Just love talking the talk of the little known opera The Chimneysweep (Der Rauchfangkeher oder Die unentbehrlichen Verräther ihrer Herrschaften aus Eigennutz or the indispensable traitors to their masters from pure selfishness). The piece was commissioned by Joseph II (1741-1790) of the Hapsburg monarchy and composed to a libretto by Dr. Leopold Auenbrugger (1722-1809) by Italian born composer Antonio Salieri (1750 – 1825) and will be premiered in Australia by the Pinchgut Opera at Sydney in July, 2014.
We know now that Salieri produced marvellous music that for many today sounds like that of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), although it was composed some time before Mozart appeared on the Viennese music scene where Salieri was already in favour. He helped to shape operatic vocabulary and his music was extremely influential.
Salieri came right back into contention in 1984. A truly powerhouse performance by actor F. Murray Abraham in the movie Amadeus an adaption of Peter Schaeffer’s award winning powerful play, gained him not only some fame, but also ensured he became the subject of music research.
During the Salerian age the boys in the top job seemingly had it all. This included beautiful women on tap as integral decorative items in an immensely elegant society that was all at once, drunken and dissolute, while appearing to be extremely successful, excessive and civilised.
There are exceptions to any rule but mostly at the courts of Europe and England Kings and Emperors where musicians operated their ‘role models’ were not usually regarded as symbols of marital fidelity. It was an age when all the best boys were busy abandoning convention and embracing ideas of informality.
Their age was a melting pot of ideas of art and morals, beauty and truth, man vs nature, aesthetics and socialism, with true beauty hard to find.
Like the girls the boys will bursting out singing beautiful arias and lyrical tuneful songs of great style while getting up to all sorts of antics.
The amorous chimneysweep Volpino will be played by Sydney born tenor Stuart Haycock, who often plays a ‘Rake’ and seducer in opera. He’s returning home from England, where he has been making his mark on the local scene with noteworthy refined characterisations.
A graduate in 2008 of the Solti Accademia di Bel Canto in Italy, Stuart gained an appreciation for the bel canto style, the communication of ideas and emotions through the means of singing.
His rival tenor Christopher Saunders as Mr Bear is also known for his sweet smooth flowing tones that caress audiences with their conviction.
Baritone David Hidden, renowned as being passionate about ‘new works’ will appear as Tomaso, while versatile actor-singers Nicholas Hiatt will be Franzl and Gary Clementson will play Johann. This will be a fun filled night of entertainment in the Singspiel tradition, filled with characters shamelessly indulging their appetites for the good life and love.
Co-Artistic Director and versatile early music specialist Dr Erin Helyard will endeavour to keep them all in check with brilliant conducting,
He will encourage the boys to rival the girls and to be bold, improvising as singers of this age were expected to do as an aspect of their performance, as they ‘adorned the music’ with effusive ornamentation, that was not recorded formally on any score.
Salieri was a composer the new generation in 1984 really knew very little about, except perhaps if they were dedicated scholars of classical music.
In 1729 English trader, writer, journalist, pamphleteer, and spy Daniel Defoe had written that a gentleman was one born ‘of some known or ancient family; whose ancestors have, at least for some time, been raised above the class of mechanics’.
On the surface, Salieri’s The Chimneysweep was a simple trifle, concerned with the antics of Volpino an Italian chimneysweep with a poor command of the German language, much like Salieri himself.
Our ‘sweep in this tale’ perhaps saw himself as carrying out a vital service, especially for grieving widows or the like. If you kept everyone happy, who knows what perks you would enjoy in the process?
He and his colleagues dressed all in black with golden jacket buttons and a black top hat for many of the housemaids would have been seen as cutting quite a dash!
While the men of the household were all kept busy preening themselves and vying for attention at court, chimneysweeps could slip quietly and very skilfully into a gentleman’s house and operate a scam, while staying completely under the radar.
This plot also involves an opera within an opera that Volpino is directing.
Some of the arias convey the opinion Italian is the preferred language for opera at the time and that someone had crafted a parody of the court opera, which operated somewhere between the extremes of high drama or comedic farce.
Volpino is working in the rich mansion of Frau von Habicht, a young widow who is retired opera singer.
He needs a dowry to marry his beloved Lisel, the pretty cook of the mansion, so he devises an astute plan to obtain the money he needs from the wealthy Herr von Bar and Herr von Wolf.
They are two ambitious noblemen wooing Frau von Habicht and her stepdaughter Fraule Nannette, for their wealth so they can all live the good life together.
Volpino`s shrewdness and ambition, lies, and schemes develop as the singers all toss of virtuoso arias.
The music Salieri wrote for both boys and the girls proved that they were all brilliant at displaying voices at the top of their game, as well as showcase the players exceptional acting skills.
It will certainly be the same in this illustrious company the Pinchgut Opera is presenting.
When the Italian composer Antonio Salieri was endeavouring to impress men of influence, the male of our species had arrived at that point where the refinement of art forms had like themselves, reached a stage they believed it was close to impossible to improve any further.
To be born of great lineage in the Salerian age was to at the very least, be settled well on the road toward success, although not necessarily good intentions.
For all the rest like Salieri and Mozart, if they had high aspirations in the world of music they had to battle hard to cover their costs and to look the part.
Musicians really need to be at court, especially before the French revolution. Mozart gained entry by becoming a teacher of piano to the Princess Elizabeth of Würettenberg.
Practically it was where all the top jobs really happened. A man who was not wealthy but wanted to get on really needed to go into debt if he wanted to look the part.
Tight fitted breeches were fastened with garters at the knees and they sported fabulous waistcoats of embroidered silk. They carried their tricorne hat under the arm, edged as it was with gold braid or feather edging.
If you think about it nothing really changes – it was bit like being in politics or corporate life today – a man needs to be decked out in a suit with a blue or red tie if he wants to succeed.
When the Emperor and Salieri met in Vienna following Salieri’s trip home to Italy in the April of 1780 for family reasons, he requested that he write an opera in the German language, a prospect that did not delight an Italian like Salieri who was proud of Italian opera.
He protested his German was too poor but the Emperor was very insistent, commenting it would serve as a lesson for Salieri so that he could also learn better German. When Salieri received the text to write the music he was under the impression it was merely an exercise, never dreaming his modest sing play would be actually be staged.
All of this happened prior to Mozart arriving in Vienna, in fact he arrived in time on the very day of the premiere of Salieri’s Chimneysweep.
However he later disappointingly revealed to his father in a letter he was so upset about being discharged by the Archbishop of Salzburg prior to his journey that in the middle of the first act he had to go home and lie down.
Music of Salieri’s time in the highest society offered a sound that connected with the human soul to soothe, to motivate and to lift it up to a place of grace and contemplation.
It was all about a perfect harmony of notes born through the interaction of man with his natural world from antiquity right through until today.
Pomp and circumstance by Salieri’s age proclaimed the splendour of kings, princes, and potentates for centuries, and to a lesser extent some commoners, as well as the power of the sacred.
Any man of substance in Europe and England believed their lineage and heritage if it dated back for centuries was, to all intents and purposes, at the heart of civilisation.
If you weren’t born into society and ambitiously wanted to make money by moving around in the top echelons during Salieri’s time you needed to have bags of confidence, be well decked out, talk the talk and walk the walk.
The boys in this delightful piece of enlightenment confection have all been chosen to do just that.
They will be sure to provide us all with many great moments of virtuosic singing and wonderful acting.
Good to remember though, while Schaffer’s brilliantly written play Amadeus may have skewed perceptions of the truth about Salieri and Mozart’s relationship, there is scant evidence to suggest they were actually bosom buddies.
What the movie did do was introduce a whole new post war generation to the world of opera, the work of the great composers and give them an appreciation for high standard of music composed within traditions of ‘classic’ excellence.
It was rocking good pop style entertainment.
As for The Chimneysweep…
…well as he tips his top hat in this production, he will be sure to give us all the impression that…good luck will rub off when I shake ‘ands with you, or blow me a kiss … and that’s lucky too”, which was also far from the truth of their daily existence either.
Ours is an age of 21st century enlightenment after all, which is all about ‘reality’! Boo, hiss, wild applause, even more applause!
Hope to see you in Sydney in July.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014
A singspiel by Antonio Salieri
Libretto by Leopold Auenbrugger
First performed 1781
A new English version
Spoken text by Mark Gaal
Lyrics by Andrew Johnston
Sat 5 Jul 7pm Sun 6 Jul 4.30pm Mon 7 Jul 7pm
City Recital Hall Angel Place, Sydney