The Jewel Box

Mozart

Information

An opera in two acts and an epilogue

Music by W.A. Mozart
Libretto by Paul Griffiths

Cast

Dottore, a cynic Alexander Grove
Pantalone, a plain man Marc Labonnette
Colombina, a soubrette Ilona Domnich
Pedrolino, a heartsick lover Mark Chaundy
The Composer Serena Kay
The Singer of opera seria Michaela Bloom
The Father Vojtech Šafařík
   
Conductor Matthew Coorey
Director Jeremy Gray

 

Synopsis

 An opera buffa begins with a quartet … and ends. The music stops, the characters disintegrate. Colombina, Pantalone, Pedrolino and the cynical Dottore, four characters from commedia dell’arte, no longer have the music which provides them with rôles and with life. The arrival of a young Composer might save them from this limbo, if he could be persuaded to write them a new opera, but his work is disrupted by a mounting passion for Colombina, to the dismay of the melancholic Pedrolino as much as the assertive and lustful Pantalone. And there is another woman in the Composer’s life, the mysterious Singer of Italian opera seria, his tragic muse. He is given a choice of books containing libretti for his new work: comic versus tragic. He must also choose between staying or leaving. Lingering, he begins composing, manipulating the desires and jealousies of the comedians, but this new opera is interrupted by the arrival of his Father, loving but overbearing, who clearly believes that the buffa world is unsuitable for his son’s talents and aspirations. Dottore claims the Composer for his own purposes. The Act ends with a stalemate of conflicting wills: “we must find how to go on”.

At the start of the second act, Pantalone tries to seize control and plans a new opera without the Composer’s help. The Composer refuses to obey his Father’s renewed commands to leave, as Pantalone moves in to impress Colombina, causing Pedrolino to kill himself. The reappearance of the Singer and the growing instability in this comic world persuade the Composer that it is indeed best to leave: his departure breaks Colombina’s heart and she also takes her life. Dottore sarcastically congratulates Pantalone on the outcome of his ‘opera’, but Pantalone’s heartfelt remorse enables the suicides to be resurrected. In a strange and embryonic new world, personalities and rôles are magically transformed: the Composer is reconciled with his Father, and is sent out by the Singer into a life of creative independence. Only Dottore is unable to be reborn….

Reviews

Jewels indeed
Opera, November 2006

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Jewels indeed

Opera, November 2006

Mozart’s The Jewel Box is a real treasure-trove: a delicious concoction - mimicking the 18th C form of pasticcio (here, a collation of solos and ensembles filched from diverse Mozartian sources) - so as to make a lively divertissement.

Its deviser, Paul Griffiths, has drawn on not just arias from operas Mozart never completed (Lo sposo deluso, L’oca del Cairo) but also items he wrote for insertion into operas by others – Anfossi, Piccini, Cimarosa – and used them imaginitively to ‘reconstruct’ a Pantomime in which Mozart and Aloysia Lange (Constanze’s sister) took part in 1783.

The music mostly dates from the 1780s: it’s top-drawer ‘mislaid’ Mozart, of uniformly good quality, and though it aches for more recitative, the wheeze of stitching these numbers together with an almost Straussian libretto is something one can be deeply grateful to Griffiths for.

As Jeremy Gray’s graphically staged La cappriciosa corretta (Martin y Soler) proved earlier this summer, Bampton’s inventive daring grows ever more finessed. Apart from the problem of catching the words here – all in English translation, except for a ‘tragic muse’ figure, sung by Michaela Bloom, who delivered her coloratura outbursts (shades of the Queen of the Night) in Italian; armed with a slightly edgy sound she made a remarkably fine job of them - one could have appreciated more fully the arcane twists of Gray’s thoughtful staging. Too much seemed elusive or fussy here, not helped by the hyperactivity of Serena Kay’s Composer and Alex Grove’s Dottore: for all the apt Harlequinade atmosphere, gestures seemed more hack than stock, and the cloaks were awful.

Yet musically Bampton served up a scintillating evening. From a serene overture onwards (Lo sposo deluso) the London Mozart Players under Matthew Coorey made sumptuous work of the buoyant score, with woodwind to be relished and a wonderful double-stopped double bass solo – a bit like the Dittersdorf concerto - for Richard Alsop. Kay and Grove are both fine singers, and she negotiated her middle range as adeptly as he did his two sweeping, characterful arias.

There were further delights: Vojtech Safarik sang the composer’s Father in a handsome, plainish but resonant bass. Ilona Domnich, a Bampton regular, positively blossomed as the Colombina figure, with a lovely bloom and roundedness to the voice; she and tenor Mark Chaundy, who sang with a gorgeous, wan sensitivity as the pantaloon lover Pedrolono, brought a striking pathos to the later stages. Marc Labonnette, especially in a late aria for Pantalone, revealed the full richness, power and flexibility of his magnificent, buccaneering baritone. The ensembles, three quartets and two brilliant trios, were terrific. Jewels indeed.

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Roderic Dunnett

 

Top-drawer Mozart, served up with panache
Opera Now, January 2007

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Top-drawer Mozart, served up with panache

Opera Now, January 2007

One of the most rewarding aspects of Bampton’s recent productions has been the slick quality of the orchestral playing under a series of conductors – Edward Gardner, Alexander Briger, Murray Hipkin - who have gone on to achieve great things elsewhere. Bampton’s use of the London Mozart Players for its latest foray into rare 18 th Century Opera at both Westonbirt School and St. John’s Smith Square provides yet more evidence, after this summer’s Taming of the Shrew, that this prodigiously talented company is going from strength to strength.

True, no indoor venue can quite match the atmosphere of an Oxfordshire or Gloucestershire garden setting. However Bampton’s September appearances at St. John’s have become a welcome and regular autumn feature. A few seasons back they served up a brilliantly honed evening of rare Mozart, embracing the music from The Cairo Goose and The Deluded Husband, both 1780s operas which Mozart abandoned - but whose musical quality is top-notch, the surviving arias and ensembles like precious lost gems.

Now they have turned to another valuable Mozartian gem, The Jewel Box, a witty harlequinade, deftly pieced together by Paul Griffiths, which embraces not just music from those two discarded operas, but arias which Mozart supplied for operas by lesser mortals – Galuppi, Picinni et al.

Bampton always seems blessed with a bumper cast of talented singers. All three of Mozart’s quartets (including one for a Bianchi opera) impressed, including one from Lo sposo deluso heard right at the start. At its completion the action intensifies, as the various Harlequinade characters frantically hunt for a ‘composer’ (Serena Kay), whose own artistic yearnings are projected onto the ‘sublime’, semi-abstract person of a coloratura soprano (Michaela Bloom). Both of these are spirited young singers, and Bloom made a handsome job of the difficult coloratura role for the inscrutable ‘muse’.

Here and there I was puzzled and mystified by the action, as so easily happens when teasing opera materialises in English without surtitles. Some of the wittier ironies proved elusive. But what made the evening shine was the quality of the other voices: a touching, wistful performance from tenor Mark Chaundy as the hapless lovesick Pedrolino; plenty of boisterousness but also finessed singing from the gutsy Pantalone, Marc Labonette; and a glorious blossoming from Ilona Domnich in the tender arias of Colombina. Thanks to Bampton’s glowing delivery, there was no doubting, either, the quality of this music which Griffiths has so cannily conserved: this was top-drawer Mozart, served up with panache.

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Roderic Dunnett

 

brilliantly performed...
MusicOMH.com

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brilliantly performed...

MusicOMH.com

Bampton Classical Opera deserves huge praise for putting on this new Mozart opera during the much-publicised 250th anniversary year of Mozart’s birth.  Indeed, I would be hard pressed to think of any other celebratory event more relevant than this production.  The Jewel Box is mostly unknown, yet it is pure Mozart and was performed by Opera North in 1991, during the 200th anniversary year of Mozart’s death.

The music, compiled by former music critic Paul Griffiths, comes from 25 Mozart compositions, most of which were written for operas that were left unfinished or as insertions for other composers’ operas. Based on evidently very thorough research, Griffiths also compiled the libretto from works by such 18th-century masters as Goldoni, Metastasio, Palomba, Petrosellini, da Ponte and Veresco.

Apparently, Griffiths based his idea for The Jewel Box on a letter which Mozart wrote on 12 March 1783. Mozart reports to his father that he took part in a pantomime as Harlequin, with his sister-in-law as Columbine and others as Pierrot, Doctor and Pantaloon. As the music - composed by Mozart - has long been lost, Griffiths seems to have aimed to recreate a similar plot but based on the music now chosen. The characters in the current libretto are as mentioned in Mozart’s letter, that is, Dottore (the doctor), Pantalone, Colombina, and Pedrolino. New characters include The Composer, The Father (that is the composer’s father) and The Singer of opera seria. Loosely speaking, the plot concerns competition between opera buffa and opera seria. In the event, music – in both forms - wins.

Director Jeremy Gray made the most of the very small space available for his cast of seven singers, all of whom responded very well to what looked like meaningful direction. Costumes and lighting were also pleasing and credible. It would have been helpful to make young Vojtech Safarik, playing the father, look a bit older (with appropriate make-up).

Of the singers Serena Kay (The Composer) sounded the most experienced and accomplished, but all of them coped well with some very difficult vocal lines. Ilona Domnich (Columbina) sounds like a promising Susanna, Despina, but also a Countess. Marc Labonette (Pantalone) has a commanding baritone voice as well as a strong stage presence. Vojtech Safarik displayed an impressive bass voice and huge stamina.

Though clearly owing to space restrictions, unfortunately the orchestra (London Mozart Players) and conductor (Matthew Coorey) were placed behind the singers. Notwithstanding apparently two television sets – installed to show the conductor to the singers – ensemble work suffered from time to time: television sets are not adequate substitutes for proper contact with conductors.

Orchestra and conductor gave us real Mozart. Particular praise is due to double bass player Richard Alsop for his brilliantly performed virtuoso obbligato part and to oboist Celia Nicklin for her sensitive solo playing.

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Programme notes

Musical sources

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Musical sources

The Jewel Box has been compiled entirely from numbers completed by Mozart - pieces for operas he failed to finish (Lo sposo deluso and L'oca del Cairo), and also arias and ensembles he wrote for insertion in other people's operas. It is a comedy for seven characters: a quartet of stock comic types (Colombina - soprano, Pedrolino - lyric tenor, Dottore - character tenor, Pantalone - baritone) joined by the Composer (mezzo-soprano), the Singer (coloratura soprano) and the Father (bass)

No.1 Overture and quartet from Lo sposo deluso K.430
No.2 Aria Voi avete un cor fedele K.217, probably for insertion in Balsassare Galuppi's The Marriage of Dorina
No.3 Aria Chi sà qual sia K.582, for insertion in Vicente Martín y Soler's The Goodhearted Grouch
No.4 Aria Ah se in ciel, beninge stelle K.583, possibly an entr'acte for CPE Bach's Resurrection
No.5 Aria Si mostra la sorte K.209, probably for insertion in an opera buffa
No.6 Arietta Un bacio di mano K.541, for insertion in Pasquale Anfossi's The Lucky Jealous Women
No.7 Quartet Mandina amabile K.480, for insertion in Francesco Bianchi's The Village Girl Ravished
No.8 Recitative and aria Alcandro, lo confesso K.512, a concert piece
No.9 Aria Clarice cara K.256, probably for insertion in Niccolò Piccini's The Abstracted man, or The Lucky Gambler
No.10 Aria Alma grande e nobil core K.578, for insertion in Domenico Cimarosa's The Two Barons of Rocca Azzurra
No.11 Quartet Dite almeno in che mancai K.479, for insertion in The Village Girl Ravished
No.12 Trio from L'Oca del Cairo K.422, from the composer's unfinished opera
No.13 Recitative and aria Cosi dunque tradisci K.432, probably for insertion in Themistocles, or else a concert piece
No.14 Aria Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo K.584, removed from the score of Così fan tutte
No.15 Eine kleine Gigue K.574
No.16 Rondò Per pieta, non ricercate K.420, for insertion in Pasquale Anfossi's The Indiscreet Admirer
No.17 Aria No, che non sei capace K.419, for insertion in the Indiscreet Admirer
No.18 Aria Vado, ma dove? K.583, for insertion in The Goodhearted Grouch
No.19 Recitative and aria Basta! Vincesti K.295a, a concert piece
No. 20 Aria Con ossequio, con rispetto K.210, probably for insertion in The Abstracted Man
No.21 Trio from Lo sposo deluso K.430
No.22 Aria per questa bella mano K.612, a concert piece
No.23 Aria Vorrei spiegarvi K.418, for insertion in The Indiscreet Admirer
No.24 German dance K.571 no 6
No.25 Aria Nehmt meinen Dank K.383, a concert piece

 


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These the gems of Heav'n
Paul Griffiths

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These the gems of Heav'n

The Jewel Box, a casket with many openings, has a whole history of beginnings, one of which can be precisely dated to March 12th, 1783. That was when Mozart wrote a letter telling his father about a pantomime, in which he had taken part as Harlequin, with his sister-in-law Aloysia Lange (a formidable singer and his first great love) as Columbine, her husband Joseph as Pierrot, a painter as the Doctor and ‘an old dancing master’ as Pantaloon. The music, which has long been lost, was his own—but not the words: ‘The verses’, he wrote, ‘might have been done better; I had nothing to do with them.’

That disclaimer, in as much as it applies to The Jewel Box, goes too far, for though Mozart died almost two centuries before this piece reached the stage, its libretto was guided and governed by what the music had to say. Indeed, its whole purpose was to restore to the theatre music that was written for the theatre: arias and ensembles Mozart composed either for Italian comedies he failed to finish or, following a common practice of the time, for insertion in such operas alongside music by other composers.

The first comic insert arias date from 1775-6, when Mozart was approaching twenty and living in Salzburg as one of the archbishop’s musicians. There was then a gap in his operatic output; meanwhile, he went on a long journey, staying in Mannheim during the winter of 1777-8. It was there that he fell in love with Aloysia Weber (as she then was) and rashly wrote to his father that he would travel penniless to Italy to write operas for her, to which his father’s response was that he should first make some money in Paris. Then in 1781 he left his family home and his Salzburg appointment to settle in Vienna. Idomeneo had recently been presented in Munich; The Abduction from the Seraglio, the next year, was his first Viennese opera.

Another year later, in 1783, he wrote three insert arias for The Indiscreet Inquirer by the popular composer Pasquale Anfossi: two for Lange, the other for the tenor Valentin Adamberger, who had starred in The Abduction. Probably also in that year Mozart began - but soon dropped - two Italian comedies of his own: The Deluded Husband and The Cairo Goose. Then, in the autumn of 1785, he set out on The Marriage of Figaro and also composed two ensembles for a local performance of Francesco Bianchi’s The Village Girl Ravished. During the next two years came the triumphs of Figaro and its successor, Don Giovanni, after which he made an aria for Francesco Albertarelli, who had created the title role in the latter opera in Vienna, to sing in another Anfossi piece, The Lucky Jealous Women. The last three insert arias came in 1789, for performances of operas by Domenico Cimarosa (The Two Barons of Rocca Azzurra) and Vicente Martín y Soler (The Goodhearted Grouch), the singer in each case being Louise Villeneuve, who was soon to be the first Dorabella in Così fan tutte.

So here were sixteen musical numbers whose contexts were either missing, where the unfinished operas are concerned, or filled with music by the also-rans much favoured at the Viennese court (Anfossi, Cimarosa, Martín y Soler). Many of these pieces do not work as concert items. The arias Mozart wrote specifically for concert performance are substantial movements, nearly always with an opening recitative in which the singer can both warm up and establish a reason for the outburst of feeling to come. Most of the insert arias are shorter and start straight off without musical and dramatic justification, which would have come from the original opera. The ensembles are even unlikelier concert repertory, besides which, this is all music written to be heard from the stage, sung not only by singers but by characters.

Hence The Jewel Box. There is good eighteenth-century precedent for assembling diverse arias into a new whole in the tradition of the pasticcio, defined in The New Grove as ‘a dramatic or sacred vocal work whose parts have been wholly or partly borrowed from existing works by various composers’. The same dictionary goes on to quote the librettist of an eighteenth-century pasticcio, saying that his aim has been to ‘combine in a certain scenic harmony and in an appropriate order those arias which were created and performed at other times, in other places and under different conditions, and which have been reintroduced with the sole purpose of renewing the pleasure which is to be had from them’. Here the other times are the whole of Mozart’s adult life, and the pleasure to be renewed is that of his music.

It was from the music that the cast of seven arose. Four male singers - two tenors, baritone and bass - were required for the two quartets, from The Deluded Husband and The Village Girl Ravished, while the tenor arias indicated contrasting types: a character singer and a lyric artist. Similarly, three different women were implied by the music: two for the very different arias Mozart wrote for Aloysia Lange (a coloratura soprano) and Louise Villeneuve (a high mezzo), together with a lyric soprano for the ensembles. In the interests of evenhandedness a couple more pieces were needed—especially for the bass, who otherwise would have had no arias.

The music partly defined the characters as well. The ensembles, which would have to involve all the men plus the lyric soprano, suggested comic archetypes - the very figures Mozart and his friends had enacted in that 1783 pantomime: the agile young lovers Harlequin and Colombine, the scheming Doctor and the foolish Pantaloon. Two singers - the ‘Aloysia soprano’ and the ‘Louise mezzo’ - stand apart from the ensembles, and so they stand apart on the dramatic plane, belonging to what we might call the ‘real world’. The coloratura soprano, singing arias written for Aloysia Lange, becomes the young composer’s erotico-musical dream, The Singer, while the mezzo is The Composer himself, recalling the cross-dressed Composer of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. On this same level of reality the bass - who is drawn into only one of the ensembles, and whose arias are serious - takes his place as The Father, intervening to recall The Composer to his higher mission. Some of the characters even gain some solidity from the music they have: besides the two whose repertory is that of particular singers, the Doctor, or Dottore, belongs in his two arias to Mozart’s earliest adult years, his lack of sophistication according with his cynical nature.

For practical reasons each singer’s arias would have to be well separated: this is challenging and often spectacular music, and one could not ask a singer to produce two tornados in quick succession. Then the ensembles - rather few for a Mozart comedy - would have to be spaced out in the interests of variety. A further constraint on the sequence came from the example of Figaro, where the keys of adjacent numbers are related by thirds or fifths. It was also Mozart’s practice to end an opera in the key of the overture: D major in this case, since an overture in D was part of the inheritance from The Deluded Husband.

Not much, then, needed to be invented. The overture leads into a quartet for the buffo characters, whereupon the music stops. To get it going again, the four comedians need to summon The Composer, and that is where the trouble starts.

Because the musical pieces are being placed in new situations, the words had to be changed, which provided some justification for the use of English. Some of the arias are translated pretty straightforwardly, but others, and all the ensembles, are more substantially transformed—though, again, always in response to the music. Exceptionally, because her arias suggest the ‘higher’ world of serious opera - the world Mozart as a young man had wanted to enter with Aloysia Lange - The Singer performs in an alien language, the original Italian. There were also practical reasons for this: coloratura lines fit Italian much better than they do English, and they virtually obliterate the words anyway.

Originally written as a jeu d’esprit, The Jewel Box was taken on by Nicholas Payne for performance by Opera North in the last Mozart year, 1991, and gained a lot from its director at that time, Francisco Negrin. For example, he wanted the buffo quartet on stage throughout, which meant that two of these characters, having sung arias of intense despondency, would have no recourse but to commit suicide in full view, and would then have to be resurrected. This seemingly bizarre turn of events, however, provided an excellent justification for the trio from The Deluded Husband, a wonderful piece on which the whole opera now turns. And there even came a kind of posthumous benediction. In that 1783 pantomime, according to Daniel Heartz in his book of essays on Mozart’s operas, ‘it may be presumed...that Harlequin comes back to life, after having been killed’. Mozart, himself resurrected after a fashion in The Jewel Box, might have found this new world not so strange.

Paul Griffiths
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