A man in love. A man mourning his deceased wife. Paul and Marie. Paul has transformed his house into a shrine with pictures and other souvenirs of Marie and is completely absorbed by his memories of her. Frank, Paul’s friend, tries to reason with his him, to make him overcome his sorrow – and fails. Paul feels erotically attracted to another woman, the dancer Marietta, which he confuses with Marie, at the same time he feels guilt. Then his fantasies take control of him, and he sees the ghost of Marie stepping out of her portrait and he believes that a song sung by Marietta is actually performed by Marie.
Oriental exotics and intrigue, power struggles, impossible love, betrayal and reconciliation – those ingredients have tempted librettists and opera composers alike. How they dealt with it, had very much to do with the conventions of the time, the taste of the audience, and the availability of good singers. When Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach, made his debut in London, he was appalled by the lack of good singers, and though the King’s Theatre asked him in 1762 to write two operas, he initially refused. However, after the audition of several singers, he agreed, and in 1763, he presented an opera that had long been forgotten, and that I have discovered myself only very recently: Zanaida.
April 2015: I am at the Opéra Bastille in Paris and the final curtain on Antonin Dvorak’s opera “Rusalka”, Op. 114 has just fallen. An exhilarating experience. I remember I left the opera in a kind of trance, perpetuated at least for some time by a glass of wine at the opera restaurant. The magnitude of the performance, directed by Robert Carsen and conducted by Jakub Hrusa, probably was the main reason why I never resolved myself to write a post about it even though I had one scheduled for autumn 2015. I was worried that the unique impression of music, the acting and the stage design would dwarf anything I would feel when listening to a mere recording and prevent me from rendering justice to Dvorak’s work (the casting is available here).
Haydn didn’t write operas, did he? He was the champion of chamber music and a prolific writer of symphonies, but operas? No, no, no. That’s what I thought and I was wrong. Half a year ago I enjoyed the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Hélène Grimaud performing Bartok’s Piano Concert No. 3, but the warm-up of the orchestra alone had already justified buying that no-so-cheap ticket. The Dutch ensemble, shrunk to the size of a chamber orchestra, performed the overture in G minor of Haydn’s opera “L’Isola Disabitata” (The Lonely Island) – a lovely piece of music that made me curious. What would an opera written by Haydn sound like?