Haydnís LíAnima del Filosofo (Orfeo ed Eurydice) ó A rare performance at Glimmerglass this summer, as part of their ìOrpheusî 2007 Festival Season

Within a year the younger man would
be dead, and the older would be in London putting the finishing touches to an
opera that never saw the light of day in full public performance until, in
1951 it was staged in Florence with Maria Callas, Boris Christoff and Tygge
Tyggeson in the leading roles. This is just part of the strange story of an
opera that nearly never was, because although Haydn was fully paid in advance
for his version of the Orfeo and Eurydice legend by the London-based
impresario and violinist Johann Peter Salomon, it became the victim of
politics and critical machinations that finally prevented it from opening at

Haydn was happy enough with the project (being paid in advance must have
helped) and described the libretto, by Carlo Badini, as ìentirely different
from that of Gl¸ckísî. What he didnít say was that said Badini was
also famed for his destructive gossip and very influential critical writings
which could literally make or break a theatreís reputation at that time. In
this writing of the famous tale, the story starts with Eurydice fleeing the
unwanted attentions of her fatherís favoured suitor for her, and becoming
the focus of Orfeoís love; however, by the end of Act One she is dead from
a snake-bite. The rest of the four acts concern Orfeoís struggle to
retrieve her from Hades, his famous error, and in this version of the tale,
his eventual destruction by the Bacchae women, enraged by his avowed shunning
of womenís love following his final loss of Eurydice.

There were only 3 main roles in the opera that Haydn wrote ó Orfeo,
written for leading tenor of the time Giacomo Davide who was described later
as possessing ìa clear and flexible voice, with an extensive
falsettoî, Eurydice, sung by soprano Rosa Lops and the Genio (an
oracle/soothsayer figure) who was apparently to be sung by a not-very-good
castrato of the time, possibly one Signor Dorelli. Confusingly, by the time
the opera came to rehearsal, there was another role included in the MS ó
that of Creonte, father of Eurydice. Sadly, despite getting to
dress-rehearsal, local politics prevented the Kingís Theatre from opening
on time and Haydn never saw his opera open to the public.

It is no wonder then that this particular operatic version of the famous
myth fell into that huge abyss of ìforgottenî works as the
late18th century geared itself up for the immense musical
developments on the horizon. Yet, it is a jewel of its time, with some
stunning music as well as dramatic vigour and this 2007 Glimmerglass concert
performance has been looked forward to for some time by those who remember or
have heard, either Callas in í51, the 1967 live recording by Dame Joan
Sutherland and Nicolai Gedda at the Edinburgh Festival, or of course the more
recent revival by Cecilia Bartoli.

However, it was rather a disappointment to find that circumstances and
time constraints had yielded some pretty savage cuts here on the shores of
Lake Otsego. Michael Macleod, the new General and Artistic Director,
explained that he had been anxious to do something meaningful on the
traditional Sunday morning slot on Gala Weekend in this his first year at the
helm of the Festival Opera. What better than to maintain the ethic of
Glimmerglass and make more good music with a little known take on the myth,
and better still, a work by one of his great loves, Haydn? Sadly, the time
available between the 11 am start and the afternoon matinee at 3 pm of the
staged L’Orfeo by Monteverdi meant that the concert performance was
truncated with huge swathes of recitative removed. The story was moved on
succinctly but prosaically by an on-stage Narrator, and several arias also

What was left seemed more a showcase for soprano Sarah Coburn, an
opportunity this technically elegant singer took full advantage of. She sang
the arias of Eurydice and the Genio (the latter’s big number ìAl tuo
seno fortunate
î being eerily reminiscent of Mozart’s Queen of the
Nightís) with precision (mostly) and vocal poise. Not exciting, but
obviously well-read and produced with only fleeting glances at the score
before her. Equally effective was the baritone of young Corey Crider as
Creonte. Much less successful was the Orfeo of tenor Norman Shankle, who
appeared both nervous and under-prepared, his hands (and eyes) never far from
the printed music, and his production sounding unsure and tentative, at best.
This curateís egg of a production was held together by some nice idiomatic
playing by the Opera Orchestra, with special mention going to the flutes,
under the shared batons of Antony Walker and Anne Manson.

Mr. MacLeod explained afterwards that the reason for the split duties for
the conductors was part of a process of selection for vacant post of the
Festivalís next Music Director. Whatever the reason, it was a rather novel
experience for the audience as the two conductors had two very different
styles, although it was hard to split them on the resultant sound.

The performance is repeated on the 19th August.

© Sue Loder 2007

For tickets (limited availability): Glimmerglass Opera Box Office
(607) 547-2255 and more information from the website: http://www.glimmerglass.org/Haydn.html

image_description=Sarah Coburn (Photo: © George Mott/Glimmerglass Opera)
product_title=F. J. Haydn: LíAnima del Filosofo
Above: Sarah Coburn (Photo: © George Mott/Glimmerglass Opera)