Haydn: L’incontro improvviso

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: L’incontro improvviso
CATALOGUE NO: 432 416-2 ADD
Soloists include: Luigi Alva, Arleen Augér, Elly Ameling, Barbara Hendricks, Della Jones, Benjamin Luxon, Jessye Norman, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Frederica von Stade Lausanne CO/Antal Dorati

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In 1970, Decca started to issue all Haydn’s symphonies with the German-based Philharmonia Hungarica conducted by Antal Dorati. In an amazing four years they completed the hugely successful series. Six years later, Philips started to issue a series of Haydn operas, meticulously prepared and recorded with the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra conducted by Dorati and recorded in a church in the vineyards above Lausanne. Over the next few years Erik Smith, the brilliant producer of the opera series, managed to record no fewer than eight Haydn operas and a large collection of ‘insertion’ arias and ensembles, intended by Haydn to replace numbers in operas by other composers. Most of these operas were first recordings. With the experience of 107 symphonies behind him, Dorati was perhaps the only man in the world with the practical knowledge of Haydn’s style necessary to make these unknown operas come alive, and the result was a major triumph in the history of the gramophone. Philips was also clever and resourceful in its casting: the then relatively unknown Frederica von Stade, Lucia Valentini Terrani (later a famous Rossini interpreter) and Jessye Norman sang, along with many now-familiar names. The sound of the recordings in that famous church was beguiling, and in some cases new scholarly texts were specially prepared for the recordings (L’isola disabitata, La vera costanza).

It is difficult to single out works in this galaxy, but I suggest starting with La fedeltà premiata, musically Haydn’s richest and most rewarding with fabulous finales (the one to Act I lasts 20 minutes) and memorable arias. With its descending chain of thirds in the finale to Act I, this was a major influence on the structure of Mozart’s Così fan tutte (Mozart would have heard the Haydn opera when it was put on by Schikaneder in Vienna in 1784). This major work was not even published until 1968 and was not available in a performing edition until 1970.

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My second choice, L’infedeltà delusa (1773), has been the most successful Haydn opera on the stage since its revival (score and parts were published in 1961) and has since been recorded three times. It is an invigorating comedy about a farming community in Tuscany. These operas are a celebration of 18th-century life and in a way incorporate all that makes Haydn a great man of the Enlightenment: in them you will find wit, poetry, warmth and a touching catalogue of our hopes and frailties, coupled with enormous energy and a kind of radiant inner vitality. Perhaps we have an especial need of all these qualities nowadays. HC Robbins Landon