Saturday, September 4, 2010

Keiser - Masaniello furioso - Albert, Schlick,Roschmann,Kamp,Fiori Musicali



Reinhard Keiser is an almost forgotten genius of the Baroque. He dominated the Hamburg Opera for over twenty years from1695 and wrote over 60 operas. Despite the fact he was known as the man who taught Handel to write opera, and as the most inventive of composers, by the time of his death in 1739 he was almost forgotten. His operas were no longer played, no students preserved his works and today only a third of his operas have survived.

Masaniello Furioso was performed in 1706 in the Hamburg Opera house. A local author wrote the libretto in German with some Italian aria texts (a quirk explained in the notes). The plot concerns a popular uprising in Naples against the Spanish rulers, some 50 years before. As is usual for Baroque Opera of the time, history is changed to avoid encouraging conflict with the authorities. In the opera, his own men assassinate Masaniello and not the authorities.

The recording is on the excellent CPO label. The opera covers two CDs of 76 and 71 minutes respectively. Given the opera is heroic, the cast is mainly male: 3 tenors, 2 basses, 1 baritone and 1 male alto. In addition, there are two female sopranos. Those names I recognise are all experienced Baroque vocalists of the highest calibre. The Fiori Musical is a period instrument ensemble under its founder Thomas Albert.

Reinhard Keiser The recording of the opera is of good quality. Everyone works very hard to produce a full and pleasing sound that is easy on the ear. The songs are delightful and there is always something of interest happening. Keiser was noted for his inventiveness and this version of the opera has not let him down. A small booklet is included giving a notes on the opera and about the Hamburg Opera in German, English and French. The libretto is in German with some arias in Italian. The opera is a must-buy for the dedicated Baroque Opera enthusiast and a treat for everyone else.

After the sinfonia the opera contains some 33 arias, 5 duets, 2 trios, 3 accompanied recitatives, 3 choruses and small instrumental pieces called ritornellos. None of the arias are lengthy. Long arias did not develop until later. However, this is not to say they are not fine, Barbara Schlick's Act 2 aria 'Di sposa constante' is an outstanding example of Italianate coloratura. If you are familiar with the works of Handel, I would say the opera is more like Agrippina than anything that came later.

The Hamburg Opera House was unique outside Italy in that it was a popular theatre and not attached to a royal court. It was dependent on a paying audience and this gave it a definite local color, for instance much of the opera output was in German rather than Italian and even when Italian librettos such as Croesus were used, they were translated.

The Hamburg opera could not afford to import expensive castrato singers. Instead of castratos, tenors or basses took the male leads. The orchestra was local too, often consisting of church performers, who are believed to have been proficient in more than one instrument, enabling Keiser to exploit the wide instrumental palette for which he was justly famous.

Opera performances were given on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons when people were free from work and continued all year instead of being confined to specific opera seasons. In an age of long operas, the Hamburg operas were extraordinary, often lasting 5 or 6 hours, with every performer being given as much to do as possible. The result of this was an abominable clutter of sub-plots and comic scenes that obscured the main drama.

These conditions affect the modern production of the opera of Masaniello Furioso. The musicologist Winton Dean tells us that Masaniello exists only in incomplete or corrupt copies. The notes from the recording say Telemann abbreviated the score when he re-staged the opera in the 1720s, and for reasons of length, some cuts were made for the present recording.

Given the original length of Hamburg Operas, it is possible that Telemann made substantial cuts to reduce the clutter and improve the narrative of the drama. There is only one high voice male role that of a Spanish Nobleman. The lack of male high voices is usual for the Hamburg Opera. That a male high voice role is used for a noble is entirely in keeping with the conventions of Baroque Opera, especially Dramma Giacoso, which this opera prefigures by some forty years.

It is curious to note that the Viennese Court was the first to abandon castrato dominated Opera Seria for Drama Giocoso, where tenors and basses took the male parts, such as in Mozart's Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro and Cosi Fan Tutti.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to determine if the male high voice was an original part or added by Telemann in an attempt to modernize the opera as Keiser did with Croesus. The part may well be original for it is perfectly possible a falsetto was employed as countertenors were often used in German church music.


Ape, scans

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