Mozart And Salieri – Triple Bill
Bare Bones Opera
Australian Performing Arts Grammar School, Sydney
August 4, 2016
Written by Leona Geeves
It was almost a case of Mozart and Salieri appearing on Broadway when Bare Bones Opera made its debut and a splash with its enterprising selection of rarities at a new venue, Australian Performing Arts Grammar School on Sydney’s Broadway.
Winner of the 2016 Mietta song competition, Sydney soprano Laura King and bass-baritone Christopher Cucuruto have formed Bare Bones Opera with an aim of creating “a more traditional, scaled-back, theatrical style of opera .… inspired by Peter Brook.
This, their premiere season featured an innovative triple bill of works by Mozart, Salieri and Rimsky-Korsakov. The production was to have been presented with a string quartet, but a change of plan allowed us to hear Sydney accompanist, Jonathan Wilson instead and the change proved highly entertaining.
Emperor Joseph II commissioned both pieces – Mozart’s singspiel, Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impressario) and Salieri’s Prima la Musica, Poi le Parole (First the music, then the words). The pair of works premiered together at either end of the orangery in Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace, in 1786. In Sydney, the singspiel and the dramatic divertimento were combined into one opera in Italian and German.
Der Schauspieldirektor involves two soprani battling vocally over status and billing; Prima la Musica, Poi le Parole features two soprani demanding to sing the opening aria in an opera with a libretto written in four days to fit a composed score. We were treated to some very fine singing by sopranos – Laura King, Zoe Drummond, Imogen Faith Malfitano and Elizabeth Smalley – almost a case of “Anything you can sing I can sing louder and higher”! As well, there was terrific singing from Joshua Oxley, Joshua Rogers and Vincent Farrell. The two operas combined equalled mayhem, but very funny and well sung mayhem.
After interval, the audience was seated in a recreated salon. Laura King introduced the background of the cantata, Per la ricuperata salute di Ofelia, (For the recovered health of Ophelia), composed jointly by Mozart and Salieri in 1785 and recently discovered in Prague. It was dedicated to the English/Italian soprano, Nancy Storace, the prima donna in the premiere of Prima La Musica… who had suffered vocally. It was a short and tuneful musical get well card!
This was a suitable item for segueing into Mozart and Salieri, a short opera written in 1897 by Rimsky-Korsakov, based on Pushkin’s drama. It is a story well-known as the basis for the late Peter Schaffer’s play Amadeus, later made into a film. It is pure fiction – they were rivals but not enemies and Salieri didn’t poison Mozart.
Mozart and Salieri was well-acted and sung with Eugene Raggio, a young bass-baritone and actor, as Salieri and tenor Joshua Oxley as Wolfgang. The opening bars of the Mozart Requiem added a fine sense of drama.
An innovation of the evening was a smart phone app with subtitles. While some were critical, I found it exciting. Only available for the Russian piece, and needing some tweaking, it certainly added to the evening’s pleasure!