Classical Opera: Bastien und Bastienne on Signum Classics

Following their vivid staging of the twelve-year-old Mozart’s

La finta semplice
at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

in June this year, Classical Opera’s MOZART 250
journey sees them arrive at another adolescent staging-post, Mozart’s first Singspiel: the one-act pastoral, Bastien und Bastienne,
which the company will perform at

Wigmore Hall on Tuesday 18th September
, and which they have just released on the

Signum Classics label

The scholarly paths to an authoritative score and full appreciation of the derivation
of the libretto have been complicated by ambiguities, convolutions and a
lack of extant evidence; drawing on recent scholarship by Linda Tyler
[1], the source issues are helpfully summarised by artistic director and
conductor Ian Page in an informative liner booklet article. The surprise
discovery in the 1980s of the ‘lost’ autograph manuscript of Bastien und Bastienne in the Library of Jagiellonian University in
Krakow (where it resides as an
open-access source) enables Classical Opera to perform Mozart’s original 1768 setting of the
libretto by Friedrich Wilhelm Weiskern and Johann Heinrich Friedrich

The libretto of the artless pastoral parody, the prodigious Mozart’s fourth
work for the stage, began life as a French comedie lyriqueLes amours de Bastien et Bastienne – which was presented on 26th September 1753 by the ComÈdiens Italiens Ordinaires du Roi, with a text by Monsieur and
Madame Favarts (who also starred as the eponymous beloveds) and Harny de
Guerville. Les amours was itself a parody of Rousseau’s Le devin du village of 1753, which had great success at the Paris
AcadËmie Royale de Musique in the second half of the 18th
century and early 19th century. The Favarts and de Guerville
turned Rousseau’s Arcadian archetypes into real, dialect-speaking peasants,
and Les amours was translated into German and set to music by
Johann Baptist Savio. Performed in Vienna at the Karntnerthortheater on 5 th May 1764, and in Salzburg in 1766, it was this text which was
modified by Weiskern and Mu?ller, with some further tinkling by Johann
Andreas Schachtner, a trumpeter at the Salzburg court, and which was set by
Wolfgang the Wunderkind in 1768.

Bastien und Bastienne
was allegedly commissioned by the Viennese physician and ‘magnetist’ Dr Franz Anton Mesmer (who would later make his own parodic appearance in CosÏ fan tutte) although, as Rudolph Angerm¸ller, the editor of
the 1974 B‰renreiter-Verlag Neue Mozart-Ausgabe score, points out,
there is no evidence to verity the claims of Georg Nikolaus Nissen (who was
married to Mozart’s widow and was one of the composer’s first biographers)
that ‘the German operetta Bastien und Bastienne composed by him
for the salon theatre of Dr. Mesmer, the well-known friend of the Mozart
family, was performed in Mesmer’s garden house in a Vienna suburb’.


Angerm¸ller notes that on 10th January 1768, Mesmer had married
Maria Anna von Bosch, the wealthy widow of an Imperial Court Advisor,
Ferdinand Konrad von Bosch, and that the garden theatre at the Mesmers’,
‘an open-air theatre cut out of Box hedge’, at the property in the suburb
Landstrafle that Maria had from her deceased husband, was in 1768 not yet

But, Angerm¸ller keeps an open mind, writing in the Foreword to the Ausgabe score: ‘It is also possible that Nissen … got to know the
host of the performance, Dr. Anton Mesmer, or his younger cousin, Joseph,
one of the famous educationalists of that time, who could have been at the
performance, and learned about it from them. But why then did Maria Anna in
1792 tell the first Mozart biographer, Friedrich von Schlichtegroll,
nothing about this performance, at which she must have been present? And
then Leopold, who sent news of every success and every advantageous
development back to Salzburg, does not inform his Salzburg friends of a
performance and its preparation. It must be admitted that Leopold’s letters
between 24 September and 12 November 1768 have not been kept. Could he have
told of Bastien und Bastienne in these lost letters? If that were
the case, a performance in the house of Dr. Anton Mesmer could also have
taken place in October, 1768.’

Whatever, the first officially recorded performance of Bastien und Bastienne took place 122 years after its composition,
in Berlin on 2nd October 1890 at the Architektenhaus – whether
the premiere, or second performance, we cannot reliably determine at
present. But, however interesting such details and detours of historical
provenance are, I digress. What of the work itself, and of this recorded
performance by Classical Opera?

Some have suggested that the theme of the overture, or ‘Intrada’, bears an
uncanny resemblance to the principal theme of the first movement of the
Eroica; but when you consider that Beethoven’s themes are so often ‘just’
arpeggios and scales, and that here, Page and The Mozartists, led by
Matthew Truscott, show how Mozart’s extended arcs above pulsing static
strings beautifully capture the dramatic spirit of pastoral romance, then
such coincidences seem just that.

The drama is rather slim, as is the musical content: sixteen numbers are
interspersed with spoken dialogue. But, Page ensures that things swing
swiftly along. I’m not sure that Anna Lucia Richter’s Bastienne sounds
convincingly tormented by the anguish of abandonment in her short opening
aria – that may be her ‘fault’, or Mozart’s – but she certainly sings with
beguiling directness and clarity of line. It’s also an advantage to have a
German native in the role as the dialogue speaks true (though there are no
weaknesses among the cast of three in terms of the delivery of the spoken text)
and the horns’ punctuation of Bastienne’s ensuing declaration of
self-solidarity underlines her feisty core, while the strings’ tender tone
hints at future capitulations to her heart’s desires.

The same strings make a good job of imitating Colas’s raucous bagpipes, as
the Magician descends the hill to alleviate Bastienne’s afflictions and
bass-baritone Darren Jeffery’s darkly shining resonance evinces confidence
and authority. Whether Colas’s subsequent actions justify such
self-assurance is another matter – at times the Magician-cum-Meddler seems
to wilfully wind up the woeful Bastienne! – but, his later ‘spell’ is a
show-piece of sub-Audenesque lexicographical melodrama, underpinned by
vicious nerve-tingling Sturm und Drang exhibitionism from The
Mozartists. We are even provided with an Appendix, so that one can hear the
aria with the revised text of 1769, should one prefer ‘Diggi,
daggi,/Schurry, Murry,/Horum, Harum,/Lirum/Larum’, in place of ‘Tatzel,
Br‰tzel,/ Schober, Kober,/Indig, Windig,/Kuffer, Puffer,’ etc.

As the ‘drama’ unfolds, Richter’s tone does not consistently convey naÔve
innocence, but the vocal phrases are always eloquent, and dynamic and
harmonic nuances are brought to the fore (the role of Bastienne will be
taken by Ellie Laugharne at Wigmore Hall). And, Richter’s vocal precision
plays a big part in communicating Bastienne’s anger and indignation at her
beloved’s predilection for the superficial flattery and material luxury
offered by the noblewoman from the castle. Moreover, her lovely ‘siciliano
of sincerity’ wonderfully captures her serene acceptance of the rejection
dished out by her fickle lover: artful artlessness indeed.

Tenor Alessandro Fisher makes characteristically excellent use of the text
in Bastien’s first aria, in which declares that he has seen sense and will
return to his beloved Bastienne. How irritating to be told by Comas, as
Page’s translation puts it, that he has ‘been given the push’ (Man hat dir
den Abschied gegeben). Bastien’s lines lie quite low and sadly we don’t often get
the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of Fisher’s dulcet head-voice. But, the
tenor conveys a strong feeling of the virility of youthful masculinity,
though not without a core of sensitivity. Bastien’s confidence in the
neglected Bastienne’s devotion – suggested by the unadorned honesty of
Fisher’s declaration, ‘Und wenn sie vor Liebe brennet,/Mufl die Glut von mir
entstehn.’ (And if she burns with love,/ Must the embers arise from me.) –
is simultaneously represented and mocked by the strings’
vibrant scalic flourishes; and, not exactly supplanted but certainly diluted by
the simply serenading and urgent declaration of Bastien’s yearning to
behold his beloved’s rosy cheeks once more. However, before their
reconciliation, we have a wonderfully disingenuous duet of mutual contempt
in which Page captures the characters’ dichotomy of emotions in the
contrasting pace and mood of the sections within the number.

This disc is ‘filled out’ by Mozart’s Grabmusik which Classical
Opera presented at

Wigmore Hall in January 2016

. At Wigmore Hall next week, the programme will begin with Haydn’s La Passione Symphony, and Bastien und Bastienne will be
complemented by a selection of arias from an anonymous collection
of Viennese Comedy Arias from the 1750s, which demonstrate the musical
language and style that Mozart deliberately replicated in his 1768 Singspiel.

Classical Opera perform

Bastien und Bastienne at Wigmore Hall on 18th September
. Ian Page will give a pre-concert talk at 6pm.

Claire Seymour

Anna Lucia Richter (Der Engel (Grabmusik)/Bastienne), Alessandro
Fisher (Bastien), Jacques Imbrailo (Die Seele (Grabmusik)), Darren
Jeffery (Colas); Ian Page (conductor), The Mozartists.

Signum Classics SIGCD547 [66:24]


Tyler discusses the textual origins and evolution of the opera in ‘ Bastien und Bastienne: The Libretto, Its Derivation, and
Mozart’s Text-Setting’, Journal of Musicology, Vol.8, No.4
(Autumn, 1990): 520-552.


Georg Nikolaus Nissen, Biographie W. A. Mozarts (Leipzig,
1828; reprint ed., Hildesheim, 1972), 127.

image_description=Mozart:Grabmusik and Bastien und Bastienne K.50; Classical Opera
product_title=Mozart:Grabmusik and Bastien und Bastienne; Classical Opera
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Signum Classics SIGCD547