La Fedeltà Premiata

Haydn: La Fedeltà Premiata
Guildhall Opera
Guildhall School of Music &Drama
Silk Street Theatre, 4 November2019

Haydn’s La Fedeltà Premiata (Fidelity Rewarded) was premiered in 1781 at the reopening of the Esterháza court theatre after its destruction in a fire. His Lo speziale had been the first opera in the previous theatre in 1768. The plot is bizarre, even by the standards of 18th-century opera. The Roman city of Cumae worships the goddess Diana, but have managed to upset her, resulting in the curse that “Every year two faithful lovers will be sacrificed to the sea monster until a heroic soul offers his own life. Only then will peace return to the land of Cumae“. In this production, Cumae is Arcadia, its underground station sign prominently displayed on the curtains before the start.

Under the eyes of the malevolent priest Melibeo, a series of complex relationships between six rapidly evolving couples are explored, their lack of faithfulness leading to concerns that there will be nobody to sacrifice to the sea monster, in this case, a rather inert looking octopus locked in a cage front stage. Melibeo takes a fancy to Amaranta who loves the up-himself Count Perrucchetto. Fileno is in love with Celia who is the apparently the ‘dead’ Fillide in disguise. Lindoro’s (Amaranta’s brother) fancy for the nymph Nerina is fading and Celia has taken his eye. Desperate to find a couple to sacrifice, Melibeo tries to trick Celia and Perrucchetto by locking them in a cave, but they return chaste. Eventually Fileno offers himself as the sacrifice. Diana retracts her curse, the monster is destroyed, and it ends happily for everybody except the wicked Melibeo who is dispatched with Diana’s arrow.

The entry of the various cast members gave a pretty good clue as to their character, starting with Amaranta crashing her way into the opening scene, sending the collected offerings to Diana crashing noisily to the floor. The pretentious Count Perrucchetto arrives on a motorbike. Director Stephen Barlow (with Adrian Linford as designer and David Howe on lighting) set the opera in a typical small-town Arcadian setting in what initially seems to be the sort of costumes that Haydn might have seen in the first performance. But the costumes soon change into an eclectic mix of ancient and modern, with Lindora and Nerina in recent style, the rest in various shades of historic dress.

Lara Marie Müller & Damian Arnold (Nerina & Lindoro)

The singing of the Guildhall students was impressive, as was their acting ability. They all looked comfortable on the stage, and made very effective portrayals of their various roles. My only quibble (and it is one that repeat frequently) is the amount of vibrato from most of the singers. But it was encouraging to hear the singer with by far the most pronounced and unremitting vibrato deliver a beautifully pure long straight-toned note towards the end of the evening. This is an issue for singing teachers, not the students, who are pushed into developing large-scale voices well before they have learnt the skill of controlling those voices.

The Guildhall Orchestra played well, although it was a shame that they didn’t use period instruments. That was particularly noticeable from the horn players, who have key moments, notable with Jacob Parker’s exposed solo in the aria Deh soccorri un infelice which, incidentally, is supposed to have been played on a ‘hand-horn’ which would have made an enormous difference to the sound. Flautist Mian Shahmir Samee made a couple of on-stage appearances. Alice Farnham conducted with a nice sense of period style.

Ema Nikolovska & Robert Lewis (Amaranta & Fileno)

Musically, La Fedeltà Premiata is a fascinating mix of opera seria and opera buffa. Although perhaps not his finest work, it is nonetheless full of delightful moments, albeit balanced by occasional formulaic moments, most obvious in the oft-reused cadential harmonic sequence. The Act finales were an interesting early example of Mozart’s later example, the voices increasing one by one from solo to seven voices plus chorus.

As with most student productions, there are two casts alternating, with different singers in five of the eight roles. In situations like this, I tend to avoid naming individual singers, although I will make one exception with Lara Marie Müller who was particularly noteworthy in her role as Nerina. I will, however, name both casts, and the sizeable chorus. All have promising careers ahead of them.

4th November & 8th November
Eline Vandenheede (Amaranta); Lara Marie Muller (Nerina); Ema Nikolovska (Celia); Robert Lewis (Fileno); Damian Arnold (Lindoro); Matthew Palmer (Perruchetto); Adam Maxey (Melibeo); Sian Dicker (Diana).

Alternative casts on 6th & 11th November
Sian Dicker (Amaranta); Harriet Burns (Nerina); Elsa Roux (Celia); Andrew Hamilton (Perruchetto); Eline Vandenheede (Diana).

Chorus: Mariana Fernandes; Stephanie Foster; Anna Gregg; Calista Lim; George Curnow; Archie Buchanan; Nikita Bazil; Katie MacDonald; Rebecca Milford; Joseph Chalmers; George Reynolds; Dylan Rooney

Chorus with Matthew Palmer (Perruchetto)
Production photos: Mihaela Bodlovic