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Haydn: L'anima Del Filosofo / Rapf, Handt, Hellwig, Berry, Poell

Release Date: 05/10/2011 
Label:  Music & Arts   Catalog #: 1250   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Franz Joseph Haydn
Performer:  Herbert HandtAlfred PoellJudith HellwigWalter Berry,   ... 
Conductor:  Kurt Rapf
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna State Opera ChorusVienna State Opera OrchestraVienna Academy Chamber Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HAYDN L’Anima del filosofo, ossia Orfeo ed Euridice Hans Swarowsky, cond; Herbert Handt ( Orfeo ); Judith Hellwig ( Euridice ); Alfred Poell ( Creonte ); Hedda Heusser ( Genio ); Vienna Academy ChC; Vienna St Op O and Ch MUSIC & ARTS CD-1250, mono (2 CDs: 125:26)

Haydn’s Read more final opera, written—but not performed—in London in 1791, has been described by H. C. Robbins Landon as “a magnificent failure … doomed … before Haydn set a note to paper.” He doth protest too much, methinks. There is no dramatic continuity in Carlo Francesco Badini’s plodding libretto, but the ever-reliable Haydn poured much lovely music into the mold; had the intended performance taken place (it was canceled, mid-rehearsals, by a political fiasco), he might have been able to spruce up the drama as well. The gloomy subject matter (lacking Gluck’s artificial happy ending) further weighs down this opera seria . The brilliant orchestration includes clarinets, trombones, and a solo harp—all unusual for Haydn, going well beyond that of the “London” Symphonies.

This 1950 recording was the opera’s first performance; it was only staged a year later (with Maria Callas as Euridice). As is so often the case with premieres—no doubt because so much study and rehearsal are necessary—they got it right the first time. The direction, the orchestral playing, and the singing all brim with life. Landon’s Haydn Society, with its early stirrings of period practice, had just begun to operate in Vienna, but there is little sign of that here. The Vienna State Opera Orchestra is full and potent, and the difficult solo lines managed in the grand-opera tradition of the day. Herbert Handt is a superb Orfeo, singing with ease, color, and passion. What a fine tenor! Why did we only hear him on Haydn Society records? Judith Hellwig, on the other hand, struggles mightily with Euridice’s coloratura—but the opera is mostly about Orfeo. Alfred Poell is a lightweight Creonte; a young Walter Berry sings Pluto’s one aria; perhaps he was too young to sing the aged king. Hedda Heusser manages Genio’s nearly impossible coloratura aria (written for a castrato) rather well—neither Joan Sutherland nor Cecila Bartoli has done better. The chorus is a bit scrappy; Kurt Rapf plays a potent harpsichord continuo. The entire performance soars over its individual components.

The sound quality is problematic, however. Modern transfers are able to inject a good deal of life into ancient recordings, and Lani Spahr has done so here. But he could not get rid of the considerable distortion that troubles orchestra and chorus. I can no longer remember the sound of the original Haydn Society LPs, and this was taken from a VoxBox reissue; somewhere along the line, what sounds like poor tracking of worn grooves has arisen. Subsequent recordings include a substandard 1967 Edinburgh live performance with Joan Sutherland and Nicolai Gedda (it went better in Vienna, where I heard it that season), a decent 1992 studio recording with Helen Donath and Robert Swensen led by Leopold Hager, and a sparkling period performance led by Christopher Hogwood starring Bartoli—but that’s its problem: Bartoli is such a powerhouse vocal personality that she takes over, leaving Haydn in her wake. If you can put up with the distorted sound, I recommend this issue highly.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

L'anima del filosofo, H 28 no 13 "Orfeo ed Euridice" by Franz Joseph Haydn
Performer:  Herbert Handt (Tenor), Alfred Poell (Baritone), Judith Hellwig (Soprano),
Walter Berry (Bass Baritone), Richard Wadleigh (Voice), Hedda Heusser (Soprano)
Conductor:  Kurt Rapf
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna State Opera Chorus,  Vienna State Opera Orchestra,  Vienna Academy Chamber Choir
Period: Classical 
Written: 1791; London, England 

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