press release RAO specifies that they 'will be using new performing material from the Complete Edition of Haydn's works', there is no explanation about this in the programme notes. Indeed, apart from a few superficial words in Jane Glover's introduction, there is nothing about the music (including the two recordings I mention above) within the 28 pages. We have synopsis (pp. 4 – 5) and a great deal of information about the performers. Yet, surely, some essentials about the music and the new performing material would have been of great interest. As printed music of the opera is not easy to come by – I tried three good libraries in vain – I would have appreciated at least a list of titles for the arias.
The performance was excellent. Conductor Trevor Pinnock's tempi, dynamics and full control (over soloists and ensemble) were admirable. His reading of the score was sensitive, exciting and moving. I felt privileged to be at the performance.
To my ears, not all the singers were of top standard, at least not yet. But surely Lauryna Bendziunaitë (Nerina), Stuart Haycock (Fileno), Angela Bic (Amaranta) and Gerard Collett (Perrucchetto) could manage appropriate roles in any opera house. And, although initially slightly off pitch, Charlotte Stephenson impressed in the demanding role of Celia. The eight-member chorus, presumably the alternative cast for the principal roles, was hugely supportive and splendid.
Director Alessendro Talevi's staging was musical and witty. His choreography of the overture was hilarious and the chorus singing (twice) from the back of the theatre in response to the principals on stage increased the musical drama. The contemporary setting and mood of the Big Brother atmosphere made the silly libretto palatable, even enjoyable. In the final scene the new pound notes arriving in a big suitcase – and flying around the stage – connected with the news of the day and made the production even more relevant.
The orchestra played very well. During the performance I forgot that they were still students. With its 230-seat capacity, the Academy's Sir Jack Lyons Theatre was the perfect setting for this opera. Perhaps the theatre in Eszterháza, where the opera was premiered in 1781, was not larger.
This is what Haydn reported about La fedelta premiatà: 'Now something about Paris. They were very surprised that my vocal composition should be so exceedingly complaisant; but I was not at all surprised, as they have not yet heard anything. If they were only to hear my operetta L'isola disabitata and my last opera for Shrovetide, La fedeltà premiata, I assure you that nothing has yet been heard like them in Paris, and perhaps not even in Vienna. My misfortune is only that I have to stay in the country.' (Joseph Haydn, 27 May 1781)
Indeed, La fedelta premiatà is a masterpiece of great beauty and wit. Thank you, Royal Academy Opera, for performing it.
By Agnes Kory
Photo: Angela Bic, who played Amaranta at this performance
CD Review: L'infedelta costante: Anna Bonitatibus sings Haydn arias
CD Review: Haydn: Symphonies 88-92: Berlin Philharmoniker/Sir Simon Rattle
Opera News: Haydn's Le pescatrici to be performed in UK in 2009