Haydn. L’infedeltà costante
Opera Arias and Overtures
Anna Bonitatibus, mezzosoprano
Il complesso barocco
Alan Curtis, conductor
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, 2008
The thirteen Italian operas composed by Franz Joseph Haydn are among the most neglected works of his catalogue. Although their sporadic appearance in recording has been usually highly praised for what concerns the music side, the overall weakness of the libretti and the improper comparison with analogous works written by Gluck and Mozart gave rise to criticism to the point that they are still prerogative of lovers of rarities rather than of a wide audience. And yet, if you forgot all the prejudices to hear at least the excerpts from five of Haydn’s operas and the cantata Arianna a Naxos included in Anna Bonitatibus’s album L’infedeltà costante, you would find many pleasant surprises.
The title of the recording is a worth introduction. At first, it seems at the same time an imitation and a compendium of some titles of Haydn’s operas (L’infedeltà delusa, La fedeltà premiata and La Vera costanza), but actually it has deeper and more complex implication than that to cite few titles. L’infedeltà costante (“the constant infidelity”) alludes to Haydn’s personal situation and to the relation that exists between him and his heroines.
The booklet notes clarify this aspect, not easy to guess without an explanation, stating that «the opera characters whose arias are recorded here reflect something of Haydn’s personal situation – women with a big heart who suffered from unrequited love, and are all betrayed and sold out – or at least abandoned – either by their spouse or by the gods. […] All the pain suffered by someone who has been irrevocably separated from their great love is expressed in this music in one shattering new facet after another. This is the same pain that the philanthropist Haydn suffered».
This double interpretation is the guiding thread of L’infedeltà costante and the music through which it is developed is stunning from many points of view. First of all, Alan Curtis’s authoritativeness is out of question. His conduction gives prominence to shining colours that may be rather unexpected in forgotten music and that instead can be found even in the saddest, in the most desperate arias, as in Dell’amor mio fedele from La fedeltà premiata and in Arianna a Naxos, and that are even more pleasant in the amusing arias from L’infedeltà delusa and in Orlando paladino, especially when Curtis describes a bucolic setting in Sono Armida, e sono ancora. As L’infedeltà costante includes not only arias but symphonies too, these are the privileged moments to hear the conductor’s “voice”.
The enthuiasm of the Sinfonia from La fedeltà premiata, the short but vigorous one from Orlando paladino, the jocose piece from La vera costanza and the stunning Overtura from L’isola disabitata summarize many sides of Haydn’s music, that can be irresistibly lively but also melancholic or resolute, and show that Curtis’s rendition of Haydn’s operas is energetic and faceted, an outcome that only a great maestro can achieve.
Anna Bonitatibus is equally fine. Her rich mezzo voice is flexible and warm, characterized by impeccable coloratura command, by the homogeneity of her vocal line and by the natural elegance of the legato. She is able to give meaning to every nuance of the texts and to every passage of the music with just few accents. Sorrowful and intense in the most tragic arias (the long Arianna in Naxos is her masterpiece in this regard, as here Bonitatibus has all the chances to deepen the character of the deserted heroine), she reveals her determination in Ad un guardo and her sweetness in Sono Alcina, e sono ancora (from Orlando paladino).
The excesses cannot lack in a varied picture and then, next these balanced arias there are the painful Dove fuggo from La Vera costanza, where Bonitatibus gives voice to a really panic-stricken Rosina, and shortly after she reveals a comic instinct in the funny arias from L’infedeltà delusa. In Ho un tumore in un ginocchio, Bonitatibus is not only engaged in singing, but also in… coughs (rigorously a tempo) and short breath, when the text requires it. Trinche, vaine, allegramente is shorter but even more entertaining and Bonitatibus sings the happiness of Vespina with great liveliness and spirit.
Two great performers and the underrated music of a great composer are the ingredients of L’infedeltà costante. Although Haydn was unlucky enough to write his operas during a period of transition that doomed them to be forgotten until the second half of the 20th century, this recording and the joined talents of Alan Curtis and Anna Bonitatibus finally do justice to them and hopefully draw the attention on this little known but interesting part of the production of the composer that for too long time was merely considered the father of the string quartet.