Peabody Opera Theatre soars with a Haydn favorite

November 22, 1994|By David Donovan | David Donovan,Special to The Sun

The Peabody Opera Theatre gave a spirited presentation of "La Fedelta Premiata" on Friday, and should be commended for giving Baltimore a rare opportunity to experience this example of the neglected side of Haydn's creative output.

Haydn always had a special place in his heart for this opera. Most authorities translate the title "Fidelity Rewarded," but Peabody decided on "The Perils of Fidelity." It was the inaugural work presented on Feb. 25, 1781, for a new opera house at the Esterhazy castle, where he was the court composer.

The work received many performances and was even played to sold-out audiences in Vienna by Schikaneder and his troupe, who later premiered Mozart's "Magic Flute."

It may be the most musically rewarding opera of Haydn, with a wide assortment of colorful arias and ensembles. It compares well with all the operatic efforts of the late 18th century, except for Mozart.

If one can enjoy Haydn's fairy tale on its own merits, "Fidelity" will have many rewards. Those who enjoyed this music will be happy to know that Philips has reissued Dorati's superb recording on CD along with seven other unknown Haydn operas.

The principal singers all deserve praise. Jane Haughton was a passionate Amaranta. T. Norwood Robinson presented a vibrant account of the tragic Lindoro; his second act suicide aria was given its true opera seria character. Cathy Lee was charming as the fickle Nerina. Jennifer Davison showed the greatest vocal power in the role of Celia; she showed occasional pitch problems in the second act, but her sense of excitement and involvement outweighed the small negatives. The balance of the cast was good to excellent.

The chorus sang beautifully and the large scenes on stage were well coordinated.

The performance of the orchestra was extraordinary. Conductor Edward Polochick set the Haydnesque tone from the brilliant overture to the triumphant finale. Tempi were all well judged and the balance between singers and orchestra was never problematic. The solo wind contributions were lovely.

The costumes sadly were the only real failure in the production. Putting the shepherds and shepherdesses in the late 1890s or early 1900s gave the production the feel of a long-lost Marx Brothers film. The sets were simple but colorful and perfectly functional, and the scene changes were efficient. Costumes aside, this was a wonderful pastoral escape with the genius of Haydn.

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