La Clemenza di Tito, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Salieri & LisztFriday, January 28, 2011
|Ariel (Ari) Barnes|
In music there is one big what if (and a slightly smaller one) that would have pretty well eliminated the possibility of Mozart and Beethoven ever becoming the composers they became. Had that happened then Schubert and Brahms would not have been admirers of the former two, and, you get my drift?
That big what if involves Georg von Reutter the director of music of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. A chance visit by von Reutter in 1740 to Hainburg, not far from Joseph Haydn’s hometown of Rohrau, precipitated the events that could have had severe consequences but, fortunately for all of us, were resolved by Haydn’s father Matthias who besides being the town mayor happened to be an amateur musician.
Haydn was a young choir boy singing for his relative Johann Matthias Frankh who was the Hainburg choirmaster. Frankh arranged for an audition with von Reutter who immediately took the young Haydn to Vienna. By all accounts Haydn had a beautiful voice and, when he was about to reach puberty, von Reutter summoned Papa Mathias Haydn and urged that his son become a castrato. He might have possibly suggested that Haydn’s income as mayor was not a good one and that his son’s sure to be fame would help pay the bills.
We know that did not happen, big what if, out of the way!
The smaller what if is begins in January 1791 when Mozart celebrated his 35th birthday. That year he composed two operas at the same time, which he finished before his death on December 5. One of the operas was The Magic Flute, the other, less famous has a more interesting story. It seems that there was a new Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold II ( aka Peter Leopold Joseph Anton Joachim Pius Gotthard) was to be further crowned as King of Bohemia in Prague. Leopold commissioned Antonio Salieri to compose an opera with a libretto by one Metastasio (aka Pietro Antonio Domenico Trapassi). Metastasio ) had written something on Roman emperor Titus. Salieri was too busy and turned down the Austrian emperor in mid July, who then commissioned Mozart. There were many delays and in the end Mozart composed the opera La Clemenza di Tito in 18 days. It was inaugurated, on schedule, in the first days of September.
Some dismiss La Clemenza di Tito as too old-fashioned. I might have agreed except for a marvelous and wondrous opportunity which I experienced last night. I watched the first act of La Clemenza di Tito at the rehearsal hall of Holy Rosary Cathedral.
Ari Barnes explained that he and Darlington accompanied the recitatives. I wondered how the fortepiano (which does not play as loudly as the modern piano) would be heard at the Queen Elizabeth. Barnes told me that at the QE’s (which with the recent improvements must have better acoustics) the fortepiano might just be miked.
I listened to the wonderful voices of the principal singers which were that much closer than they would be at the QE. Because this opera has women playing men, the women who were men wore pants and the women who played women wore large skirts. All this was not important to me. Here I was listening to a Mozart opera with two instruments (the cello and the fortepiano on the recitatives) and the piano and the cello for the singing parts. This was Mozart at a bare and beautiful minimum.
I was there to observe Hungarian-born and Toronto-based mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó who sings the male role of Sesto, and of her lover in the opera, soprano Wendy Nielsen. I am to photograph them today. I have seen tenor John Tessier (who plays Tito or Emperor Titus here) many times so I enjoyed his rehearsal performance as well. And then there was mezzo-soprano Norine Burgess, who wore pants, sopprano Kathleen, who wore skirts and Brett and base-britone Thomas Goerz. It was all wonderful and more so since I would have never expected to experience any opera as I experienced this one.
The normally elegant VO Musical Director Jonathan Darlington was dressed in an over his jeans (with upturned cuffs) striped shirt. He and Barnes were constantly smiling as they played and even exchanged hushed comments. They were obviously enjoying the experience. All, while Leslie Dala, the choir director read the music and made sure his choir was up to snuff. I could not but admire his handsome Hungarian profile, with much longer hair, Franz Liszt?
To those who will attend a performance of this opera I urge you to listen to the recitatives and then just imagine a couple of the smiles you see here. This opera is that much fun.
In the intimacy of the surroundings I felt like Leopold II himself.
Vancouver Opera's La Clemenza di Tito opens February 5.