O.K., first things first.
The simple fact that, for once, Naples was at the center of an important international cultural event – the Whitsun Festival in Salzburg -- instead of just another weird, saddening scandal (the most recent: that thing about the mountains of uncollected trash strewn all over the city and left there to quietly rot for months in the streets – Italy is not technically part of the Third World but no one, it seems, told the politicians who run the country, and more than a few of the people who inhabit it) should earn Riccardo Muti (it's Riccardo with 2 C's, by the way), just-named Music Director of the CSO -- a huge thank-you from his fellow Italians, esp. from his fellow Neapolitans – -regardless of the degree of their personal interest in classical music.
Because he gave Naples, his city, a beautiful gift: "We'll breathe Naples history", he promised -- hence, Salzburg/Naples as twin cities in the name of great music. Muti is the MC of the Whitsun Festival since last year, in the name if Naples, having extracted lost scores from the archives of the San Pietro A Maiella Conservatorio.
OC is coming to you live from Salzburg aka Mutiburg (this from our report from last year) ...although barely breathing from too many slices of estherhazy and sacher torte that are making previous sweaty hours on the treadmill redundant, but we're on vacation so it's okay to flood the system with mountains of unsweetened whipped cream and sugarysweet confections...and after hearing tonight Giovanni Paisiello's Il Matrimonio Inaspettato, opera buffa from 1779, we're ready to sink into downy blankets and bedding to dream lovely melodic sonnets filled with buttercream and espresso.
For now, it should suffice to say that Riccardo Muti proved again to the eagerly-listening audience that flocked to this years Salzbuger Pfingstfestspiele that he is poised for world domination, to show the new skool how the old skool rolls, to shame everyone at their game, to smash the backboard in a thousand glassy bits, and blowup the deathstar.
Last year it was Domenico Cimarosa's Il Ritorno di Don Calandrino; this years it's Paisiello's delcious composition, technically a "dramma giocoso" in two acts but it's downright opera buffa, not that there's anything wrong about that: Paisiello is an unsung genius of Beethovenian proportions, the man chosen by Napoleon to write his Coronation music, for Pete's sake, and instead is barely known as some opera buffa guy (pretty good stuff such as La Serva Padrona, but Paisiello's masterpiece is in fact a tragedy, Fedra).
In Il Matrimonio Inaspettato Paisiello weaves so many familiar lines...from Gluck to Paisiello's successor as King Of Comedy And Misunderstood Opera Seria Genius, Gioachino Rossini (who took Paisiello's Barbiere and turned it into something entirely different, and obv greater, but let's not forget that paisiello's Barbiere is a masterpiece on its own merit) to Mozart (who, as so many geniuses, robbed the older Paisiello blind) spinning and intertwining the melodic lines.
Muti's read of the score left nothing to be desired, the most controlled, driven, seamless push and pull, which his Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini lovingly embraced, following Maestro Muti's every minor twitch -- and let us praise those kids from the Orchestra dreamed by Muti out of nothing, who have recently triumphed with a Don Pasquale in concert form in the Musikverein.
The opera took the familiar Rossini Barbiere form as recitativi accompanied by the harpsicord punctuated by arias, duets, etc. It was much different than Cimarosa's Il ritorno di Don Calandrino, regardless of the fact that the two composers were integral figures of the Neopolitan School and the operas were written within one year of each other -- Calandrino's had a much richer first act (but a lamer second), more characters, and a very entertaining taste for really smart wordplay, plus a bunch of really pretty quartetti that Matrimonio lacks -- but Paisiello's opera is a much subtler, less flashy, darker, and much more ingeniously conceived beast.
The basic story is entertaining, involving a countess and her plan to marry into the nouveaux riches injecting much needed cash in her noble family's coffers -- culminating in trickery and eventually a deliciously senseless opera buffa-style double-wedding. Between the plot are crafted dry bits of typical opera buffa: clumsy, sword-wielding pranks and gratuitous costume disguises (all directed with mercifully straight, not-that-hammy restraint by director Andrea de Rosa. It all worked to the favor of the libretto, which had many moments of brilliance.
The standout star (aside from Muti's incredible conducting -- driven, at times lightning-fast ) was Austrian baritone Markus Werba's Giorgino, the son of the nouveaux riche farmer Tulipano. Werba's acting and comic timing were perfect, matching his brilliant and creamy voice (his big debut happened in 2005, here in Salzburg, as Papageno in The Magic Flute conducted by Muti and directed by Graham Vick that shocked the Salzburg old fartz -- Queen of the Night as the good one and Sarastro as the bad guy, yay 4 Vick). Italian diction? As good as his Italian-born sidekick, really.
Back to Matrimonio: Act I, Scene III's -- the cavatina 'Credea Nina cara' was outstanding not only in the depth of Werba's lovelorn promise, but how well paired he was to Muti's delicate and lovely conducting. The melodies ducked in and out, creating a heartbreaking interlude between the chaos of the comedy -- the creamy depths of Orchestra Cherubini really amazed us.
Alessia Nadin, the young Italian mezzosoprano who sang always correctly as Vespina, the clever and rich farmer's daughter who impersonates the Countess Olympia and therefore tricks Tulipano in the hand of his son, was on point, but OC wasn't a huge fan of her color. A bit too mousy in tone and really on the brassy side of mezzo.
The Sicilian baritone Nicola Alaimo, who sang with Falstaffian gusto as the elder Tulipano, father of Giorgino, embraced the role perfectly, energetically slapping his son across the face dozens of times, bravely not fighting a hilarious duel, but still appealing the humanity of the audience in the final scene when he pleaded for the hand of the Countess in marriage -- il mondo è burla, srsly.
Poor Countess Olympia was sung by the Swiss mezzosoprano Marie-Claude Chappuis. Her gorgeous and light register was cut short by the b o r i n g e s t aria of the entire opera during Act II, her only chance to shine at the small role.
Muti once again gets the most credit for resurrecting from the archives this pleasant and carefree opera, filled with moments of comedy gold (a sword fight between the Tulipano family and the defenders of the Countess was particularly awesome, culminating in a trickery defeat to which Tulipano ignorantly decries 'Vittoria!').
Blissfully controlling the chorus, the orchestra, the principals, mentally rehearsing the Otello he'll do here this coming August 1, and simultaneously walking on a treadmill, Muti again scored a 10-minute long ovation at the end of it all (the other night it was 20 minutes, sez Willy), asking as always his Cherubini kids to follow him on stage to bask in the glory (class act).
Muti has unearthed yet another winning offering from the beyond. Stay tuned for more details and pictures. As if it wasn't already, after winning the CSO position, it's seriously Muti fever here in Salzburg.
A memo to the lucky Chicagoans?
Convince this man to do at least in concert form with the CSO, Paisiello's Fedra. It's musical gold.