Launching our 2016/17 season

Ian Page looks forward to ‘La canterina’, the opening concert of Classical Opera’s season.

Classical Opera’s 2016/17 season begins and ends in Austria. In both cases we will be playing works by great composers in the venues where they were first performed – Haydn in Eisenstadt (a three-day residency to open the prestigious Haydn Festival in the Esterhazy Palace), and Mozart in Salzburg (four performances as part of Martin Randall Travel’s ‘The Miracle of Salzburg’ festival in June 2017).

Our London season opens at Wigmore Hall on 19 September with a near reprise (one work is different) of the opening concert of the Eisenstadt festival. This programme is actually the latest event in our unique MOZART 250 project, which travels back in time to explore music being written and performed exactly 250 years previously. All the music in this concert dates from 1766, and the programme features a selection of arias from Myslivecek’s Semiramide and a complete performance of Haydn’s La canterina.

The concert opens with Haydn’s Symphony No. 34, which cannot be dated with exact precision but is most likely to have been written in 1766. This magnificent but rarely performed (because it does not have a nickname?) work begins with an exquisite slow movement and culminates in a whirling country dance.

Josef Myslivecek (1737-1781) was unusually successful in two particular respects: he was one of very few composers whose music Mozart admired, and one of even fewer ‘foreign’ composers who were successful and popular in Italy. He composed over 25 operas, of which Semiramide was the first, and became known as ‘il divino boemo’, the divine Bohemian.

The main work in the programme is Haydn’s 40-minute comic opera, La canterina. This too was Haydn’s first fully extant opera, and portrays the attempts of two suitors to woo the impish Gasparina (one of whom masquerades as a singing teacher to get ‘up close and personal’ to his intended conquest)and her attempts to fleece them of money and jewellery without making any romantic commitments.

The score sparkles with wit and energy, beginning with an aria in praise of cosmetic make-up and its ability to cover up the truth, and taking joyful advantage of the abundant opportunities to lampoon opera, its practices and its practitioners. Most musically remarkable of all, perhaps, are the quartets which close each half of the work, full of the verve, panache and mayhem that was to characterise Mozart’s celebrated opera finales. The text also includes several antiquated insults of which Shakespeare would have been proud.

We have assembled a cast of wonderful singers and natural comedians for this project, with Ailish Tynan playing Gasparina, Rachel Kelly her friend and sidekick (pretending to be her mother – hence the make-up) and Robert Murray and Kitty Whately as her two suitors. The result will hopefully be some sort of eighteenth-century equivalent of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and this promises to be an exciting and fun start to our new season.