Notes and Editorial Reviews
Nina, o sia La Pazza Per Amore
Cecilia Bartoli (
); Jonas Kaufmann (
); Lászlo Polgár (
); Juliette Galstian (
); Angelo Veccia (
); Adám Fischer, cond; Zurich Op O & Ch
ARTHAUS MUSIK 100367 (DVD: 120:00
Text and Translation) Live: Zurich 2002
Paisiello: A Forgotten Genius
True genius—in a conductor, a singer, a pianist, an actor, or a composer—is not only a rare thing but difficult to explain … or describe. What, really separates the genius from the usual conscientious artists, who work very hard at their craft but, in the end, only achieve craft rather than art? And how can you explain genius to someone who doesn’t see it or hear it? These are not easy questions to answer, but they must be asked, because they are the underlying foundations of why we critics continue to review anyone and everyone we can, to see and hear and evaluate, and to try to discern those glimpses of genius in the work of everyday musicians.
I bring this up not because I have watched
and its companion piece
Paisiello: A Forgotten Genius,
and been won over by the brilliance of the composer, but because I have listened to and watched Adám Fischer, Cecilia Bartoli, Jonas Kaufmann, and Lászlo Polgár perform
and these are artists of real genius. What makes them so? In Fischer’s case, it is the ability to hear through the music he conducts in such a way that everything he touches has life and breath, not just loud or fast passages. In Fischer’s hands, music is a supple and living organism, not just a succession of notes. In the case of the three singers, it is their extraordinary ability to not merely play a role but inhabit it, to bring the characters to life as if they were their own personalities. Forty years ago, this was a mere dream of directors and operagoers, but we now have a few artists like these scattered throughout the globe. In this 2002 Zurich production of an obscure opera, these four of them come together.
In the 46-minute film on Paisiello, director Cesare Lievi explains that Paisiello’s operas are unusual in that they are “stage dramas with music,” not musical plays in the sense that
operas are. “In this respect,” Lievi says, “I find the libretto of Paisiello’s opera so much more interesting than Verdi.” The character of the Count, onstage most of the time, has to react to and accept his daughter’s madness—and take responsibility for it. But how can he make reparations when the man she loved, Lindoro, whom he drove away in preference to a wealthier suitor, was killed in a duel with the latter? He can’t bring back the dead, and so he must live with Nina’s madness, which is manifested by her giving away fistfuls of her wealthy father’s fortune to the poor. Ironically, the guilty father, the Count, aids and abets this madness because he believes that only in performing such good deeds may his tormented soul possibly find salvation. As Lievi puts it, in the Enlightenment, madness was the opposite side of the coin, and in this libretto by Carpani, the interior motives of the characters are explored in an almost Freudian fashion.
Thus we must look past the conventional Italian-operatic music of
to the story underneath, and this particular cast and conductor and director help us immensely to understand and appreciate it. Were you just listening to this performance, you would, I am sure, be impressed by Fischer’s conducting and by the singing of the trio of Bartoli, Kaufmann, and Polgar, but not particularly moved by the music. That, perhaps, was Paisiello’s greatest failing: Despite his remarkable stage instincts, his music was just … ordinary. This is one reason Lievi and Fischer decided to insert an aria that Mozart wrote for Paisiello’s opera
“Ah, lo previdi.” “We didn’t trust Paisiello, and we should have.” Perhaps so, at least theatrically. Musically, Mozart is still superior. Lindoro has a similarly long aria by Paisiello in the second act, and it’s just not as good. It wears out its welcome after five minutes.
Nina is mad from her first entrance, but unlike such loose screws of the opera world as Lucy of Lammermoor or Adina in
, Nina is aware of her madness to a certain extent. She can’t control it, but she knows why she is mad, and at times understands that she is not normal, and those moments are touching because they seem real. She is trapped inside this bubble we call madness, and occasionally struggles to escape it, but she can’t because, in the end, the madness overwhelms her ability to reason and act. In performing this complex madwoman, Bartoli uses all her powers of stage illusion to create a character that is both believably insane and believably likeable. It is not an easy road she has taken, particularly in a work that, with the wrong cast or director, could easily be reduced to mundane tedium, but she succeeds. In the scene where Nina hands out gold chains and watches to the peasants, she looks both disoriented and distracted like Peter Grimes when he is first brought into the dock to start his trial. Her first-act aria, “Il mio ben quando verrà,” is really a fine piece of music, but Bartoli makes it more effective by the way she handles and inhabits the role. Her shading and coloring of her voice makes the words mean something. Even the pauses are dramatic. A fine aria thus becomes a great one, supported in turn by a conductor who understands what she and the director are driving at. That is what I mean by genius. A little later, her maid, Susanna, reminds her of Lindoro; the mention of his name temporarily grounds her and brings her back to earth.
Another innovation of Paisiello, via his librettist, was to make the servant Susanna more than just a cardboard figure, as the servants in
La sonnambula, Lucia di Lammermoor, Il Trovatore,
and other operas are. This Susanna is knowledgeable and sensitive; as Juliette Galstian, the artist portraying her, puts it, she tries to keep Nina from going too far off the edge while at the same time trying to keep herself sane. “It’s easy for someone tending to a mad person to show tendencies, sooner or later, themselves,” Galstian says. This is just another example of the difference between Paisiello and his successors. They were, perhaps, greater composers, but they didn’t understand the theater as well as Paisiello did.
Jonas Kaufmann has, since this production, risen as a major operatic star, and again it is his combination of singing and acting that makes him so great. This role is rather slim for him compared to Florestan, but he makes the most of it.
There are two other sound recordings of
an early mono performance from the 1956 Teatro Musicale da Camera di Villa Olmo, with a cast of singers (Dora Gatta, Salvatore Gioa, Angela Vercelli) whose voices could sound like nails on a blackboard, and a digital recording with William Matteuzzi (tenor), Gloria Banditelli (alto), Natale de Carolis (bass-baritone), Alfonso Antoniozzi (baritone), and Jeanne Marie Bima (soprano) on Arts Music 47166, but these are ordinary artists toiling in their field of work. This is the performance to acquire, and yes, you want it on video.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Giovanni PAISIELLO (1740-1816)
Opera Buffa in Two Acts - Sung in Italian
Cecilia Bartoli, Jonas Kaufmann, Laszlo Polgar, Juliette Galstian, Frederica Bartoli
Zurich Opera, Adam Fischer
Running Time: 166 minutes (120 min Opera)
Picture Format: 16:9
Sound: DTS5.1, PCM Stereo
Region Code: 0
Menu Languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese
Recording Date: 2002
Extra Feature: 46-minute documentary: "A Forgotten Genius - A portrait of the composer"
Works on This Recording
Nina, o sia La pazza per amore by Giovanni Paisiello
Jonas Kaufmann (Tenor),
Cecilia Bartoli (Mezzo Soprano),
László Polgár (Baritone),
Juliette Galstian (Mezzo Soprano)
Zurich Opera Chorus,
Zurich Opera Orchestra
Written: 1789; Italy
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