L’anima del filosofo – Orpheus+Eurydice Premiere at Sydney

Franz Joseph Haydn and Friends

Franz Joseph Haydn was the Austrian-born son of a farmer-wheelwright, who at the age of eight years went to Vienna to become a choirboy at St Stephen’s Cathedral. His voice broke when he was 17 and he found himself living in poverty as a teacher. So he became an accompanist, working for two aristocratic patron during the 1750’s. In 1761 Haydn became vice-Kapellmeister at Eisenstadt, Hungary invited by Prince Paul Esterházy to take the position. In 1766 Nikolaus Esterházy built the palace of Eszterháza modelled on Louis XIV’s Chateau at Versailles. It was sited on the south side of the Neusiedlersee, which straddles the Austrian Hungarian border. Haydn lived within the Esterházy household for thirty years working and living in rooms assigned to him within the palace complex. In the grounds was a delightful summerhouse where his art and music benefited from quite and seclusion.

There was no one near to confuse me, so I was forced to become original’, he said.

He laid down the music for ‘l’anima del filosofo’ Orpheus+Eurydice in 1791. It is an opera in Italian in four acts whose libretto is based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, as told in first century Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

For whatever reasons the opera was not performed during his lifetime. It lay dormant for nearly two centuries until 1951, when in Florence a cast was assembled that included the great soprano Maria Callas, and tenor Boris Christoff, who magically brought it to life. After Haydn’s patron Prince Nikolaus Esterházy died in 1790 Haydn traveled for the first time to London. There he received a commission to write several symphonies. The impresario John Gallini also offered him a contract to write an opera for the King’s Theatre, although due to a dispute between King George III and the Prince of Wales he was refused permission to stage it. As a result, the score was never completed and some music appears to be missing.

A series of privately promoted professional concerts ran from 1783-1793 at London, introducing Haydn’s and Mozart’s symphonies etc., to the London social and musical scene. These were in addition to the orchestral works of English composers at the time. They were eventually overshadowed by the famous Saloon Concerts for which Haydn twice visited England, and for which he wrote his greatest twelve symphonies.

It was while he was in England that Haydn first heard Handel’s great sacred work the Messiah. This prompted his interest in writing his oratorio The Creation, to a libretto originally in English, but when published by Haydn included a German translation of the text as well. Considered Haydn’s masterwork “The Creation’ was composed in 1798 and his ‘The Seasons’, another celebrated work, in 1801.

The 2010 Pinchgut Opera production of L’anima del filosofo is a most special work, which will be simply staged with an emphasis on the music at the highest level.

It is the first time the work has ever been seen, or sung in Australia.

The cast features soprano Elena Xanthoudakis as the double part of Eurydice/Spirit, tenor Andrew Goodwin as Orpheus. Baritone Derek Welton is Creon and they are backed by the simply splendid Pinchgut Opera Chorus.

The opera makes extensive use of the chorus (Cantillation), and Antony Walker will conduct a classical orchestra (Orchestra of the Antipodes) that includes Erin Helyard playing fortepiano.

Franz Joseph Haydn’s L’anima del filosofo – Orpheus + Eurydice will premiere at Sydney, Australi on Thursday 2 December 2010. It is only being sung for four nights only – 2, 4, 5 and 7 December.

L’anima del filosofo – Orpheus + Eurydice
Bookings Angel Place Recital Hall

Pinchgut Opera – Telephone: +61 2 9389 8117 or 0412 093 063 (Anna Cerneaz)

Artistic Directors: Erin Helyard and Antony Walker
Artistic Administrator: Alison Johnston
General Manager: Anna Cerneaz
Production Manager:  Andrew Johnston
Chair: Elizabeth Nielsen
Board Member:  John Pitman
Email: [email protected]:


Scene 1
Eurydice is alone and distraught in the forest. She loves the musician Orpheus but her father, King Creon, has betrothed her to the beekeeper Aristaeus. The Chorus advises Eurydice to leave the gloom of the forest but she resists. Wild Shepherds appear, intending to sacrifice Eurydice to the Furies. The Chorus calls for Orpheus and he arrives. Orpheus charms the Shepherds with his music, thereby freeing Eurydice.

Scene 2
In Creon’s palace, his assistants assure him that Eurydice is found and safe. They relay to Creon the events that took place in the forest. Creon decides that although he had promised Eurydice to Aristaeus, fate has intervened and dictates otherwise.

Scene 3
As they can now be married, Eurydice and Orpheus rejoice: ‘Neither fate, nor death, can change my love…’

Scene 1
Cupids surround Orpheus and Eurydice as they celebrate their union. A suspicious sound disturbs them and Orpheus leaves to investigate it. The Chorus reminds Eurydice of her father’s pledge to marry her to Aristaeus. His followers arrive and as Eurydice attempts to flee, a snake bites her. Orpheus returns to find Eurydice dead. As Orpheus cradles her in his arms, he accuses Fate of being barbarous.

Scene 2
A messenger informs Creon of Eurydice’s death. Creon swears to avenge his daughter.


Scene 1
Orpheus and Creon are at Eurydice’s grave; the Chorus too mourns. Orpheus calls to Eurydice: ‘Beautiful soul, you’ve flown to heaven, bearing on your wings my hopes and my consolation.’

Scene 2
An aide tells Creon that Orpheus is losing his mind. Creon acknowledges that ‘Who loses his love, loses himself.’

Scene 3
Orpheus seeks the counsel of the ancient prophet, the Sybil. She tells him that if he wishes to see Eurydice again, he must arm himself with courage and follow her to the underworld. She advises Orpheus to seek consolation in philosophy: ‘It is an enchantment that brings forgetting.’

Scene 1
On the banks of Lethe, a river of the Underworld, the Undead menace Orpheus with their misery. The Sybil impels Orpheus forward, to the ferryman Charon; the Furies haunt them as they go.

Scene 2
Orpheus and the Sybil arrive at the Gates of Pluto, God of the Underworld. Orpheus begs for, and is granted, entry.

Scene 3
The souls of the Worthy, including Eurydice, languish on the Elysian Fields. The Chorus notifies Orpheus that, should he look at Euridice, he will lose her forever and ‘will have nothing left but sighs.’ Euridice, limping from her wound, approaches. The Sybil cautions Orpheus to control his desires. Eurydice calls to Orpheus; he looks to her – and loses her a second time. The Sybil too leaves him, calling, ‘You are lost; I must abandon you.’

Scene 4
Orpheus grieves: ‘Hell is in my heart,’ and he calls to the stars: ‘…why suffering; why cruelty?’ As Orpheus weeps, a group of Bacchantes, followers of Bacchus, God of Wine and Intoxication, arrives and challenges him to forego sorrow and to seek out pleasure. Orpheus rejects their advances. The Bacchantes then force Orpheus to drink ‘the nectar of love’.  He dies, poisoned by their potion. As the Bacchantes make their way to the ‘island of delights’, a violent storm erupts and they perish.

Carolyn McDowall, November 2010

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