Pinchgut Opera – Powerful Performances, July & December 2014

Countertenor David Hansen, featuring in Pinchgut Opera's December 2013 production of Giasone by the Italian composer Pietro Francesco Caletti-Bruni, known as Cavalli

The Pinchgut Opera, who provides a ‘different experience of opera’, has wowed Sydney crowds in December for a decade and more now, with its annual firmly established program. This week in Sydney it’s incredible 2013 production of composer Francesco Cavall’s Giasone will be staged, featuring David Hansen, that guy who sings high.

From 2014, they will produce two powerful performances each year, adding a second one in July.

Their success is an aspect of the worldwide for the growing appreciation of the splendid music composed during the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries in Europe, England and America. They have certainly helped to make it happen over the past decade of excellence in productions at Sydney.

The Pinchgut Opera July production will be The Chimney Sweep (‘Der Rauchfangkebrer’) by Italian composer Antonio Salieri (1750 – 1825), which was first performed first in 1781 at the Burgtheater in Vienna. It was then revived many times until the early 1900’s.

Salieri is known to many people from today’s contemporary audiences as the composer who narrated the tale of his colleague, the Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) in the 1984 period drama movie ‘Amadeus’.

He describes himself near the end of the movie as ‘the patron saint of mediocrity’. This was because like many others, he was busy trying his best to deal with his own envy of Mozart’s extraordinary virtuosity and genius for not only composition, but also brilliant improvisation.

When Mozart was around, with his effusive personality and huge genius, it was very hard for others to shine.

F. Murray Abraham in his Academy Award Winning Best Actor Role of Antonio Salieri in the movie Amadeus 1984

This Pinchgut Opera production will prove that Salieri was really a composer with a great many gifts, although very different to that of his talented rival. He had really no reason to feel inadequate, but as the King said to Mozart – ‘there it is’.

The claim Salieri poisoned Mozart was always without foundation) a rumour advanced in the medium of opera ‘Mozart and Salieri’ by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) to a libretto taken almost verbatim from Alexander Pushkin’s 1830 verse drama of the same name. It certainly added spice to their own promotional push.

In December next year the Pinchgut Opera will perform Iphigénie en Tauride composed by the youthful French Queen Marie Antoinette’s music tutor, Christoph Willibald von Gluck (1714-1787).

The interesting aspect of next year’s program planning by the Pinchgut Opera is that both Salieri and Gluck had a working association.

The advent of the Italian genre Opera buffa (comic opera) in the first half of the eighteenth century opened up all sorts of possibilities, for that of bringing new and heightened values to the lyric stage with two groups of characters generally providing an organized chaotic ensemble of great delight.

Superb small opera house in the Chateau Versailles, France

Comic opera originally developed from the ‘intermezzi’ or interludes often performed between acts of more serious operas to keep patrons in good humour.

Arriving in Paris from Vienna, the most advanced musical city in Europe in her day, a youthful Marie-Antoinette was appalled at the stiff works and bad productions at the French Court.

After she was married to the Dauphin she invited Gluck, who had taught her to play the spinet as a child, to Paris where she championed him while he set about improving standards of production, changing the course of French Opera forever.

While he may not have always enjoyed the experience, he did make an enormous difference.

He left behind a flourishing school of disciples at Paris, who would dominate the French stage throughout the Revolutionary and Napoleonic period. He wrote Iphigénie en Tauride in 1779, especially for Paris.

Christoph Willibald Gluck

Gluck was the composer who strongly recommended the younger Salieri replace him when he could not fulfil a request to write the inaugural piece for the opening of the great La Scala opera house in Milan.

Salieri added considerably to his reputation when he composed memorable music for that great occasion.

Salieri spent many years on the road between Milan, Venice, Rome and Vienna, although Vienna is where he spent the most time, composing over 30 operas there at the court of Emperor Joseph II (1741-1790), the brother of France’s Marie Antoinette.

The Emperor looked up to Salieri, admired his talents and abilities and honoured him with great favour. As well as opera buffa (comic) he also composed opera seria (serious) works turning librettos into attractive diverting works.

If we know the city of Milan was governed by Emperor Joseph II’s brother Ferdinand we can understand Salieri’s career was directly linked to the power, wealth and influence of the Habsburg family at Vienna.

The six degrees of separation that linked them all wove its magic spell.

The Emperor commissioned Salieri in 1780, when he returned to Vienna for a spell, to produce a ‘German opera’. This was a task Salieri did not relish at all because he considered his own grasp of German very poor.

Antonio Salieri

He did so never realising however, the ‘trifle’ he produced to amuse his patron would actually ever be staged.

His work Der Rauchfangkebrer’ concerns the ‘antics of a chimney sweep’, a work task many are not so familiar with today. It involved lots of dirt and soot and was an activity and condition those involved at court would have known very little about or rarely encountered.

Der Rauchfangkebrer’ was performed nine times in Vienna in 1781 and 1782 and went onto to enjoy considerable success on the German stage for several years, although there was disdain for its ‘libretto’, or storyline, and it was much parodied in the press of the day.

The story is all about Volpino, an Italian chimney sweep, who is working in the rich mansion of Frau von Habicht, a young widow. She is a retired opera singer. Volpino needs a dowry to marry his beloved Lisel, who is the cook. He devises an astute plan to obtain the money he needs from two ambitious noblemen, who are wooing Frau von Habicht and her stepdaughter Nannette, for their wealth.

Volpino`s shrewdness, ambition, lies, and the elaborate schemes that develop to provide much merriment for the audience.

Salieri wrote wonderful arias for his lead singer Caterina Cavalieri, who sang the role of Nannette. She went onto become Mozart`s Contanze in his highly successful work “Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail,” (1782).

The arias written for Ludwig Fischer, who sang the role of Herr von Bar and also created the role of Osmin in Mozart`s “Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail,” displayed his exceptional acting skills and deep resonating voice.

Christoph Willibald von Gluck is the composer credited with leading the reforms that would lead to the ongoing popularity of comic opera, particularly in France where it took on its own cultural characteristics to produce what the French termed opéra-bouffe, or light opera

Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride was performed in Vienna in December 1781 for Grand Duke Paul Petrovich, heir apparent to the Russian throne, and his wife Sophia Dorothea, as part of their tour of Western Europe.

The Emperor Joseph II believed the ‘Gluckian spectacle as a symbol of the power, wealth and good taste of the Habsburg court,’ would be most successful and impressive, and it was.

In 1783 when Gluck’s health was failing he recommended Salieri take his place producing the opera Les Danaides in Paris. He arrived in December 1783 carrying a letter from Emperor Joseph, a singular honour.

Salieri was considered a ‘student of Gluck’ and it was perceived Gluck believed he was the only musician capable of taking his place. This seeming endorsement, and the fact Salieri had written the opera under Gluck’s direction – ‘led by his wisdom and enlightened by his genius’, meant the association brought with it the stamp of prestige.

View of Vienna, between 1758 and 1761 by Bernardo Bellotto courtesy Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

By producing two operas, one by Italian composer Antonio Salieri and the second by Christoph Willibald Gluck in 2014, the Pinchgut Opera, who continues to go from strength to strength, is introducing us to little known works that were hugely popular in their day and will be sure to add value to our ever expanding Australian very rich and expressive arts and culture scene.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2013

For the 2014 Diary


Der Rauchfangkebrer
The Chimney Sweep by Salieri

Three performances: Sat 5, Sun 6 & Mon 7 July 2014

Conductor Erin Helyard
Mark Gaal
Orchestra of the Antipodes
City Recital Hall Angel Place, Sydney

Iphigénie en Tauride
Iphigenia in Tauris
by Gluck

Four performances: Wed 3, Fri 5, Sun 7 & Tue 9 Dec 2014
Antony Walker
Lindy Hume
 Caitlin Hulcup
Cantillation & Orchestra of the Antipodes
City Recital Hall Angel Place, Sydney


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