Haydn: Opera at Eszterhaza

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Opera at Eszterháza: Arias; La Circe
PERFORMER: Miah Persson (soprano), Kirstin Chávez (mezzo-soprano), Bernard Richter, Christopher Genz (tenor), Iván Paley (baritone), Manfred Hemm (bass); Haydn Sinfonietta Wien/Manfred Huss
CATALOGUE NO: BIS SACD-1811

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This enterprising collection trawls through Haydn’s operatic output, but not his own regular works. As music director of the opera house on the Eszterháza estate, he produced over 1,000 performances between 1780 and 1790, including works by other composers to which he added numbers now known as ‘insertion arias’. Also here is the occasional concert aria – notably the ‘Solo e pensoso’, a setting of Petrarch dating from the period of The Creation.
 
All are worth hearing, though one or two – like the comic trio from the pasticcio (a piece put together from scores by different composers) Circe, which accompanies the eating of a meal – need a full visualisation to make their mark. Extraordinary is the scene Haydn developed from the original in Ifigenia in Tauride by Traetta, a composer working along similar reformist principles to Gluck. As befits a context in which the matricide Orestes is haunted by guilt, the writing here is striking.
 
The likeable Swiss tenor Bernard Richter sings it imaginatively, and is appealing, too, in the substantial and amorous ‘Tornate pur mia bella’, whose origin is unknown. Baritone Iván Paley is lively in the buffo fun of ‘Dice benissimo’, added to Salieri’s La scuola de’ gelosi, but the finest singing comes from Miah Persson in four items, including the Petrarch setting. Vital accompaniments under Manfred Huss, but slightly swimmy sound. George Hall