Appreciating Haydn the Opera Composer:
With Background and Analysis of Joseph Haydn’s L’Infedeltà delusa
By Sara Hartley Llewellyn (nee. Frister)
When music critics of today look back at Classical era opera, they see Mozart, not his equally talented, overshadowed counterpart, Joseph Haydn. This inequality is very unfortunate, but when we take a closer look, we see that it is quite understandable. In order to appreciate and perform Haydn’s opera to its greatest potential we must look beyond our preconceived ideas about Classical opera and try to discover Joseph Haydn’s music in a new light. To this end, we will explore the attitudes, motivation and limitations of Haydn, his critics and audience, that a close look at his comic opera L’Infedeltà delusa, and analyze how this information has been passed down into our present day conception of how this opera should or should not be performed.
To fully appreciate Haydn’s operas, it is helpful to understand why they came to be and what conditions they were composed under. During this time when Haydn wrote most of his operas he was the court composer for Prince Nikolaus Esterházy. In this role Haydn was expected to compose very specific types of works for specific events. He further had to do so for a given group of musicians, and , of course, to suit the tastes of his employers. For these reasons it is important to take into consideration Haydn’s many physically imposed limitations and pressures while creating such productions. If, as directors and performers, we can forgive these restrictions to understand his composition in context, we begin to comprehend the strengths that Haydn as so masterfully sewn into his work. Then perhaps we can take the burden off of the listeners and set about a new appreciation for this work.
Haydn spent an enormous portion of his career at the palace of Esterházy employed as the Kapellmeister. For more than a quarter of a decade, from 1763 to 1790 he worked diligently as composer, conductor, instructor and supervisor for all of the musical events in this very esteemed musical atmosphere. A great deal of his time at Esterházy was spent composing and directing operas. Haydn composed a total of fourteen stage works, nine in Italian and five in German between 1766 and 1780. Between 1780 and 1789 alone at least 1034 performances of 73 operas were given under Haydn’s direction.
At the 1975 International Haydn Conference, Andrew Porter was quite accurate in stating that “as we go through the operas, we begin to discover the vocal personalities and the temperaments of the singers in Haydn’s company, especially the resourceful and versatile Maddalena Friberth, Karl Friberth, and Leopold Dichtler”. (Haydn Studies, 256) Also notable are the character and limitations of Haydn’s orchestra, such as is demonstrated in L’Infedeltà delusa. “The orchestra is of modest size, including oboes, horns and strings, augmented by bassoons (specified only in the opening quintet). Timpani are used only in the three C major pillars of the structure (where the are combined with horns): the overture, Filippo’s area early in Act 2 and finale.” (Branscombe, 801) These limitations need not be viewed as a handicap, however, to Haydn’s style, but rather simply the colors that lay on his palate.
In many respects Haydn was spoiled to have at his disposal a twenty-five member orchestra of excellent playing ability, facility to numerous musical instruments, elegant performing spaces, a gifted troupe of resident opera singers, an appreciative audience, and a supportive and appreciative employer. Indeed, in his time, Haydn had just about everything a composer and musician could ask for. His talents and productive capabilities were realized and he was grated security and immediate gratification that is rare for a composer in any era.
This luxury, however, was gained at the cost of a certain posterity. Many present day observers wonder at the seeming loss of interest in much of Haydn’s work that allowed it to slip into near obscurity immediately after his lifetime. The common assumption that this music worked its way out of the familiar repertoire of orchestras and opera companies because of lack of quality is unfortunate. Most of the music composed for the Esterházy court was simply never released for performance outside of Esterházy. Three of the five stage works that Haydn wrote in German were completely lost, and many sections of other works were lost as well. These facts are important and rarely taken into account.
For almost two hundred years Haydn’s reputation lay primarily in the posterity of only his music composed for performance outside of Esterházy. Mostly this responsibility lay with the works composed in the last decade of his life. Even this fraction of his output, including The Creation, The Seasons, The London Symphonies, and a number of smaller works, was enough to write his name into musical history.
It is no wonder that his operas are not popular. He wrote only one for performance outside of Esterházy, and the rest were locked away in the vaults of the castle shortly after their premieres. The contract that Haydn entered into upon accepting his initial post at Esterházy in 1766 was very explicit about the compositional restrictions imposed upon him. This was stated in the fourth clause of this contract, “The said Vice-Capellmeister shall be under obligation to compose such music as his Serene Highness may command, and neither to communicate such compositions to any other person, nor to allow them to be copied, but he shall retain them for the absolute use of his Highness, and not compose for any other person without the knowledge and permission of his Highness.” (Weiss and Taruskin, 299)
Many of Haydn’s stage works were destroyed in fire, and the remaining were not rediscovered until long after they would have been able to influence their predecessors. This can be partially attributed to the fact that neither of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy’s most immediate descendants, his son Anton Esterházy and Nicholas II shared his love for music. Upon his father’s death, Anton was quick to disband Haydn’s orchestra and send Haydn off with a pension. The music, therefore, sat locked away to remain simply as another of the great possessions of the Esterházy estate from 1790 until their rediscovery by musicologists in 1960. (Rossi, 54)
Of course, musicologists and musicians argue there are other reasons why these operas are not performed. The leading argument is that Haydn’s operas lack drama, as was most simply stated by Andrew Porter at the International Haydn Conference, “Haydn’s operas show little sense of theatrical timing or theatrical situation.” (Porter, 256) While everyone involved agrees that the music is beautiful, not everyone agrees that it is properly set for stage production.
The easiest target for blame for this seeming lack of drama are the librettos Haydn set. Georg Feder claimed that “Most of the librettos Haydn set were originally written for Italian composers like Galuppi, Piccinni, Anfossi, or Cimarosa. Somebody in the Esterházy opera house took a copy of such a libretto originally printed, say, in Venice and made cuts or partial substitutions of newly written or borrowed text. This revised libretto Haydn set to music, not without carefully considering the individual abilities of the singers engaged at the Esterházy opera house.” (Haydn Studies, 253) Haydn is criticized for settling too quickly for the texts put before him. “…of the sovereign mastery of drama, pace and psychological insight that we too easily take for granted in the very greatest of stage composers, there is scarcely a sign. The faults – as we see it – lie in Haydn’s apparently uncritical acceptance of the librettos put before him…” (Branscombe, 676) Critics say that he should have either demanded that those who brought libretti to him make further alterations in order to provide a better foundation for the music to serve the drama, or made such corrections himself. As it was, Haydn made little or no corrections to these libretti, and left no evidence that he wanted to do so.
The argument of poor libretti is a hard one to dispute, because it is difficult to say what Haydn would have done given different tools. Some argue that even with a more dramatic foundation, Haydn was not apt to take advantage of it. This view is argued by Peter Branscombe about Haydn’s comic opera, L’Infedeltà delusa, with a libretto by Marco Coltellini, who also worked in the libretto for Mozart’s La finta semplice. “Despite three pairings of lovers there is no love duet – indeed, apart from the rather brief two-tempo finales the score consists solely of recitatives and arias, and some of them anything but dramatic. To take one instance, when Nanni is anxious to find out his sister’s further plans, she says she has no time to tell him now – and proceeds to sing a lovely six-minute-long aria (‘Ho teso la rete’) without even then putting him properly in the picture.” (Branscombe, 672)
Despite Branscombe’s harsh view of Haydn’s dramatic choices, the opera has many merits. As is a very familiar story with most of Haydn’s operas, L’Infedeltà delusa enjoyed a very specific and well-tailored role in Esterházy. L’Infedeltà delusa (‘Deceit Outwitted’) is a Burletta per musica (type of opera buffa) in two acts. It is the only purely comic opera of this type that Haydn composed, and was first performed for a special occasion, the name-day of the Dowager Princess Esterházy (July 26th, 1773). The opera enjoyed two subsequent revivals: the first on September 1st of the same year during a visit of Empress Maria Theresa, which prompted the often repeated quote, “if I wish to hear a good opera, I go to Eszterhaza”, and in July of 1774 for “two distinguished Italians”. No more performances of L’Infedeltà delusa were made during Haydn’s time despite its proud success at these performances.
Many sources claim that L’Infedeltà delusa marks a turning point in Haydn’s career as an opera composer. Georg Feder asserted, “The most developed and most completely preserved of Haydn’s operas are those beginning with L’Infedeltà delusa of 1773…” (Haydn Studies, 255) Barry S. Brook agreed that “…it seems that Haydn’s activity as an opera composer achieved its peak between 1773 and 1783.” (Haydn Studies, 253) “This work marks an important step forward in Haydn’s development as an opera composer. Compared with its predecessor, Le pescatrici (1769), L’Infedeltà delusa reveals a marked degree of concentration: the five characters are all from the peasant class, the chorus is excluded and the work is limited to two acts of equal length.” (Branscombe, 801) “Perhaps Haydn’s greatest progress as a theater composer was made in the short period between Le pescatrici and L’Infedeltà delusa. L’Infedeltà delusa … conforms much more closely to modern ideals of eighteenth-century opera than does the earlier, and fully justifies the empress’s memorable remark…” (Downs, 251)
In fact, Haydn’s operas do seem to demonstrate a higher degree of organization and dramatic intent beginning in 1773. “in this opera, Haydn shows more insight into characterization by musical means and a greater sense of musical theater. There is a noticeable enriching of the melodic materials and the orchestral textures as well, all of which broaden and deepen Haydn’s power to express the drama through the music. He begins to use vocal color as effectively as he has hitherto used the orchestra.” (Downs, 251) The opening quartet that follows the overture “anticipates parts of Muzart’s Così” with a sensuousness that celebrates the beauty of the cool evening. The opening quartet in many ways takes the place of what is commonly sung by a chorus. Since Haydn had no chorus available to him at Esterházy, he may simply have been substituting with the most adequate tools at his disposal, but the result is a refreshing number that is as effective as anything conventional at setting up “the calm before the storm”.
Haydn’s operas offer a combination of unique features based on familiar convention. He uses many eighteenth-century stereotypes, such as the drinking song and the serenade, but he weaves them together in a unique way. (Landon and Jones, 126) One example of this use of convention in L’Infedeltà delusa is Nencio’s serenade to Sandrina. It is very typical, in 6/8 time with pizzicato strings imitating a guitar. This serenade is not unusual in many respects, but Haydn does add some charming effects including a lifting progression on the word ‘cor’ (heart).
Haydn was well aware of the voices for which he had to write while at Esterházy. When writing L’Infedeltà delusa he created his characters with the personalities and strenths of his talented cast in mind. Leopold Dichtler, for example, the tenor who created the role of Nencio, seemed to have an extremely wide range, although Haydn never wrote any notable coloratura for him, suggesting that it was not Dichtler’s strength.
Maddalena Friberth, Barbara Dichtler, Carl Friberth, Leopold Dichtler, and Christian Specht were Haydn’s core singers in many of his opera productions at the castle, and were the complete cast of L’Infedeltà delusa in 1773. With no chorus or supporting cast he built the entire opera upon only these voices, his modestly sized orchestra, and the libretto given to him.
Barbara (Fuchs) Dichtler was one of the singers in his company who’s voice Haydn knew as well as he did the singer. She began singing at Esterházy as an apprentice in 1758. After working her way up in the company for a number of years she became one of Haydn’s lead sopranos and married the tenor Leopold Dichtler, with Haydn as the “best man” in the ceremony. Three years before she actually died on the Esterházy stage during a performance of Sacchini’s L’isola d’amoure in 1776, she created the role of Sandrina in L’Infedeltà delusa.
Barbara Dichtler must have been a soprano with a light, flexible voice and the ability to maneuver easily through coloratura. (Landon, Haydn: Chronicle and Works, 48) H.C. Robbins Landon elaborated, “see the beautiful writing for ‘Sandrina’, especially the E flat Aria in Act II, ‘È la pompa un grand imbroglio’, from L’Infedeltà delusa, which has a nobility and depth of feeling that tells us something of the person form whom it was so lovingly composed”.
Haydn gave Sandrina three compelling arias in the opera that demonstrate a notable move beyond convention. Her character is billed as ‘an ordinary girl’, and by operatic standards she is not diva material. Although she is to a degree a victim, Sandrina is at no point suicidal, at the brink of a nervous breakdown, or in danger of being murdered at the hands of a lover, admirer, or family member. She is simply a well rounded, practical character with a strong will and admirable goals. She is resolute in her actions and leaves the plotting to those around her. Indeed, in an operatic sense Sandrina is anything but ordinary, and in a sense quite revolutionary in comparison to leading soprano characters of her time.
Haydn, in turn, treats this character in a more or less unique way. Sandrina is the first and last character in the opera to sing a solo, she is the focal point around which all of the action revolves, and yet she does not participate in forwarding the plot either by motive or accident. Most of the plotting is done by Filippo, her father, who is trying to wed her to the wealthiest suitor, and Vespina, a fellow soprano and friend, who’s complicated and devious plotting almost sing-handedly secures victory for Sandrina, herself, and love. In fact, Sandrina is not even aware of the plotting that is done by Vespina on her behalf.
The music that Haydn gives Sandrina reflects her strong, resolute, and somewhat naïve personality. Her text (Ex.1) is regular and uncomplicated, and her music is in a mini-sonata form framed within the da capo aria. Her third aria, the penultimate number in the opera, “È la pompa un grand’ imbroglio”, demonstrates her determination and unfaltering personality. Already in her wedding dress, Filippo attempts to finish preparing Sandrina for her marriage to a very wealthy (though unbeknownst to them, fictional) nobleman. This aria is her last protest as she pleads for her father to have mercy and allow her to marry Nanni, the man she truly loves.
È la pompa un grand’ imbroglio Luxury is a great burden
Per un’alma, che disprezza For my soul who scorns
Fasto, onor, e la ricchezza Pomp, glory, and riches.
Io non cerco, ed io non voglio I don’t search for, and I don’t want
Che la pace del mio cor. But for peace in my heart.
The text is stated a total of three times, first in its purest form in the exposition, then the development, and finally in the resolution. This form mimics her structured and grounded personality and provides a foundation for her lyric, delicately ornamented melody. Sandrina’s character does not possess any of the comic elements that we see in the opera’s other soprano, Vespina. She is refined and elegant, despite her peasant status, and most of all simple, wishing for nothing more than to live an honest, unpretentious life. It is this sense of lack of pretentiousness that Haydn has mastered in this character’s music.
Upon its recovery from the Esterházy vaults, “L’Infedeltà delusa has enjoyed considerable esteem, even popular success, since World War II. Before the war it had been arrange as a Singspiel, Die Liebe macht erfindrisch, with a German text by Hermann Goja, and the music edited by Gottfried Kassowitz (Vienna, c1930).” (Branscombe, 800) Since then it has been staged at the Holland Festival and several times in Germany, England, France, Sweden and the USA. “It has also been easily the most favoured Haydn opera in both number and quality of recordings.” (Ibid)
It seems that an interesting side effect of reproduction and circulation of a work such as this, which has not made its way into the popular main stream of classical music, is that the existing editions and copies are more accurate on average than those of more popular works. This may be the case because only those musicologists who are truly interested in the music, and are not exploiting it for its commercial value, take much more care to represent it as completely and accurately as possible. H.C. Robbins Landon, Jenö Vécsey, and Denes Bartha have done a considerable amount to promote the renewed awareness of Haydn’s opera through research and publication of the Haydn editions of 1960 and 1964. The only other copies of the aria “È la pompa un grand’ imbroglio”, for example, that were easily accessible when sourcing this research were a score of L’Infedeltà delusa copied by H.C. Robbins Landon himself and a collection of five Haydn arias compiled by Jenö Vécsey.
H.C. Robbins Landon, the musicologist whom without question has had the most direct experience interpreting and copying Haydn’s autographs stated that “The most immediate characteristic of Haydn’s autographs is the obvious haste with which they were written down… Haydn’s autographs are neat, firm, business-like and, above all other things, conceived and intended as practical scores for practical musicians.” (Landon, 75) Although at first this statement seems a contradiction, it may simply attest to a very efficient writing style.
One of the greatest challenges that Landon faced when copying Haydn’s scores for modern musicians was in interpreting the articulation and subtleties that Haydn’s musicians would have performed as second nature. “It is not possible for us to take Haydn’s autograph and engrave the score from it, nor can we play a Haydn autograph today without supplementary explanations; for not only were certain instruments commonly used but not noted in the score, but the interpretation of Haydn’s phrasing and dynamic marks requires elucidation if a modern orchestra is to interpret his music with any degree of authenticity.” (Landon, 74)
Haydn did leave hints in writing from the time he was in Esterházy regarding some of his underwritten expectations. “In his ‘Applausus’ letter of 1768, Haydn tells us that a bassoon should play with the bass; he thought that in a soprano aria, comparable to a slow movement of a symphony, the bassoon ‘could be left out’ but he preferred it to remain.” (Landon, 78) Also, “Haydn’s use of accidentals also deserves our attention. It was a typical baroque trait, and still part of Haydn’s tradition, that an accidental held good over the bar line even if this negated the basic series of accidentals prescribed by the key signature.”
Haydn most likely never imagined performances of his music two centuries later. Therefore, the question of how he would want us to perform it is irrelevant. When performing his music we must simply consider what we know of Haydn’s musical intentions, the style and limitations of the musicians at his disposal, the attention of our audience, and the picture of this work that we want to ultimately bring back to life. With all of this in mind, regardless of whether we choose to give an “authentic” performance of Haydn’s work or a performance that is quite divergent from the original, it can only improve our performance to know as much about the original as possible.
Attempts at modern performances of these operas has faced strong positive and negative criticism. In his recent article Why Haydn and Opera Mix Uneasily, Bernard Holland wrote “It is probably no accident that while Mozart’s operas have not lost their grip on the public, Haydn’s never had one to begin with. …Yet for all their power and humanity, Beethoven and Haydn are uneasy players on the stage. …One reason may be this: that while Beethoven and Haydn then do conceive music and then impose it on theatre, Mozart is in thrall to his characters.” Here we are back to the unfortunate comparison of Haydn to Mozart combined with the assertion that drama is secondary to music. Holland’s point is a subjective one, however, because effective music could otherwise be defined as drama realized through sound, and Haydn is often acclaimed for his skill in achieving this.
This dispute was engaged most thoroughly at the International Haydn Conference in 1975, the best argument on Haydn’s behalf coming from Eva Badura-Skoda on the panel in the discussion entitled A Survey of Haydn’s Operas. “It is clear that Haydn had talent as an opera composer. ‘Odio, furor, dispetto’ from Armida is a great dramatic aria. …But it is still necessary to fight the 170-year-old prejudice that this or any other great aria is only an isolated example, that Haydn had no real dramatic gifts, and that he was far greater an instrumental composer. We simply have not heard enough performances of Haydn’s operas – certainly no enough good ones, without cuts, without distortions, sung by singers who understand the traditions, the tempos, the embellishments – to judge his operas.” (Haydn Studies, 256) Even Andrew Porter who was quite verbal about his views that operas are licking in sufficient drama found merit in them when presented with the right angle. “…but I do not mean that Haydn’s dramatic music lacks character. Certainly his arias have great musical character; and in the theatrical sense there is nearly always a very vivid sense of characterization. Each of the five personages in L’Infedeltà delusa, for example, is very sharply drawn.” (Haydn Studies, 256
Despite his harsh criticism of Haydn’s operas, Peter Branscombe still found positive things to say in his defense, “…we perforce find ourselves making comparisons with Gluck, and above all, of course, with Mozart. Such comparisons, if inevitable, are less than fair. For one thing, Haydn’s mature style was established, and seven-eighths of his stage scores had been written, before Mozart wrote Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail…” (Branscombe, 675) He went even further in summary to state that “Haydn’s operas leave one in no doubt, of course, that they are the product of a composer of the very highest quality. They are scored with ingenuity, and at times with richness; the themes are often strikingly melodious.” (Branscombe, 675) Helmut Wirth went as far as to view Haydn as somewhat of a predecessor to Mozart. “Although the young Mozart had at this time not entered the circle around Haydn, it may be said that Haydn came very close to his later friend in this work.” (Wirth II, 25)
To further matters in the slow revival of his operas, Haydn even fell prey to his own words. Barry S. Brook noted, “In the acceptance of Haydn’s operas there is a basic prejudice to overcome, a prejudice engendered in part by Haydn himself when he – even if only once – compared his own operas unfavorably to Mozart’s, in the well-known letter to Roth in Prague. We tend to forget his proud statements about his own operas on other occasions.” (Haydn Studies, 253) “Haydn himself was well aware of the restricted appeal outside Eszterhaza of the operas written for that establishment. He wrote to the head of the commissariat in Prague, Franz Roth, in December 1787:
You request an opera buffa of me; with the greatest pleasure, if you have the desire to possess some vocal composition of mine all for yourself. But if it is to be performed in the theatre in Prague, I cannot oblige you on this occasion, because all my operas are too closely tied to our personnel (at Eszterhaza in Hungary), and moreover would never produce the effect that I calculated according to the local conditions.” (Branscombe, 675)
It is unfortunate that many critics view this statement as a self-admittance by the composer of a lower quality opera. It is, in my view, quite the opposite. Haydn was a highly intuitive composer, and could have had countless reasons for not wanting his operas performed in Prague. For whatever reason he didn’t feel the company was right to perform them. I don’t think we could think les of Mozart for declining to submit an opera for performance by the Russian opera company in St. Petersburg. “[Haydn] went on to say that his response would have been quite different had he been commissioned to write a new opera for Prague – except that he would be in direct competition with ‘the great Mozart’:
For if I were able to impress upon the soul of every music-lover, and even more, of the potentates, the incomparable works of Mozart – so profound and o full of musical intelligence – with so great a feeling and understanding as I bring to them, then the nations would vie with one another to possess such a jewel within their walls. …Forgive me for straying from the path; I love the man too much.
“This letter, along with a lighthearted passage in one written some two years later, bears moving testimony to an evaluation of Mozart’s works that most present day opera lovers would consider justifies the continuing adulation of the stage works of the one and the comparative neglect of those of the other.” (Branscombe, 675) This view is unfortunate, because to assume that Haydn was honestly conceding his worth as a composer in this statement is absurd. One need only superficially observe Haydn’s music to realize that these are simply the statements of a humble and unpretentious man, and a very intuitive one at that writing in the florid style customary at that time. At the time Haydn did not need to seek his fame and fortune as an opera composer. He had a unique and secure position under the Prince.
If after having exhausted the argument about whether or not we should perform Haydn’s operas, we are now presented with the many issues about how to present them, should we concede to. Do we offer them in their most complete form in the original language, risking alienation of the audience, or do we shorten and translate these works into the local dialect. This second approach is much less intimidating to an already apprehensive audience, but will almost certainly rob the performance of some of its musical and linguistic qualities. These are issues that must tackled when staging any foreign opera, but the answers vary depending largely on the style of the composer.
So, how appropriate is it to rework Haydn’s operas for a modern English performance? If the practices of the composer in his own theatre set an example for us, we should have no problem taking such liberties. “Apart from some 20 arias that Haydn wrote for insertion into operas by other composers that he was preparing for production in Prince Nikolaus’s theatre, he also revised a similar number of arias and ensemble in these works.” (Branscombe, 674) László Somfai pointed out that “From Haydn’s own experience with the singers and the audience, he would cut this aria or that section after one or more performances. And additions or ‘insertion arias’ came into the body of the opera only when it was the premiere or a revival some years later. That is, the operas became shorter and shorter during successive performances. So my proposition would be; at first, make a full or long performance, and then listen to the audience and, step by step, make more cuts. That was Haydn’s practice.” (Haydn Studies, 263) It is easy to suppose, from this argument, that one could justify making substantial cuts to L’Infedeltà delusa because Haydn himself would have done the same if the production had been staged more than three times in his lifetime.
After having had the opportunity to conduct performances of L’Infedeltà delusa and L’incontro improvviso (another of Haydn’s operas), Andrew Porter observed that “Now, where most modern productions of Haydn operas seem to go wrong is that instead of rejoicing in this musical richness, they regret it. The modern director tries to cut them down to the much lower level of the contemporary operas around Haydn’s.” (Haydn Studies, 259) It would make sense then, to regard Haydn’s operas as a musician’s production rather than a storyteller’s. Porter’s stance is to take a renewed investment into the music, “…because people feel guilty about cutting what they call the ‘music’, they also cut the recitative – even more severely, to the bare bones of what will explain the plot… This further upsets the balance; the theatrical balance, because it brings the elaborate numbers too close together, so that the texture does not have the variety of the original. I do not believe that Haydn’s operas will appear in their full splendor until they are integrally presented, and until audiences accept them for what they are and not what some modern director thinks they ought to be.”
Karl Geiringer supported this, stating that “Haydn wrote for a small princely theater. There was an unhurried atmosphere The recitatives could unfold the action, and the arias could develop the musical materials. When we perform Haydn today, we need a small ensemble, a small hall, and plenty of time.” (Haydn Studies, 263)
Haydn’s operas have not yet made it off of the butchering table of interpretation and ‘improvement’. Perhaps they never will, and we will find that the best performance for our modern audiences is one much adapted from the original. In order to fully appreciate Haydn’s operas we must take another, closer look, and challenge ourselves with fresh, energetic, insightful performances. In an ideal world we would not need to alter Haydn’s work at all to achieve this, but at present that is not what is asked for by our audience. Even works as well known as Mozart’s greatest are often translated and adapted. The bottom line is, ultimately, what the audience is willing to support.
At the 1975 Haydn Conference Michael Feldman predicted “Ultimately we will reach a point in our knowledge of eighteenth-century opera where Haydn will not have to ‘compete’ with Mozart. At that time we will have a much clearer appreciation of Haydn’s contribution. This appreciation will not come solely from people looking at scores in collected editions but also from people hearing performances in English, in French, in German, and Italian, and loving the music. I think we are going to see this in the next ten years.” (Haydn Studies, 266) Proceedings Chairman, Barry S Brook hoped that “We may hope that we stand at the threshold of an extensive Haydn opera renaissance.”
Twenty-six years have passed since these optimistic predictions at the 1975 Haydn Conference in Washington DC, and such hopes for Haydn’s operas have not yet been fully realized, despite the great steps we have made. We will have a long way to go to work Haydn’s operas into the modern opera repertoire, but we are now equipped with much better tools for putting them there.
Haydn evolved his own style of operatic composition. Like his contemporaries, he did so under the influences of music that came before him. The similarities that Haydn’s music holds to Mozart’s is due mostly to their similar musical exposure. The reason that Haydn’s music, though quite unique and evolving in a very different direction from his contemporaries, did not influence the course of operatic development is that these works were never released into the hands of Haydn’s musical descendants. The greater portion of his surviving operas were locked away in the vaults of Esterházy for almost 200 years after their successful, yet intimate premieres. Despite this unfortunate, but inevitable neglect we can still find a place for these operas among our now quite diverse performing venues. We should take Haydn’s advice, these productions would most likely not go over well in our big opera houses, but they would undoubtedly find a welcome home in the repertoire of our smaller regional houses.
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___________. L’Infedeltà Delusa. Frigyes Sandor, conductor. Hungary: MHV Recording, SLPX 11832-34, 1976.
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