The Comedy of Errors

Storace

Information

Music by Stephen Storace, 1786
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte; English translation by Arthur Jacobs

The Deanery Garden, Bampton, July 2000
The Orangery Garden, Westonbirt School, July 2001

Cast

Solinus, Duke of Ephesus Henry Herford
Aegeon, a merchant from Syracuse Harry Brett-Jones
Euphemio of Syracuse, twin sons of Aegeon Benjamin Hulett
Euphemio of Ephesus David Murphy
Dromio of Syracuse, twins, servants of the two Euphemios Mark Saberton
Dromio of Ephesus Thomas Guthrie
Angelo, a goldsmith Nicholas Merryweather
Adriana, wife of Euphemio of Ephesus Catherine Hamilton
Luciana, her sister Amanda Pitt
Lesbia, wife of Dromio of Syracuse (2000) Gilly French
(2001) Andrea Munro
Dromia Rosa French
   
Conductor (2001) Alexander Walker, Alexander Briger
(2000) Simon Over
Directors Jeremy Gray, Gillian Pitt
Orchestra (July 2001) Kirsten le Strange, Neil McTaggart violin; Morgan Goff viola; Nicki Davies 'cello; Ben Griffiths double bass; Anne Allen, John Lewis flute; Carolyn King, Sheila Nichols oboe; Verity Butler, Irene Bos clarinet; Simon Payne, Sarah Andrew bassoon; Lorna Dick, Edward Corn horn; Sean Hooke, Gary Howerth trumpet; Charles Giddings percussion

 

Synopsis

Act I
A violent storm shipwrecks Euphemio of Syracuse and his servant - unluckily they have arrived at Ephesus where any Syracusan must pay a ransom or face execution. Meanwhile in the city the elderly Aegeon is under that very sentence. However, his story moves the Duke Solinus to grant him a day's remission: Aegeon had been searching for his twin sons (with their twin servants), one of whom had been lost in another storm many years ago.

When Euphemio and Dromio slip into the city, every separation and meeting between them brings inexplicable misunderstanding, and they soon fear the presence of witchcraft. When they meet with two beautiful sisters, Euphemio is roundly berated by Adriana, who claims him as her philandering husband. Eventually he gives way and goes in to dine with Adriana and Luciana, whilst Dromio is posted to keep watch at the gate.

Meanwhile, Adriana's real husband, Euphemio of Ephesus, is counselled by the goldsmith Angelo from whom he has ordered a chain. His servant Dromio is attacked by a raving woman, Lesbia, who claims to be his long-abandoned wife. The Ephesians are horrified when they are refused entry to their own home, and they angrily attempt to beat down the door. Mounting confusion turns to mayhem, and everyone fears the arrival of the night-watch.

Act II
Further misunderstandings develop around the delivery of Angelo's gold chain, and Euphemio of Ephesus tries to track down his 'unfaithful' wife. The Syracusans remain perplexed when everybody addresses them – strangers in the city – by name. Euphemio of Syracuse attempts to woo Luciana, who is incredulous at the duplicity of her 'brother-in-law'. Euphemio of Ephesus is arrested for failing to pay for the chain, and in prison Angelo disguised as a magician tries to exorcise the 'lunatic'. Lesbia at last comes across her lost husband, Dromio of Syracuse, and confronts him with their child, Dromia.

In the town square, as the Duke prepares for the execution of Aegeon, Adriana petitions him for help over the irrational behaviour of her husband. When all parties gather, the true extent of the comedy of errors is revealed.

Reviews

A rare treat in an Oxfordshire country garden...
Independent  25 July 2000

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A rare treat in an Oxfordshire country garden...

Independent  25 July 2000

He wrote over 15 operas, and a lament for Marie Antoinette; his sister was the Emperor's favourite, and Mozart's Susanna. He was dead by 33. Bampton Classical Opera was bound to fall for Stephen Storace. Over the years Jeremy Gray has made a speciality of reviving rare 18th century fare amid the topiary of an Oxfordshire country garden.

What with bats, swallows and swifts, they could have made a bid for Storace's The Haunted Tower (1789, of all years), or The Pirates (l792). But this summer, going one better, they served up a Lorenzo da Ponte double. For the version of The Comedy of Errors (Gli Equivoci), an uncannily clever, sly adaptation of the Roman Comedy-steeped Shakespeare play about the shenanigans of two pairs of Grecian twins, was by none other than the librettist of Mozart's crowning trilogy.

We should thank Joseph II. Gli Equivoci was an imperial commission, issued in 1786, the year Figaro hit the stage. It's impossible not to recognise in the ensembles - duets, double trios, quartets of varying components, septets - countless echoes of the brilliant Mozartian egg da Ponte had just laid.

What's more, Storace (whether or not Mozart gave him "lessons"; more relevant is the numerous beers they shared) was not just a superbly fluent Mozart parodist, but arguably a master in his own right. His orchestration only intermittently makes the leap - flutes in Euphemio of Syracuse's wooing aria, lulling pizzicato strings for Adriana's bizarrely melting "Scottish" song, swooshes of Stadler clarinet). He lacks, as yet, Mozart's decorative and obbligato brilliance. But the ensemble writing, including a couple of "amazed" quartets that make early Verdi seem old hat, a stunning Figaro-like extended close to Act I, and a bonanza finale that knocks spots off A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, left one gasping.

Bampton productions have improved by miles. There was one Achilles heel: the string playing on the first night - aargh! Contrast their Cosi (also da Ponte) a few nights earlier, inspiredly clearly staged by Robert Bateman in an outside apse of Westonbirt School, Tetbury - a superb opera setting. Everything went right : Simon Over's overall shaping, some beautifully responsive continuo and top-notch upper strings and woodwind matched an equally lucid sextet, topped by Cato Fordham's Ferrando.

But if the strings creaked for Gli Equivoci, the comedy didn't let up. The mock-oriental set (Laura Ashley had a hand in it) appealed; more importantly, it was ingeniously used. Gray shrewdly contrived exactly the kind of visual variety and zip Shakespeare's original demands, yet always so as to abet the dramatic impact of Storace's vital score.

Both (baritone) Dromios shone vocally: Ephesus (Thomas Guthrie) like a fleeting oriental flibbertigibbet, Syracuse (Mark Saberton) in da Ponte's poignantly devised reunion with his own lost offspring (here, daughter). Amanda Pitt's torn Luciana tugged the heartstrings; tenor Benjamin Hulett's Syracusan Antipholus (da Ponte renames them Euphemio), Nicholas Merryweather's Angelo (da Ponte doubles him with Dr.Pinch: the snaky results were achingly funny), Catherine Hamilton's flummoxed Adriana and Henry Herford's Solomonian Solinus were pick of the voices. But my, does this music - especially in Arthur Jacobs's Sams-like pithy translation - cry out to be recorded.

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To general astonishment...
The Times

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To general astonishment...

The Times

To general astonishment, Bampton's open-air opera took place beneath blue skies in a year which has shown up the mad optimism of such ventures. But such a feeling of well-being accompanies a hint of summer these days that, despite the risk of hypothermia attendant on a 10.30pm finish, it gave the production a good furlong start on any more mainstream staging. Not that there have been many of those: Stephen Storace's 1786 opera received its first and, till Friday, last English performance at the Camden Festival in 1974.

Storace was a friend of Mozart's who had great success in Vienna before returning to London in 1787. This opera first saw the light of day as Gli equivoci, was commissioned by Joseph II, has a libretto by none other than Lorenzo da Ponte - given here in a witty translation by Arthur Jacobs - was premiered at the Burgtheater in Vienna a few months after Figaro, and bears some resemblance to it.

Mistaken identity is of course the motor of most opera buffa and Shakespeare's play is its most extreme example - not enough for da Ponte, however, who introduced a wife for the Syracusan Dromio to perk things up. Whether or not Storace was Mozart's pupil he certainly learned from his friend, notably in his deft and delicate scoring for the wind band. The extended ensemble finales are brilliantly handled - one starting with a moment of stunned silence that anticipates Rossini and containing a fugue remarkably like the coda of the later Don Giovanni. There is an effective storm overture, some lovely arias (plus an unexpected Scottish song), a gorgeous soprano duet with basset-horn obbligato, a patter-song... it may not be Mozart, but it beats the pants off Salieri, Paisiello and Cimarosa. The forgotten Storace, like steak-and-kidney pudding, is a victim of the inverted snobbery of the English.

The young cast coped creditably with the score's demands, and Mark Saberton, Thomas Guthrie and Catherine Hamilton were outstanding as the twin servants and Adriana. The orchestra sits in a tent to the side of the stage; conductor Simon Over might have given the unsighted singers a bit more help, but he had his own troubles with a few anarchists who seemed to have taken advantage of the anything-so-long-as-it's-black dress code to infiltrate the violin section. The opera was set in a very Ottoman Ephesus (on a chessboard - neat idea) and the production, by Jeremy Gray, was lively and slick and not overdone.

All this takes place beneath the spire of Bampton church west of Oxford. You can pay more for less in more pretentious and far less pretty places. It's well worth having a look to see what they dig up for next year.

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From 'Opera' magazine, November 2000
'Opera' magazine, November 2000

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From 'Opera' magazine, November 2000

'Opera' magazine, November 2000

Lorenzo da Ponte (l749-1838) was still in his thirties when Figaro and Così were first staged in Vienna; he died aged almost 90, having enjoyed a latterday incarnation managing the newly-built Italian opera house in New York. Yet it was in the very year of Figaro's triumph, 1786, that da Ponte turned his hand, somewhat hurriedly, to providing a libretto for the 24 year old Stephen Storace, whose sister Ann (Nancy) had been Mozart's first Susanna. Gli Equivoci (The Comedy of Errors) was based on the Shakespeare play, of Roman origins, about the long-separated pairs of master and servant and the misadventures that befall them in Ephesus before they are finally reunited. Both The Marriage of Figaro and Così, of course, are veritable comedies of errors, mistaken identity and unpredictable encounter, providing the perfect preamble to da Ponte's task of adapting Shakespeare. He takes the slightly straggling play, tightens it, emphasises the women's role, heightens the pathos of the confusions and recognitions, and galvanises the whole with a dozen varied size ensembles which in design and imagination can legitimately be compared to Figaro itself. Storace is not Mozart, especially as an orchestrator - though a few Stadler-like moments for clarinet are uplifting. One went ready for disappointment. But no such thing : Bampton Classical Opera's production put scarcely a foot wrong. Nifty comedy, colourful settings, beautifully contrived send-up, imaginative moves, a real sense of directorial pacing, clear words (in Arthur Jacobs's immensely successful translation) and a clutch of promising voices made this an evening to be savoured. Both Dromios (baritones Mark Saberton - in the role probably sung by Mozart's Figaro, Benucci - and the visually and vocally elastic Thomas Guthrie) made a strong vocal showing; so did Benjamin Hulett's mellow-tenored Euphemio (Antipholus) of Syracuse (in Michael Kelly's original role) and Catherine Hamilton's Adriana (Sofronia) - the part taken by Nancy Storace at the Vienna premiere. Angelo's repetitive leavetaking (Nicholas Merryweather) brought a comic irony worthy of Falstaff; Amanda Pitt, though less securely-voiced, was a melting, guilt-ridden Luciana (Sostrata). Henry Herford brought dignity to the Duke. The reconciliation sextet was beguiling; the two gradually-built finales, quite magnificent. Simon Over, conducting, suffered from recalcitrant violins and never quite tamed them; by contrast his Così for Bampton the preceding week was a model of intelligently relaxed, idiomatic timing.

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Roderic Dunnett

 

Review by Malcolm Miller 20 August 2000
Malcolm Miller

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Review by Malcolm Miller 20 August 2000

Malcolm Miller

An open-air revival of Stephen Storace's sparkling comic opera Gli Equivoci, or The Comedy of Errors, to a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, was presented on 21/22 July by Bampton Classical Opera locally in the UK's Oxfordshire. Possibly the first operatic adaptation of a Shakesperean comedy, its complex plot of lovers' confusion and reconciliation was presented zestfully and imaginatively staged by Jeremy Gray, using a wittily rhyming English translation made by the late Arthur Jacobs, first used at the 1974 Camden Festival.

Stephen Storace is best known for ballad operas, and his sister Nancy was the first Susannah in Mozart's Figaro. Storace's visits to Vienna to see her brought friendship with Mozart and others, and led to commissions from the Imperial Court for several operas, including Gli sposi malcontenti of 1785, the success of which led to Gli Equivoci. Its premiere in December 1786 followed after that of Figaro seven months earlier. There are several important connections between them. Lorenzo da Ponte was librettist for both works and the two lead roles in both were sung by Nancy Storace and Benucci (the first Figaro). Other similarities are evident, especially the finale of Act 1 as a nocturnal farce confusing lovers' identities.

Bampton's delightful venue was adorned with a raised stage that presented an ingenious all-purpose set, a bright red ornamented frontage with windows and doors, which became a street, the house of the Syracusian Euphemio, and the Duke's court. The orchestra on the side suffered some inaudibility, but enough was detected to enjoy the colourful wind writing, which was influenced by Mozart's example.

Whilst Storace cannot match Mozart in expressive depth and complexity, his dramatic pacing equals any of his contemporaries. Attractive melodic writing and scoring, and the adept ensembles show both Viennese classical charm and the inflection of English and Scottish folk-song characteristic of his many ballad operas. The use of woodwinds is Mozartian, yet in general Storace's structures are simpler in harmonic and thematic development, revealing some weaknesses expected of a lesser talent alongside Mozart. Storace does provide appealing textures and buoyant rhythms, spiced with occasional surprises. Especially effective is the overture with its vivid depiction of a storm that shipwrecks the Syracusians Euphemio and his servant Dromio in Ephesus, and Storace's evocations of thunder and lightning reminiscent of Idomeneo.

Some of his arias are entrancing, particularly the touching piece for Dromio when he discovers his wife Lesbia and daughter Dromia, and two love arias in the second act. There are also several racy patter songs. Even more delightful are the ensembles in each act and the multi-section finales which owe much to Da Ponte's experience as a librettist.

Particularly effervescent at Bampton was the nonet in the Act 1 finale as each group of characters, the wife and sister, and the two pairs of Euphomios and Dromios, challenge each other in the dark, with comical effects reinforced in the orchestration. There was fine projection from the singers Catherine Hamilton as Adriana, Amanda Pitt as Luciana her sister, Benjamin Hulett and the experienced baritone of Mark Saberton, as well as David Murray and Thomas Guthrie, and Gillian French as Lesbia. The Act II finale takes place at the ducal court where the Duke, a Sarastro-like character symbolic of Enlightenment justice and reason was nobly sung by Henry Herford, who has three Bampton festivals to his credit.

Much credit for the success and sheer fun of the occasion is due to the director Jeremy Gray's production which kept the drama alive, with witty touches to match Arthur Jacobs' comic rhymes, stylish choreography in the ensembles, and plenty of activity from minor characters, including a juggler. The conductor Simon Over maintained an intrepid pace throughout and was supported well despite a rather patchy string section.

Bampton's British revival of Storace's Comedy of Errors follows recent performances in Batignano and Wexford. Its qualities auger well for repeats within another opera festival - such as the Covent Garden festival - provided a professional orchestra may be found. And there is a case for a recording to fill a gap in the catalogues. Meanwhile, Bampton's Classical Opera is applauded for their adventurous spirit. Next year it is to stage The Philosopher's Stone, of which the UK concert premiere at the Hampstead and Highgate Festival 2000 was reviewed here by me recently.

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Malcolm Miller

 

9 December 2000 Roderic Dunnett
Roderic Dunnett

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9 December 2000 Roderic Dunnett

Roderic Dunnett

Even more of a rarity is Gli Equivoci, or The Comedy of Errors, by the late Georgian English composer Stephen Storace, which takes its libretto from Shakespeare's comedy, brilliantly scissored and reworked by Mozart's librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte, in the very same year -- 1786 -- that Figaro was first staged in Vienna. Bampton Classical Opera, which shares its time between the enchanting Deanery Garden in a west Oxfordshire village and an intimate new outdoor venue at Westonbirt School, Gloucestershire, making good acoustic use of a Cotswold stone backdrop, has shown itself increasingly adept at delivering attractive homespun productions to new local audiences.

Jeremy Gray's Comedy of Errors production, colourfully set, sung in English and staged with just the right kind of wry wit, was something of a triumph, with the New College-trained Ben Hulett's Euphemio (Antipholus) of Syracuse, Catherine Hamilton's Adriana and Mark Saberton's Dromio of Syracuse arguably pick of the voices, plus an attractive vocal performance from the visually less versatile Angelo, Nicholas Merryweather. Simon Over conducted, building Storace's brilliantly phased ensembles admirably, although labouring in vain to counteract some markedly third-class upper string-playing.

Bampton are to stage Storace's The Comedy of Errors at The Theatre Royal, Bath on 13 March 2001 and Westonbirt School, Tetbury, Gloucestershire on 14 and 15 July 2001.

White Horse Opera, which treads the boards not (pace the photographs) outdoors in wild megalithic Wiltshire, but indoors at the Devizes Corn Exchange, has staged a number of effective home-grown productions in recent years, including Saint-Saens' Samson and Delilah, Rossini's Count Ory and (last season) Mozart's The Magic Flute. This year they turned to Bellini, staging Norma, generally regarded as one of the composer's finest bel canto masterpieces, and not so long ago a showpiece for Maria Callas.

The orchestral playing under Eric Wetherell, who shrewdly judged each pacing just right for both the opera and his singers, seemed a first rate team effort. The production's best feature was Andrew Taylor's evocatively painted back flats, effectively lit in alternating greys, reds and blues. Graham Billing's unimaginative direction, however, seemed skimpy verging on non-existent. Yet the three main principals made a marked impact : Paul Arden-Griffith's Roman proconsul, Pollione, was exquisitely sung, if limply acted. Geraldine Aylmer-Kelly made a superb stab at Norma herself, mastering Bellini's massively taxing coloratura with flying colours (albeit less secure at lower pitch) and cutting a fiery figure onstage too. Edward Harper's Oroveso had many of the key ingredients : a dignified strength of presence, beautiful vocal control and an appealing timbre. The chorus sang with spirit and aplomb, though the impressive dominating oak tree rather capped them in the acting stakes.

White Horse Opera's next opera will be Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus on 17, 19 and 20 October 2001

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Roderic Dunnett

 

Articles

'…beyond description beautiful'
Jeremy Gray

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'…beyond description beautiful'

The strength of Stephen Storace's remarkable but little-known achievement was founded on an international background and perspective which enabled him to work with a fertile synthesis of Italian, Viennese and English musical culture. His father was a Neapolitan double-bass player who, like so many of his compatriots, was better able to further his career abroad through the widespread fascination with Italian opera. Working in Dublin and London, Stefano married the daughter of the owner of the Marylebone Gardens, where he directed summer seasons of Italian operas in the 1750s.

Their two children, Stephen, born in 1762, and Ann, known as Nancy and born three years later, were able to benefit from their parents' many musical and theatrical contacts both in England and Italy. Stephen was sent to study the violin at the San Onofrio conservatory in Naples, where he was reported as preferring ex-patriot parties and sketching to his musical studies. By the time he was joined in Italy by his sister, Stephen had taken to the harpsichord and to composition with some seriousness, skills which were quickly to be directed to supporting Nancy's rapid rise as one of the most outstanding vocal celebrities of the age.

Nancy's four-year engagement with the Italian opera in Vienna from 1783 led to a series of triumphant rôles in premières by the greatest operatic composers in the city, including Salieri, Paisiello, Martín y Soler and Mozart. Stephen, who visited Nancy from England several times during this period, benefited at the highest level from his sister's immense success and popularity: the Emperor Joseph II commissioned him to compose an opera buffa for the Burgtheater, Gli sposi malcontenti. Despite the disastrous première on 1 June 1785 when Nancy, heavily pregnant, lost her voice, the opera was a resounding success and Stephen quickly received a second commission, resulting in Gli Equivoci, a remarkable work for a young and relatively inexperienced composer.

In May 1786 Nancy- ‘the delight of all Vienna’ - starred as the maid Susanna in what has since become the most famed première of the period: Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, set to Lorenzo Da Ponte's brilliant version of Beaumarchais' controversial play. Stephen was surely able to benefit from his knowledge of Mozart's score (the two composers were good friends, although Storace was probably not formally Mozart’s pupil) and from his collaboration with the same redoubtable librettist.

According to the colourful Reminiscences of the Irish tenor Michael Kelly (Don Basilio and Don Curzio in Figaro) the choice of Shakespeare's farce, The Comedy of Errors, for his second imperial commission was the composer's own: 'Storace had an opera put into rehearsal, the subject his own choice….. It was made operatical, and adapted for the Italian, with great ingenuity. He retained all the main incidents and characters of our immortal bard; it became all the rage, and well it might, for the music of Storace was beyond description beautiful.

In his own memoirs da Ponte (who was working simultaneously on the opera which was to prove the greatest success of all in Vienna, Martín y Soler's Una Cosa Rara) was more dismissive: 'For directly I finished Figaro, Storace's brother…had obtained the Emperor's permission for me to write a libretto for him. So to please him and get the matter out of the way quickly, I adapted one of Shakespeare's comedies.'The result is what was perhaps the first throughly operatic setting of a Shakespeare play, notwithstanding several earlier masques and melodramas. In many ways, da Ponte's script is as successful as his now revered adaptation of Beaumarchais – 'deft and delightful' as Roger Fiske has described it. As he spoke no English at this time, he worked from a French translation of Shakespeare under the title Les Méprises, condensing the five acts into two, and rearranging some of the minor characters. Thus Shakespeare's Abbess and Courtesan are omitted, but Dromio of Syracuse gains a wife, Lesbia, and a child. The twin masters Antipholus were renamed as Eufemio, and the sisters Adriana and Luciana became Sofronia and Sostrata (Arthur Jacobs, in his 1974 translation used tonight, restored the women's Shakespearian names). The problematically austere opening scene between the condemned Aegeon and Duke Solinus is successfully displaced to fall after a witty curtain-raiser depicting the shipwreck of the Syracusan master and servant. da Ponte built on his own recent experience in writing Figaro to provide several ensembles and extended and highly varied finales to each act, which Storace turned to superb effect with complex music of immense energy and excitement.

At the première at the Burgtheater on 27 December 1786 Nancy played Sofronia (Adriana) and probably Benucci, the first Figaro, was Dromio of Syracuse. Michael related: ‘I performed Antipholus of Ephesus, and a Signor Calvasi, Antipholus of Syracuse, and were both of the same height, and strove to render our persons as like each other as we could.

Despite the success of Gli Equivoci, it was soon overshadowed by Una Cosa Rara, and it never entered the repertory at the Burgtheater, although later performances between 1788 and 1797 were given at Pressburg (in German), Leipzig, Prague and Dresden. After the Storaces returned to London in 1787, Stephen and his friend Kelly failed to persuade Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the proprietor of the Drury Lane Theatre, to mount the work – the problem of finding two sets of singing 'twins' may well have proved a general impediment to performance. Consequently, Storace re-used some of the music in his later English operas, The Haunted Tower, No Song No Supper, and The Pirates. Kelly – on whom Gli Equivoci left a deep impression - later commented: ‘Storace certainly enriched his English pieces, but I lamented to see his beautiful Italian opera dismantled.’

Fortunately however, and unlike most of Storace's subsequent English works, the full score survived, and a small number of modern revivals have revealed the extraordinary skill with which this young friend of Mozart captured the intensity of Viennese-Italian opera and made it his own. The first UK production was at the Camden Festival in 1974 (a BBC studio performance was broadcast in 1977); subsequent productions have included those at Wexford in 1992 and Batignano in 1999.

Storace may not achieve the sublimity of Mozart, but it must be admitted that neither, in this instance, does Shakespeare equal the disconcerting psychology of da Ponte’s Così. Youthful and inexperienced as he was, Storace succeeds in producing an entirely original work which, despite the inevitable influence of Figaro in its structure, is no Mozartian pastiche. The energy and clarity of Haydn seem to lie behind the picturesque overture which skilfully depicts a sea storm, complete with parts marked for lampi, tuoni and grandine (lightning, thunder and hail), and the ostinato rhythmic cells on which much of the subsequent music is built suggest the influence of Italy, used with a remarkable dynamic drive which foreshadows Rossini. The orchestration throughout is ingenious and varied. The first appearance of Adriana and Luciana is a lyrical duet scored with two basset-horns. Solo clarinet and ‘cello lend particular expressiveness to some of the arias (and Adriana’s phenomenal solo towards the end of Act I is a worthy rival to Fiordiligi’s Come scoglio) , but from the opening duet Storace establishes that this is no conventional aria opera: complex ensembles predominate, with pivotal quartets in both acts, a malicious and outrageous second-act sextet depicting the taunting of the imprisoned Ephesians, and two extended finales (essential features of the Italianate opera buffa style) of unprecedented length and energy.

Naturally it was the librettist who laid down the structure for these, and da Ponte was passionate about the form: ‘Particularly in this, the genius of the composer, the strength of the singers, and the greatest effects of the plot must shine – everything is sung and in it must be found every kind of tempo.’ Storace brilliantly matched da Ponte’s skill, concluding the first act with a powerful twenty-minute sequence of interconnected movements (punctuated by a delicious drinking song for Dromio of Syracuse scored in the popular ‘Turkish’ manner for piccolo and tambourine) which build up to a breathtaking dénouement of breakneck speed. The misunderstandings and gropings in the dark garden at the end of Figaro could not have been far from the minds of da Ponte and Storace as they tackled this delightful (and mostly non-Shakespearian) night-time confusion of misunderstanding and frustration – ‘Ah! The wind has blown the lamp out!’ In the equally developed second-act finale, the ‘light of sense and reason’ eventually transforms anger and pain – a veritable dissolution of chaos through the redeeming clarity of the Enlightenment.

Jeremy Gray
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