Haydn’s riotous comedy, La vera Costanza, The True Constant, was one of the composer’s early works for the theatre at Eszterháza, the summer palace of his patron, from 1762, Nikolaus I, Prince Esterházy. The opera was first performed on 25 April 1779 and was later revived there in 1785. The version of the work we have today is a reconstruction for the 1785 revival; a fire destroyed the theatre in late 1779, and with it were lost the performing materials and scores for some of Haydn’s operas. The composer subsequently reconstructed a number of them – including the much-loved Il mondo della luna – from sketches and from memory.
Haydn’s opening storm
sequence which begins in the overture, sees Baroness Irene, Ernesto, Lisetta,
and Villotto rescued from a shipwreck by Rosina and Masino. Count Errico, whom
she hopes to dissuade from marrying the fisherwoman Rosina. But – and not unusually
for the 18th
century – we discover that the Count has ALREADY married (and abandoned)
Rosina, who has had child by him. Neither the Count nor the Baroness and her retinue know of the
child’s existence. The Baroness is promoting Villotto as a possible husband for Rosina,
an impossibility that descends into farce, when the Count suddenly appears,
threatening to kill his rival with a pistol. And so the opera proceeds, with Ernesto
threatening Masino with a dagger, and other probable – and improbable –
Conductor: Joseph Beesley Assistant conductor: Toby Stanford Director: Michael Burden
Rosina: Aine Smith Baroness Irene: Laura Coppinger Lisetta: Maryam Wocial Count Errico: Richard Douglas Marquis Ernesto: James Gant Masino: Dominic Spencer Jolly Villotto: Filippo Turkheimer
The mythological narrative of Acis and Galatea was a subject of
continual fascination for Handel. Extant sources attest to at least three
distinct renditions, including the contemporary favourite, Acis and Galatea, which had its London premiere in 1718. A
consequence of the lasting popularity of the London version is that Handel’s
other settings have been consigned to obscurity. New Chamber Opera attempts to
correct this imbalance. For one night only, we will give a concert performance
of his 1708 setting, Aci, Galatea, e
Polifemo, in the tranquil environs of the chapel of New College. Aci brims with the confidence of a
composer cognisant of his capabilities and displays a range of operatic devices
that became central to the Handel’s mature operatic style: bravura arias are
interspersed with cantabile reflections; doleful continuo-accompanied numbers
are contrasted with full-textured, magisterial entries and exits; and textural
choice becomes as much a signifier of affect as musical content. Handel
evidently realised his precocity, choosing to use it for concert performance in
Galatea, e Polifemo offers a unique setting of the
familiar Acis narrative – one that certainly deserves both performative and critical
“Brashness and grace vie side-by-side for one evening as New Chamber Opera interpret two pillars of the High Baroque”
J.S. Bach’s virtuosic cantata for solo voice and harpsichord, ‘Amore Traditore’, and Louis Couperin’s magnificent ‘Lecons de Tenebres’ are seemingly at opposite ends of the affective spectrum. Bach’s zany cantata, consisting of 3 explosive movements of musical vitriol against the treachery of love, contrasts deeply with Couperin’s noble lament to a lost Jerusalem. But these two chamber works participate in a tradition of what can be termed as ‘intimate virtuosity’. Both the ‘Lecons’ and ‘Amore Traditore’ are scored simply – for continuo and voice – removing the powerful, connotative force of the orchestra in favour of an intimate grandeur that only continuo harpsichord and its bowed and plucked associates can evoke. The two compositions can be seen as affective complements offering two stunningly different conceptions of intimate lamentation.
The two works of Mozart on the programme count among the most beloved in the composer’s output. Exsultate Jubilate was composed by Mozart for the castrato Venanzio Rauzzini, who was the primo uomo in Mozart’s opera Lucio Silla in Milan. Mozart composed the motet for Rauzzini, whose technical excellence he admired, and its first performance took place on 17 January 1773, while Rauzzini was still singing in Mozart’s opera at night. The Mass in C Minor, K.427, was composed in Vienna in 1782 and 1783 shortly after he left Salzburg. The work is scored for two sopranos, tenor, bass, and double chorus.
Handel’s comic piece Xerxes of 1738 was one of his last operas; it was also one of his
least successful. The audience didn’t understand his operatic jokes and didn’t
see the funny side of it; even though four of the characters start with
‘A’. Charles Burney later commented: ‘I
have not been able to discover the author of the words of this drama: but it is
one of the worst Handel ever set to Music: for besides feeble writing, there is
a mixture of tragic-comedy and buffoonery in it.’ The buffoonery includes a
collapsing bridge, a warring (potential) couple, a foolish general, a servant
disguised as a flower seller, and a monarch in love with a plane tree. We can
promise you all this, and much more!
Musical Director – Anhad Arora
Répétiteur – Joseph Beesley
Director – Michael Burden
Sempronio, an old apothecary – Maximilian Lawrie
Grilletta, Sempronio’s ward – Emily Gibson
Mengone, Sempronio’s apprentice – Jacob Clark
Volpino, a young rich dandy – Indyana Schneider
Haydn’s short comic opera The Apothecary – described as ‘a comedy of great warmth and ebullience’ – was written for performance at Estahazy in 1768. The libretto is by the creator and master of the comic opera libretto, Carlo Goldoni. The story is a love tangle, in which the old Apothecary is in love with his ward Grilletta – but as also is the poor apprentice Mengone, and the rich and assured dandy Volpino. The action twists and turns encompassing a marriage contract, a map of Turkey, and the appearance of Volpino disguised as a Pasha.
The Coffee and Peasant cantatas by J.S. Bach reveal a wordly – even parodic — side to a composer often associated with cerebral themes. The Coffee Cantata, written for a performance in Zimmerman’s newly founded Kaffeehaus, is a satirical exploration of a pernicious addiction to coffee. The black concoction, after its introduction into the Western world at the end of the 17th century, was worshipped by some – perhaps because of the drink’s putative status as an aphrodisiac – and reviled by others. Bach’s cantata on the subject is ferociously witty; it includes, amongst other numbers, a veritable love song to the delectable liquid: ‘Ei! Wie schmeckt der Kaffee süsse’ . The Peasant Cantata, no less profane in theme, can be described as a comic dialogue in music. The text, written in a dialect peculiar to Upper Saxony, describes, with close attention to all matters financial, the banal existence of two peasants, an unnamed farmer and his wife, Mieke. With 24 movements, it is one of Bach’s most elaborately structured cantatas; with only 2 singers and 3 permanent instrumentalists, it is also one of his most economically scored.
Conductor – Chloe Rooke
Repetiteur – Anhad Arora
Chorus director – Joseph Beesley
Director – Michael Burden
Anne Trulove – Emily Gibson
Tom Rakewell – Maximilian Lawrie
Nick Shadow – Patrick Keefe
Father Trulove – Tom Lowen
Baba the Turk – Carrie Thomson
Keeper of the Madhouse – Josh Newman
Stravinsky’s neo-classical opera The Rake’s Progress tells the story of Tom Rakewell, who, at the behest of Nick Shadow (the Devil), abandons his intended, Anne Trulove, for the dubious delights of the city. Shadow leads him into a variety of scrapes, including a scheme to turn stones into bread, a visit to a brothel, and marriage to a bearded lady. He ends up in Bedlam, the Devil having stolen his reason. The Moral? ‘For idle hearts and hands and minds the Devil finds work to do.’ The tale, loosely based on William Hogarth’s series of pictures, is by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
One writer on Handel’s Acis and Galatea has commented: ‘It is not clear whether the original performance was staged, semi-staged, or performed as a concert work.’ And therein lies differences in terminology and staging which dogged the work throughout the 18th century. The first term applied to it was ‘masque’, a form in which dance was usually a decisive element. Then it was described as an ‘opera’, implying a filly costume staging of the piece. Next up was the label ‘serenata’, a performance that was advertised as being in costume, but with no movement on the stage. Lastly, it was called an ‘oratorio’, suggesting performances with no costumes and no staging, although it was too short for an evening’s performance and had other works on the theatrical bill to make up a ‘Part III’. New Chamber Opera has performed Acis and Galatea in the past as an oratorio; in November, we will be performing it in a new staging, exploring as aspects of the drama.
The work was written by Handel when he was living at Cannons Park, the home of the Duke of Chandos, during 1717-1718. It traces its origins to the series of pastoral masques set by Johann Pepusch in the second decade of the 18th century, and to the work of the poet John Hughes. The text is attributed to John Gay, and based on Book XIII of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Acis and Galatea are in love; the monster Polyphemus loves Galatea and kills Acis out of jealousy; Galatea assuages her grief by turning Acis into a river spirit as immortal as herself.
New College Chapel
7 June 2017
Tickets £10/£5 from TicketSource
Or on the door
First performed in 1750, Handel’s The Choice of Hercules deals with a choice offered to the god Hercules, a choice between the paths of pleasure and virtue. The two women offer various arguments to Hercules, which culminates in the trio ‘Where shall I go’? In the end, Hercules chooses Virtue. Similar stories of choice were set in England throughout the 18th century, most notably The Judgement of Paris; Handel’s text, probably by Thomas Morell, comes from Robert Lowth’s 1743 poem of the same title.
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