Haydn’s Le pescatrici at Bampton Classical Opera

it’s downpours and blackouts in the Oxfordshire countryside which force a
retreat to a candlelit church, or indisposed singers who compel director Jeremy
Gray himself to tread the boards (Benda’s Romeo and Juliet,
2007) or require a student drama student to read the text for a miming singer
(Schubert’s The Conspirators, 2009), Bampton Classical Opera
must sometimes feel that the Fates are against them. Critics have rightly noted
that the company “deserves a prize for quirky, courageous planning”
but one might also add that they excel in spontaneous and creative
‘damage limitation’! For this performance of Haydn’s
seldom-performed dramma giocoso, Le Pescatrici, the late
indisposition of the leading tenor, Andrew Friedhoff (Burlotto), necessitated
some rapid re-imagining: in the event, Friedhoff was able to sing the
recitative, his arias were excised, and Burlotto’s contributions to the
ensembles were delivered by Philip Salmon from the front of the orchestral
area. An unfussy solution, and one which scarcely disrupted the musical and
dramatic rhythm and logic — indeed, if it had not been for the appearance
of Salmon on the platform at the curtain, to receive his well-deserved
applause, I suspect many in the audience would not have noticed anything
unusual or amiss …

Haydn’s reputation may rest largely on his body of instrumental works,
including the 104 symphonies and over 80 string quartets, but vocal music and
vocal aesthetics were at the heart of his musical and personal identity
throughout his career. His early vocal training was crucial to the formation of
his style, as he became familiar with the vocally-based, sensual strands in
German musical thought in the early 1750s, singing simple tunes to his
father’s harp, training with the choir at St Stephen’s cathedral in
Vienna, studying the ‘instrumental arias’ of C.P.E. Bach and the
vocal compositions of the great Italian masters. It is therefore not surprising
that everything Haydn wrote, even the most complex ideas, ‘sings’
so effortlessly and beautifully.

Despite, or perhaps because of, Haydn’s own concern that the relative
isolation of the Esterh·za palace would be detrimental to his compositional
development, he was familiar with the most up-to-date trends and fashions in
vocal music, well aware of the niceties of the Italian operatic tradition
within which he worked. Moreover, in keeping with the contemporary aesthetic
theory espoused by Rousseau and others, Le Pescatrici has relatively
simple plot, with few incidents but many opportunities to explore the
characters’ psychological depths and motivations. The context of the
first performance — a celebration of the noble wedding of Prince Nicholas
Esterh·zy’s niece, the Countess von Lamberg, and his Highness the Count
of Poggi, staged in a new 400-seat opera house built by the extravagant Prince
— led to small alternations being made to Goldoni’s play.
Haydn’s opera, in which true nobility and aristocratic grace win through,
and the fickle peasant classes are exposed as greedy and presumptuous, was a
perfect parable for the occasion.

Two feckless fisher girls, Nerina and Lesbina, are each engaged to the
other’s brother, Burlotto and Frisellino respectively. But, desirous of
more wealthy and illustrious husbands, they are excited by the arrival of
Prince Lindoro; he is seeking the rightful heir to the throne of Benevento,
whose identity was concealed at birth during a violent coup. Each of the
fortune-hunting girls immediately sets about convincing Lindoro that they are
the true claimant, to the annoyance of their suitors. Mastricco, a worldly old
fisherman, knows better, however; for it is the demure, gentle Eurilda, his
supposed daughter, who is the rightful inheritor. Despite the enterprising
efforts of the flighty fisher girls, true nobility shines through and justice
is restored. But not before the spurned young men seize the opportunity to
humiliate their capricious fiancÈes with a ‘CosÏ-like’ trick:
disguising themselves as the well-bred cousins of Lindoro, they woo their
ladies (in this case, their own, to avoid any incestuous advances!) by
promising them untold riches and luxury. When the ruse is exposed, it is
Mastricco who must step in to restore order and harmony.

The imposing Baroque interior of St John’s Smith Square may lack some
of the lavish opulence of the original venue, but this mattered not as the sets
designed by Mike Wareham and Anthony Hall swept us far from twilight London to
the idyllic Italian south, depositing us in the small fishing village of
Taranto. An aquamarine gleam imbued all, illuminating a picture-perfect coastal
backdrop; and what with the brightly painted fish-stalls and sun-bleached beach
huts — with obligatory sea-gull perched aloft — one could almost
forget the evening’s decidedly autumnal chill. This was a fresh,
uncluttered set, but one which offered many an opportunity for Jeremy
Gray’s typically deft visual witticisms — not least the changing
theatre bills which reminded us of Le Pescatrici’s operatic
‘relations’, La Cenerentola and CosÏ fan

A fire at the Esterh·za opera house in 1779 resulted in the loss of almost
one third of the score. Several significant scenes in Acts 1 and 2 are missing
and when the opera was staged at Garsington in 1997, a prize of £2000 was
offered for the “best restoration of missing parts”! Bampton
adopted the more conventional approach of using the reconstruction made in 1965
by the esteemed Haydn scholar, H.C. Robbins Landon.

The replacement numbers for Act 1 and Act 2 are certainly in keeping with
the lyrical, serenade-like idiom of Haydn’s original sections. However,
the necessary excision of Burlotto’s mock-heroic first aria and the
rather uniform mood, mode and timbre of the sequence of opening arias, resulted
in a lack of variety at the start of Act 1; thus, while an atmosphere of
delight and relaxation was created, characterisation was not firmly established
in musical terms, although subsequent arias, particularly those for Lesbina and
Nerina in Act 2, were more strikingly individual. What was apparent, from the
opening bars of the overture, was that the London Mozart Players were on fine
form, under the baton of Alice Farnham. In particular, the sweet, warm woodwind
colours, ‡ la divertimento, as in the tender introduction to the
second scene, evoked the gentle, lazy heat of the Italian sunshine.

Throughout, the ensemble between the orchestra and singers was superb; two
large television screens proved an effective means of overcoming one of the
inherent problems of the venue, where the necessity of placing orchestral
players behind the singers can hinder effective communication between conductor
and cast. One might have wished for a little more energy and sprightlier tempi
from Farnham in the ensembles, particularly in the Act 1 finale, with its
gradual accumulation of musical and dramatic urgency, but overall the structure
was well-judged. The continuo playing of Kelvin Lim was particularly
noteworthy, skilfully creating dramatic momentum and continuity in the

Supported by such an assured orchestral platform, it was the leading ladies
who sparkled most brightly. Bampton regulars, Emily Rowley Jones (Lesbina) and
Serena Kay (Nerina), pouted and pranced, flounced and flirted convincingly,
both sopranos relishing the humour and sustaining the verve and energy. After
some initial intonation problems, Rowley Jones settled into the role,
negotiating both the pompous coloratura and deflating patter (thereby exposing
the falsity of her claims and revealing her humdrum roots) in her Act 2 aria
with confidence and assurance. Kay used her upper range particularly

In the role of Eurilda, Margaret Rapacioli certainly presented an effective
contrast to the flightiness of the other fisher girls; the simplicity of
Eurilda’s melodies reminds one of the classical grace and dignity of
Gluck, but although she conveyed an appropriate dramatic serenity and
sincerity, Rapacioli did not quite possess the sustained lyricism of line and
depth of tone necessary to express the integrity and graciousness of

Mark Chaundy, as Frisellino, demonstrated a nimbleness of movement and
lightness of voice, just right for this simple, undemanding young lover; while
bass Robert Winslade Anderson was an appealing Mastricco. The expansive range
required in his Act 1 aria posed some challenges, particularly at the top, but
his consistently excellent diction more than compensated, to which he needed
only a few economic visual and physical gestures to deftly convey both the
wisdom and mischief of the wily old fisherman. Given the consistency of the
soloists, it was a pity, therefore, that baritone Vojtech Safarik (Lindoro)
seemed less assured. Under-powered vocally, rather stiff physically, and with
little variety of tone, Safarik tended to shout when a forte was
required; he was somewhat overshadowed in the ensembles, which had the
unfortunate effect of diminishing the opera’s emphasis on the power and
dignity of the ‘nobility’.

But, overall this was a well-matched cast. Caroline Kennedy and Rosa French,
as decorative bellezze al bagno, enhanced the comic spirit. And, in
the ensembles, particularly the Act 1 finale and the tranquil farewell to
Lindoro and Eurilda, the voices blended into a radiant whole.

In his public statements about his oeuvre, Haydn consistently placed his
vocal works ahead of his instrumental compositions. This performance, which
conveyed the company ’s genuine belief in the opera’s merits and
which perfectly straddled the line between irony and sincerity, certainly
suggested that a reassessment of Haydn’s operatic achievement is long

Claire Seymour

image_description=F. J. Haydn by Thomas Hardy, 1792
product_title=F. J. Haydn: Le pescatrici
product_by=Lesbina, a fishergirl, sister of Burlotto and in love with Frisellino: Emily Rowley Jones; Nerina, a fishergirl, sister of Frisellino and in love with Burlotto: Serena Kay; Burlotto, a fisherman, in love with Nerina: Andrew Friedhoff; Frisellino, a fisherman, in love with Lesbina: Mark Chaundy; Eurilda, believed to be the daughter of Mastricco: Lina Markeby/Margaret Rapacioli; Mastricco, an elderly fisherman: Robert Winslade Anderson; Lindoro, Prince of Sorrento: Vojt?ch äafa?Ìk. Orchestra of Bampton Classical Opera (July, August); The London Mozart Players (September). Conductor: Alice Farnham. Director: Jeremy Gray.

Bampton Classical Opera

HAYDN: Le pescatrici

St John’s Smith Square, London

Thursday 17th September 2009