Paisiello: Nina

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Paisiello
LABELS: Arthaus
ALBUM TITLE: Paisiello
WORKS: Nina
PERFORMER: Cecilia Bartoli, Jonas Kaufmann, László Polgár; Zürich Opera House Chorus & Orchestra/Adam Fischer; dir. Cesare Lievi (Zürich, 2002)
CATALOGUE NO: 100 366
’Tis a pity she’s a bore, for there are more good performances going on here than Nina really deserves. This tragicomedy was apparently the greatest success of Giovanni Paisiello’s career, some claim considering that he wrote around 90 operas and that his Barbiere di Siviglia both inspired Mozart to produce Le nozze di Figaro as a sequel and caused later audiences to criticise Rossini for daring to tackle the same subject. Although Paisiello (1740-1816) is interesting enough to deserve some attention today, his musical accomplishments are more reminiscent of Cimarosa than anyone else. He did, however, enjoy a colourful life, and served European rulers as diverse as Catherine the Great and Napoleon. When Nina was first performed at La Scala, the title role was taken by none other than Floria Tosca, the singer who was later to inspire Sardou and Puccini. There would be enough material for a fascinating documentary, but the ‘bonus feature’ here consists mostly of dull talking heads.

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Cesare Lievi’s production, filmed live in Zürich, looks handsome enough, although it applies double layers of meaning too clever for the sentimental subject matter. Nina’s predicament – the opera is subtitled ‘The Girl Driven Mad by Love’, and, until a final happy ending, she spends most of the time moping around – means that Cecilia Bartoli looks a bit of a fright, and her trademark facial exaggerations are best not seen close-up. Neither her impressive vocal flights, nor the strong singing of Jonas Kaufmann as her lover and László Polgár as her father, come across with the vividness they deserve. Adam Fischer conducts sympathetically, but only Bartoli fans need bother. John Allison