The School of Jealousy



The School of Jealousy

Dramma giocoso in two acts
Music by Antonio Salieri (1778)
Libretto by Caterino Mazzolà
English translation by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray


Watch artistic director Jeremy Gray introduce The School of Jealousy


Blasio, a grain merchant Matthew Sprange
Carlotta, a chambermaid Kate Howden
Lumaca, servant to Blasio Samuel Pantcheff
Ernestina, married to Blasio Nathalie Chalkley
Countess Bandiera Rhiannon Llewellyn
Count Bandiera Alessandro Fisher
Tenente, Blasio's cousin and friend to the Count Thomas Herford
Conductor Anthony Kraus
Director Jeremy Gray             



As in many comic operas and plays of the 18th century, the cast comprises three differentiated social classes: the aristocratic Count and Countess of Bandiera, the bourgeois merchant Blasio and his pretty wife Ernestina, as well as the Lieutenant, and lastly the servants Lumaca and Carlotta.  The amorous entanglements, none of which are actually fulfilled, dangerously transgress the boundaries of the established social hierarchy.  The plot is a cynical account of forbidden attractions, corrupting jealousy and the desire for revenge.

Act 1
After the lively overture, Blasio is found creeping around his house in the dead of night, jealously intent on catching his wife’s supposed lover, but it is only the disgruntled servants whom he disturbs.  Carlotta is about to leave Blasio’s service to work for the Countess, but is concerned that her new mistress is also of a jealous disposition.  Blasio has to leave home for a business meeting but is determined to install new padlocks to keep his wife indoors and secure from any admirers.  Ernestina, not surprisingly, is dismayed and angry, and so is intrigued when she receives a surprise love-letter from the Count: she quickly has to swap the letter for a newspaper clipping to put Blasio off the scent.

The Countess is saddened by her husband’s lack of interest: her deep affection only seems to make him more distant.  The Count meanwhile is attracted by almost anything in a skirt.  The two argue whilst the Lieutenant observes with amusement and attempts to dispense advice.  The Count enlightens the Lieutenant with his philosophy that the wives of jealous men are by far the easiest to seduce, and promises that he will succeed in catching Ernestina.

Using a business matter as pretext, the Count manages to visit the merchant’s home, creating discomfort for Blasio but opening up new fantasies for Ernestina.  Blasio is desperate not to leave them together; the Count leaves and Blasio locks his wife in before departing on business.  However Ernestina has sent Lumaca to buy a duplicate lock, and so is again able to welcome the Count.  The two leave to go shopping, and then to visit the Madhouse to learn what happens to jealous lovers.   The Countess discovers about this tryst and rages with jealousy, not least because her husband is demeaning himself with a woman of lower class.

Blasio follows the Count and Ernestina, and secretly eavesdrops on them at the asylum.  The Countess and Carlotta, in disguise as gypsies, read the palms of the Count and his new girlfriend, offering some embarrassing insights.  Blasio cannot keep quiet any longer: disguises are dropped and a terrible argument ensues.  Jealousy and anger make everyone seem as mad as the asylum inmates.

Act 2
Lumaca is attracted by Carlotta but wisely learns from observing his masters that ‘love has a nasty sting’: marriage is not for him.  The Count shows off his art collection to Blasio and the Countess, observed by the Lieutenant, and explains how art can teach about jealousy and the charms of infidelity: this is the ‘school of jealousy’.  The Countess retaliates and suggests she also has admirers. a ploy egged on by the Lieutenant.    The Lieutenant persuades Blasio to hide his anger and to casually drop a portrait of a girl, Lisetta, to make Ernestina feel the pangs of jealousy.  Although Ernestina feigns indifference, she begins to rage, and her interest in the Count is replaced by the bitter desire for revenge on her husband.  The Lieutenant engineers an uneasy meeting for Blasio, Ernestina, the Count and Countess at the palace: Blasio tries to play it cool and skulks on the outskirts whilst the Count and Ernestina play cards, and the Countess and the Lieutenant sing.  The Count is dismayed that Blasio no longer appears jealous.

The Lieutenant, who has perhaps developed his own interest in the Countess, suggests to her that a fake love-letter from him to her will goad the Count and make him jealous.  Uneasy at heart, she does so, but is in despair, convinced that the Count has gone off into the woods with Ernestina.  In fact Ernestina is intent on chasing her own husband whom she imagines has left for a liaison with Lisetta.  The Count briefly deserts Ernestina in order to fetch his carriage, which he imagines to be a suitable vehicle for seduction.  In fact Blasio, who has no interest in Lisetta (who never appears) has taken Lumaca with him to spy on his wife.  They hide in the bushes and frighten the Count and Ernestina with an echo.  The Countess, Carlotta and the Lieutenant appear again in disguise.  As in the previous finale, tensions rise, disguises are dropped and fury breaks out.  The Lieutenant reveals the false liaisons – Blasio with Lisetta, and himself with the Countess.  Chastened, the couples realise the insidious nature of jealousy and resolve to renew their marriages.  But it is hard to believe that their renewed joy can last.


sprightly, melodious score... energetically played
Opera Now/Anthony Ogus, July 2017


sprightly, melodious score... energetically played

Opera Now/Anthony Ogus, July 2017

After years of neglect, some of Antonio Salieri’s forty or so operas are beginning to find their way onto the modern stage. Fascination with the composer’s historical character, sparked off by Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, may be largely responsible for this, but some credit is certainly due to Jeremy Gray and Gilly French who at Bampton have been disinterring operatic treasure from the 18th century since 1993. La scuola de’ gelosi has much going for it: a comedy on marital jealousy and its exploitation, with just a hint of Cosi Fan Tutte anguish, it has a sprightly, melodious score, energetically played by the orchestra under the direction of Antony Kraus. While not all the music is memorable, there are brilliant ensembles at the end of each act, and one deeply moving, full-scale tragic aria for the Countess; an uncanny reflection on the analogous piece in Figaro, though – as it happens – Salieri wrote it for Nancy Storace, Mozart’s Susanna.
Bampton insists on opera in English and since the young cast were commendably able to get across the very witty, rhyming translation (with contemporary references to Trump and the Mexican Wall and Theresa May’s deal with the DUP)  by French and Gray, the policy was highly successful. On stage, the singers performed with energy, enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment, providing much entertainment, as they moved adroitly from wily intrigue to real, or feigned, outrage. Alessandro Fisher, in particular, as the Count displayed an extraordinary range of facial expressions to convey not only mischievous desire, but also haughty indifference and thwarted resignation. Here is surely a buffo tenor to watch for the future. All the soloists sang well, but the two wives should be singled out as especially praiseworthy: Nathalie Chalkley for the purity of intonation and the steeliness of voice brought to chide her spouse; and Rhiannon Llewellyn whose colourful phrasing of the vocal line added to the emotional intensity of delivery.
Jeremy Gray’s production had, because of adverse weather, to be transferred from the Deanery Garden to the church. Whatever may have been lost, there was plenty of inventive comic movement and posturing which remained. At moments, I did wonder whether something more could have been made of a serious subtext which, as revealed in the tragic aria to which I have referred, arguably underlies the opera. But then, resemblances notwithstanding, Salieri is not Mozart.

Anthony Ogus


an enchanting staging...
Classical Source, 21 July 2017


an enchanting staging...

Classical Source, 21 July 2017

The myth of Salieri’s poisoning Mozart has unfairly marred the Italian composer’s reputation since even his own lifetime, and his operatic achievements have struggled to emerge from the long shadow cast by his younger contemporary’s unparalleled masterpieces. Probably no company in England has done more to rehabilitate Salieri’s reputation than Bampton Classical Opera, whose production this year is its third by him, revealing an able talent who built upon the reforms in the genre brought about by Gluck and anticipated the symphonic structures of Mozart’s greatest stage-works. The fast-paced, stuttering word-setting in a couple of instances even look ahead to Rossini. Although it quickly achieved wide popularity throughout Europe, The School of Jealousy fell into obscurity along with the rest of Salieri’s output, and it is believed that this is the first performance in England in modern times.
More specifically, The School of Jealousy casts a particularly fascinating light upon the relationship between Salieri and Mozart, as well as the development of their respective operatic styles. Originally written for the Venice carnival in 1779, it was revised in 1783 for the inauguration of the Italian Opera troupe in Vienna, with the libretto amended by none other than Lorenzo Da Ponte, who forged a close working relationship with Salieri before also doing so with Mozart. Francesco Benucci and Nancy Storace took part in the Viennese performances and they later created the roles of Figaro and Susanna respectively.
Bampton’s mounting of this production is designed to commemorate Storace in the two-hundredth anniversary of her death, and it is perhaps why Jeremy Gray’s costumes and set evoke the Regency period rather than the 1780s or any other era. But there are points of similarity between Salieri’s opera and Da Ponte’s Beaumarchais adaptation with the figure of a philandering Count, and relationships that cut across class boundaries.
Alessandro Fisher in the central role convincingly embodies the nature of a confident, charming rake with lyrical and well-projected singing, if just a touch tremulous at times. However, Carlotta and Lumaca, of the servant class, do not receive much attention – other than contributions to some of the ensembles (including Carlotta’s dressing up, alongside the Countess, as a palm-reader to expose the Count’s amorous wiles with Carlotta’s mistress, Ernestina), with Lumaca granted one aria which Samuel Pantcheff despatched with some delightful mischief, not unlike his counterpart in Figaro. Kate Howden was somewhat formal and stiff as Carlotta.
More pertinently, however, Jealousy evidently inspired more directly Da Ponte’s final collaboration with Mozart, Così fan tutte, in its unflinching examination of the viability of romantic attachments, licit and illicit, and the librettist seems to have paid homage back to the earlier work with his subtitle to Così, ‘La scuola degli amanti’ – the school for lovers. Thomas Herford takes the part of the Don Alfonso-like Lieutenant with an adroit light-touch as he engineered the various situations by which the pairs of lovers might confront their feelings of jealousy as they entertain the prospect of each partner’s seeking the affection of another, though perhaps to a less cynical end than his counterpart in Così.
Although The School of Jealousy resolves rather more neatly than the unsettling denouement of Così, it gently mocks the tendency of the intellectual climate in which it was written to pathologise and categorise a fundamental, but inscrutable, aspect of the human condition with the Count and Ernestina’s trip to a lunatic asylum to witness the apparent effects of jealousy upon its victims, in a similar fashion as Così sends up the analytical systems of medicine and the law in having Despina disguise herself as practitioners in those disciplines.
As the jealous grain merchant, Blasio, Matthew Sprange delivers a variously comic and vociferous account of the role which reveals all the paranoia of the bourgeois class in expressing his insecurities as to the continued possession of his most important possession, his wife, as he sees it. Nathalie Chalkley showed notable passion and spirit in that part, not least in her aria when she warns Blasio that, although she could love him still, she will not be crossed or controlled in her affections and feelings. Rhiannon Llewellyn expresses appropriately greater aristocratic composure in characterising the part of the Countess, depicting her outrage at her husband’s flirtation with Ernestina, and in the longer, lyrical lines of her self-pitying outpouring which look ahead to the two great arias for the Countess in Figaro.
Owing to rain this performance took place inside the church at Bampton rather than in the Deanery Garden. With limited space it was not possible to use all the scenery to create the full setting. However, in drawing attention to the effective and dexterous choreography executed by the cast it did not seem to be so much of a compromise. Furthermore less of the vigorous detail of the score was lost inside the church under Anthony Kraus’s conducting. Sometimes the strings were approximate in intonation, but the orchestra (with oboes, horns, bassoon and harpsichord in addition) sustained a sense of occasion and tension within each number, which comprise a more fluid series of varied sections rather than the more inflexible da capo form, which impelled the drama with a nimble pace but was not hard driven.
This is an enchanting staging, then, which entertains without assuming or requiring any knowledge of its cultural background, but it will also provide interest to those keen to explore the repertory beyond Mozart and Haydn, and make connections.

Curtis Rogers


glows with joy...
Bachtrack, July 2017


glows with joy...

Bachtrack, July 2017

“We used to call ourselves Bampton Summer Opera… But then we thought we might be had up under the Trade Descriptions Act,” joked Jeremy Gray, welcoming the large audience gathered in St Mary’s Church. Bampton’s opera performances are ordinarily given in the natural open air stage of their beautiful Deanery Garden next door, but when English summer weather drives us under cover, it’s a relief to find the back-up venue warm, comfortable and generally dry (even though the bar corner needed emergency indoor tenting, thieves having recently stripped the lead from the church roof).
There’s always a special sense of relaxed occasion at Bampton: each performance, of just one carefully picked and often rare work, feels like the culmination of months of intense preparation, and yet the whole company glows with the joy of sharing this latest operatic find with the world, creating an atmosphere at once calm, confident and utterly inclusive. This year’s choice, Salieri’s La scuola de’ gelosi, is inspired: a lithe, witty opera about marital (and extra-marital) tensions with an explosively beautiful score, brimming with muscular energy and creative flair from a superb composer. A runaway hit in its day, Bampton’s fresh and skilful production of The School of Jealousy not only makes a great case for reviving another Salieri lost gem (picking up on their exceptional 2015 UK première of La grotta di Trofonio), but also allows us to appreciate its significant influence on Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte – all three bear the traces of this masterfully original earlier piece.
Directed and designed by Jeremy Gray, The School of Jealousy flows smoothly from social crisis to emotional crisis before peace and fidelity are finally restored. Gray’s strong young cast attacks the piece with commitment and enthusiasm, whether individually pouting at their spouses in marital discord, or evoking a group of people driven insane by jealousy, licking the prison bars of their asylum (the unlikely setting of the Count’s first clandestine date with Ernestina) and gurning with mad brilliance. Sung in English, with Mazzolà’s libretto wittily translated by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray (there’s plenty of strong rhyme, and even a glorious Fake News joke), the pace and immediacy of this piece never flags.
The sudden change of venue necessarily affected this performance, halving the stage, excluding all but the simplest props, and placing the Orchestra of Bampton Classical Opera, conducted by Anthony Kraus, at a punishing 90º angle for singers trying to connect with their conductor. It was the only feasible place for the orchestra in the space, and the singers coped well with the challenge, but timings could get blurry, especially at the culmination of Salieri’s most complex musical phrases. Regency costumes set the tone of genteel misbehaviour. As the Count, tenor Alessandro Fisher was every inch the Georgette Heyer hero in a bravura performance, naturally commanding and fabulously insouciant, with lyrical tone and surprising philosophical depth behind his agenda of pleasure (in one stupendous aria, the Count gives Blasio a moral lesson on the evils of jealousy, illustrating his points by reference to his own priceless art collection). This Count is a fascinating forerunner to Don Giovanni; he actively discusses his own insatiable desire for women of all kinds, rather than leaving explanations to a lackey. Then, like the Count in The Marriage of Figaro, he finally rekindles true love within his marriage.
As Fisher’s Countess, a poised Rhiannon Llewellyn radiated tense anxiety here, sassy authority there; Llewellyn’s slightly breathy delivery could occasionally diminish her verbal clarity, but the notes her voice can leap up to reach are simply stunning. Generally exhibiting impressive vocal control, Llewellyn was able to deal with momentary problems (sometimes caused by a passing tightness, sometimes by the awkward placing of the orchestra) in her stride. Llewellyn and Fisher made a supremely matched pair in duets, their voices truly complimenting one another in tone and colour.
Kate Howden’s exceptionally clear and luxuriant mezzo, combined with natural and expressive acting, made us wish the servant-girl Carlotta had a larger role. As Lumaca, Carlotta’s fellow servant, Samuel Pantcheff’s liquid baritone and faultless delivery made merry with quickfire passages Rossini might have envied, his sleepy-eyed delivery and comic instinct equally pleasing. Nathalie Chalkley made a composed, articulate Ernestina who gradually slid into the uncontrolled rage of frustrated passion as her husband Blasio pretended to court an imaginary mistress to fire her jealousy; Chalkley’s performance was nicely modulated through her sprightly, smooth soprano and deft control of gesture. Matthew Sprange’s handwringing, furious merchant Blasio was an essay in the Angry Husband which grew in dramatic conviction through the night. With the lightest tenor on stage, Thomas Herford sometimes struggled to give the Lieutenant as much colour as the rest of the cast, despite his innate stage presence. However, the ensemble moments are extraordinary, as Salieri and Mazzolà weave intriguing quintets of sudden pique, pretended disdain and compulsive desire.

Charlotte Valori



The School of Jealousy  (La scuola de’ gelosi)      
Jeremy Gray


The School of Jealousy  (La scuola de’ gelosi)      



What’s the title about?


‘Schools’ were a popular theme in 17th-18th century comedy concerned with social mores and behaviour: famous are Molière’s L'école des femmes (The School for Wives) of 1662; Sheridan’s The School for Scandal of 1777 and Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte’s La scuola degli amanti (The School for Lovers) of 1789, better known to us as Così fan tutte.  Another significant contemporary of Salieri, the Spanish composer Martín y Soler, wrote an opera in London in 1794 (also to a text by da Ponte) entitled La scuola dei maritati (The School for Spouses); this was subsequently renamed La capricciosa corretta (performed at Bampton in 2006).  It’s worth remembering that Da Ponte originally wrote the libretto of La scuola degli amanti (Così fan tutte)  for Salieri, not Mozart, undoubtedly hoping for a successful sequel to La scuola de’ gelosi.


In Salieri’s opera, the title is specifically referenced in a scene early in Act 2 when the Count uses mythological paintings from his art collection to explain his own rather warped views about marital jealousy.


La scuola de’ gelosi is designated as a dramma giocoso – a comic drama – a description shared with Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte.



Who are the characters?


There are 7 singers and, as in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, the characters divide into three groups and social strata:

·               The toffs:

o   The Count of Bandiera (Alessandro Fisher, tenor)

o   The Countess of Bandiera (Rhiannon Llewellyn, soprano)

·               The bourgeoisie:

o   Blasio, a grain merchant (Matthew Sprange, baritone)

o   Ernestina, his wife  (Nathalie Chalkley, soprano)

o   The ‘Tenente’ (Lieutenant), Blasio’s cousin, otherwise nameless (Thomas Herford, tenor)

·               The ‘downstairs’:

o   Lumaca, Blasio’s servant (Samuel Pantcheff, baritone) 

o   Carlotta, Blasio’s maidservant, who soon switches employment to the Countess (Kate Howden, mezzo-soprano)


Who wrote the text (libretto)?

The sharply cynical Italian libretto is by Caterino Mazzolà (1745-1806).  Working in Venice (where he met Casanova), Dresden and Vienna, he was later praised by Mozart’s great collaborator Lorenzo Da Ponte as “possibly the first to know how to write a comic libretto”.  He specialised in opera buffe (comic opera), and wrote libretti for several important composers.  In 1791 he briefly replaced Da Ponte as Court Composer in Vienna, and worked with Mozart on adapting Metastasio’s libretto, La clemenza di Tito.

La scuola de’ gelosi is one of his earlier libretti, composed especially for Salieri in Venice in 1778; when it was later chosen to inaugurate the new Italian Opera at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1783, it was revised and adapted by Da Ponte. 

As with all operas performed at Bampton, the opera has been newly translated into English – by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray – emphasising the humour and many rhymes of the original.


What’s the music like?

The style is in a general sense similar to Mozart, but in a lighter, more Italianate manner, and with less complex harmonic structures.  Like all opera of the ‘classical’ period (the later 18th century), the music alternates conversational ‘recitativo’ with arias and ensembles which reflect on emotions and situations.  Recitative is accompanied by ‘continuo’ (at this time, harpsichord).  In the orchestral numbers, Salieri rejects the conventions established in the preceding Baroque period, especially the ‘da capo’ aria with its ABA structure, in favour of more flexible forms.  He was especially fond of ensembles for pairs or groups of singers, and so the opera opens with a trio, includes a couple of duets, a further trio, a quintet and, especially, two extended finales which involve the whole cast in differing combinations.

 The arias are mostly lively and energetic, although there is reflective music too, especially for the most serious character, the Countess: her final aria, recomposed in Vienna with new words by Da Ponte, is particularly thoughtful and lyrical.  The Act 1 trio for the Count, Countess and the Lieutenant and the brilliant Act 2 quintet depicting an uneasy games of cards played out whilst the Countess and Tenente engage in some vocal exercises are especially effective.


What happens? 

In a nutshell:

Blasio suspects Ernestina.  

the Countess loves the Count.  

the Count fancies Ernestina.   

the Count and Ernestina visit the asylum.  

the Lieutenant meddles.  

the Count gives an art lesson.  

Blasio pretends he fancies Lisetta (who never appears).  

the Countess pretends she fancies the Lieutenant. 

they all row. 

they all live happily ever after 


The title suggests that the characters – and the audience – should learn from their experiences.  Although the seven characters are well balanced in terms of vocal emphasis, the story centres on the aristocratic and bourgeois couples.  We first meet the businessman Blasio, pathologically jealous and convinced that his (in fact innocent) wife Ernestina is entertaining a whole troupe of lovers; as he is obliged to go away on a work trip, he resolves to strengthen the locks of his house to make sure that she is safely secured.  Meanwhile, the Countess – a sensitive and faithful spouse – is sinking into depression on account of her husband’s neglect and philandering.  The Count finds his wife boring simply because she is so loyal.  He believes that the wives of jealous husbands should become the object of his attentions since they are most likely to fall, and his eye has been caught by the beauty of Ernestina.  Her indignation at Blasio’s jealousy and his attempts to confine her make her susceptible to the Count’s interests, and it not long before she finds a means of escaping with him, first on a shopping trip and then, as was customary in the 18th century, with a entertaining visit to the asylum.  Thus the Countess’ jealousy is also aroused, and with good reason, especially as the class divides of polite society are in serious danger of being transgressed.  

These various toings-and-froings are observed, aided and thwarted by the servants Lumaca and Carlotta.  The seventh character, the nameless ‘Tenente’ (Lieutenant) is an enigmatic figure.  He’s quick to dispense advice and both to encourage and dissuade the couples.  But what’s his ultimate motive?  And who are the teachers and who the pupils in this cynical school of jealousy?

The opera starts with Blasio in his nightshirt creeping around his house in the pitch dark, convinced that there is an intruder intent on an assignation with his wife…..


Is it often performed? 

La scuola de’ gelosi was first performed at the Teatro San Moisè, Venice, on 27 December 1778, and quickly became established as one of the most popular operas of its age.  In different versions and sometimes in translation it soon travelled across Europe.  An important production was one at the Court Theatre at Eszterháza, Hungary, in 1780, when Haydn added two arias of his own composition.

When it was performed at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, London on 11 March 1786, The London Post commented: “the whole together is a masterly composition and does great honour to Salieri, whose reputation must rise infinitely in the musical world, from this very pleasing specimen of his abilities.”

Our Bampton production makes use of some of the new music Salieri composed for the performances at the Burgtheater, Vienna in 1783 (opening on 22 April), when La scuola was chosen to inaugurate the new Italian opera company established by the Emperor Joseph II.  For this production Lorenzo da Ponte made revisions to the libretto.  The singers selected and brought especially from Italy included the baritone Francesco Bennuci, the Irish tenor Michael Kelly and the Anglo-Italian soprano Nancy Storace.  Mozart was so impressed with these new singers that he wrote FigaroDon Giovanni and Così fan Tutte with them specifically in mind.

The Bampton production in 2017, the first in the UK since 1786, especially commemorates Nancy Storace in the bicentenary year of her death: she died on 24 August 1817 and is buried at St Mary’s, Lambeth, London.

Although neglected and almost forgotten for 200 years, La scuola de’ gelosi is now enjoying a new wave of popularity.  It was recorded by the German orchestra L’arte del monde and issued on CD in 2016; a production opened in Legnano, Italy (Salieri’s birthplace) late in 2016 and subsequently toured to Jesi and Florence.  A further new production created by the Theater an der Wien opened at the Kammeropera, Vienna in May 2017, and there will be a further new production by Opera Joven in Uruguay in the autumn.

Bampton has previously given UK premières of two other wonderful Salieri operas: Falstaff in 2003, and La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave) in 2015.



Jeremy Gray

Jeremy Gray is an artistic director of Bampton Classical Opera and stage director of The School of Jealousy


Jealous murmurings
Jeremy Gray


Jealous murmurings

The Old Testament apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon tells us (1:10) that “the ear of jealousy heareth all things; and the noise of murmurings is not hid.”  There are certainly plenty of murmurings in this, the fourteenth of Salieri’s forty-odd operas, from the vividly busy overture to the shimmering but fragmented textures of the Act 1 Finale with its bizarre opening chorus for the ‘pazzi’, the spouses driven mad through jealousy.  La scuola de’ gelosi proved to be Salieri’s most popular opera and its music simmers throughout with a disturbing energy.  It seems to have succeeded on all counts, with its brilliantly varied and melodic score, engaging but untaxing to the listener, and its sharp and cynical libretto which deals cheekily with one of the most ubiquitous human vices.

Salieri completed La scuola de’ gelosi on 15 October 1778 and it was first performed at the prestigious Teatro San Moisè, Venice, on 27 December 1778.  Little seems known about the première but, as a multiplicity of scores and libretto books demonstrate, it quickly became established as one of the most popular operas of its age.  In different versions and sometimes in translation it soon travelled across Europe, with at least fifty productions presented during the next two decades.  When it was given at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, London on 11 March 1786, The London Post commented: “the whole together is a masterly composition and does great honour to Salieri, whose reputation must rise infinitely in the musical world, from this very pleasing specimen of his abilities.”


Our Bampton production mostly follows the original Venice version but makes use of some (although not all) of the new music Salieri composed for the performances at the Burgtheater, Vienna in 1783 (opening on 22 April), when La scuola was chosen to inaugurate the new Italian opera company established by that most discerning of imperial musical patrons, the Emperor Joseph II.  Salieri was a tireless editor of his own music, and was still busily reworking his scores even in his last years when his operas had ceased to be performed.  At a time when there was little sense of a definitive edition, La scuola went through more revisions than most, adapted by the composer and others to suit local conditions and singers: sometimes it was simply a matter of subtle nips and tucks, but for some performances there were wholesale alterations.  One notable example, probably unsanctioned by the composer, was a production at the Court Theatre at Eszterháza, Hungary, in 1780, when Haydn added two arias of his own composition. 

The librettist was Caterino Mazzolà (1745 - 1806), a talented Venice-based poet who became court poet at Dresden, and subsequently in 1791, albeit briefly, held the same prestigious post in Vienna, when he adapted Metastasio’s libretto of La clemenza di Tito for Mozart’s final opera.  His friend and disciple, the Italian poet Lorenzo da Ponte (1749-1838), said of him that he was “possibly the first to know how to write a comic libretto”.  His text is marked by a sharp wit and steady pacing, with a delightful interplay of conversational recitative, arias and many ensembles.  Aspects probably influenced Da Ponte when he came to write his mature libretti for Mozart, especially La nozze di Figaro: the moving Cavatina with which the Countess is first introduced in the second scene Ah, non è ver che in seno amor [‘Vainly is love misleading: does love my love employ?’] is a close equivalent to Porgi amor, and the finale of disguises, eavesdropping and ultimate reconciliation, set in a rustic spot…leading into a grove, anticipates the garden finale of Figaro.

The latter received a first Vienna performance in 1780, which probably brought it to the Emperor’s attention and encouraged him to command the far more significant 1783 production.  The work now went through an elaborate transformation: Salieri was beginning to adjust his more delicate Italianate style to the enriched orchestral and harmonic colours which were emerging in the Austrian capital.  Lorenzo da Ponte had recently arrived in Vienna with a letter of introduction to the composer from Mazzolà: “my dear friend, Salieri, these few words are brought to you by Da Ponte, a man in my highest esteem.  Do everything for him that you would do for me.”  Da Ponte was to enjoy a fruitful if uneven relationship with the composer and, if anything, it was Salieri who helped develop his brilliant talents in comedy and dramaturgy which led in time to his great trilogy for Mozart.  Da Ponte soon set to work on revisions to Mazzolà’s libretto, in particular adding the splendidly sardonic Act 1 Trio for the Count, Countess and Lieutenant, Eh via, saggia Penelope, non siate se feroce [‘Come now, my wise Penelope, no need to be ferocious’] and possibly the text for a moving new Act II aria for the Countess, Ah, sia già de’ miei sospiri [‘May my fears, my sorrow and sighing move the fates which guide and rule’].

The relationship between Da Ponte and Salieri was to lead to four complete operas, but also in 1789 to the creation of, in effect, a sequel to La scuola de’ gelosi, entitled La scuola degli amanti, ‘The School of Lovers’.  The title of this, one of Da Ponte’s only two completely original libretti, suggest that it was intended to recall the success of the earlier work.  Salieri began composing – sketches for the two opening terzetti survive – but suddenly abandoned the project.  The libretto was passed to Mozart and became known as Così fan Tutte.  There are clear structural similarities between both ‘Scuole’: in particular the figure of the Tenente (the Lieutenant), in Gelosi, who freely dispenses marriage guidance and manipulates the sparring couples, is transformed into Don Alfonso in Amanti

A glittering assembly of outstanding singer-actors was brought especially from Italy at the Emperor’s command to form the new Viennese Italian company, and to perform La scuola de’ gelosi  in 1783.  The baritone Francesco Benucci sang Blasio, Francesco Bussani sang the Count, the Irish tenor Michael Kelly sang Lumaca and the Anglo-Italian soprano Nancy Storace sang the Countess, a role she had already performed in Venice a few months earlier.  The Vienna-born Caterina Cavalieri sang the feisty role of Ernestina.  It was with this superb team in mind that a fair amount of the original music was adjusted or replaced.   Mozart was so impressed with these singers that he wrote firstly L’oca del Cairo (abandoned unfinished), then Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan Tutte specifically for them.  Benucci was to create the great baritone roles of Figaro, Leporello (in its Vienna premiere) and Guglielmo, and Michael Kelly played Don Curzio/Don Basilio.  Francesco Bussani, originally a tenor whose voice matured into a bass-baritone went on sing the Commendatore and Masetto in Don Giovanni and created Don Alfonso in Così fan Tutte.  Nancy Storace was still only 18 when she sang the Countess, Salieri writing a new aria in Act II Ah, sia già de’ miei sospiri; she became one of the great figures in Viennese music, performing in around twenty operas.  She took the role of Ofelia in Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio in 1783 and then created Susanna in Figaro in 1786.  Her departure and return to England in 1787 was marked by Mozart with a new work of great tenderness, the concert aria with orchestra and piano obbligato, Ch’io mi scordi di te? 

The music is always inventive, quick-moving and apt to the emotions and situations expressed.  In a typical Venetian manner it is lightly scored, for strings, oboes, horns and bassoons, but with the wind used effectively for colour and significance.  The Lieutenant’s Act II Aria Chi vuol nella femmina trovar fedeltà [‘Demanding fidelity will not keep her home’] opens with a quasi-religious chorale accompanied by horns alone, a sure symbol of cuckoldry which the text plays against.  Most notable are the many ensembles and the two complex multi-part finales.  In addition to the added Act I Trio already mentioned, especially notable are the opening Trio and the Act II Quintet.  The stop-start pianissimo of the first Trio Zitto! Alcun sentir mi parve. [‘Quietly! I thought I heard a shuffle’] neatly illustrates Blasio’s insane tiptoeing around his house in the dark, trying to sniff out his wife’s supposed lover.  And the extraordinary Act II Quintet La rabbia mi divora [‘Rage and anger underlying’], conceived almost as a finale movement in itself, juxtaposes the rhythmic card-playing of the Count and Ernestina against the tonic sol-fa of a shared singing vocalise between the Countess and the Lieutenant.  Underpinning the complexity of the movement is Blasio, who skulks around, raging with jealousy whilst trying at the same time to feign indifference.  It is a masterly piece of comic musical writing and it is hardly surprising that it circulated widely in many separate manuscript and printed editions, suggesting that it was a popular piece for domestic amateur music-making in the late eighteenth-century.

Although neglected and almost forgotten for 200 years, La scuola de’ gelosi is now enjoying a new wave of popularity.  It was recorded by the German orchestra L’arte del monde, conducted by Werner Ehrhardt,  and issued in 2016 on CD under the Deutsche Harmonia Mundi label; a staged production directed by Italo Nunziata and conducted by Giovanni Battista Rigon opened in Legnano, Italy (Salieri’s birthplace) late in 2016 and subsequently toured to Jesi and Florence.  A further new production created by the Theater an der Wien opened at the Kammeropera, Vienna in May 2017, and there will be another by Opera Joven in Uruguay in the autumn.  There is at last new hope that that “the ear of jealousy heareth all things”.

Jeremy Gray

Opera's green-eyed monster
Claire Seymour


Opera's green-eyed monster

O! beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.

[William Shakespeare, Othello]


One of the seven cardinal sins, envy (from the Latin invidia ­– looking with hostility, an ‘evil eye’) is defined by the OED as a ‘feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck’.

In 1849, the French medical writer Auguste Debay put it rather more strongly: ‘Jealousy is the most ferocious of passions; it drives mortals to all possible excesses, to madness, to suicide, to murder!  It was jealousy that placed a dagger into the hands of numerous historical figures; and today, the horrendous crimes that this passion causes are even more numerous because jealousy is all the more widespread.’ 

Is there any distinction between envy and jealousy?  Writing in Psychology Today, Dr Richard Smith argued that ‘envy is a two-person situation whereas jealousy is a three-person situation.  Envy is a reaction to lacking something.  Jealousy is a reaction to the threat of losing something (usually someone)’.

So, possession versus dispossession … what is certain is that both envy and jealousy are as pervasive in, and relevant to, literature and opera as they are to life.  From Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale to Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, from Tess of the D’Urbervilles to The Kreutzer Sonata, from Dial M for Murder to Fatal Attraction, jealousy and its consequences have penetrated art, both high and low.

Jealousy makes good theatre.  And, whether it’s Masetto in Don Giovanni, Golaud in Pelléas et Mélisande, or Lucy and Polly engaging in a vicious spat in the The Threepenny Opera’s ‘Jealousy Duet’, there’s scarcely an opera that does not give eloquent expression to the anger, grief and desperation which follow in the wake of jealous obsession.

Freud identified three ‘types’ of jealousy, normal, projected and delusional, suggesting that the origins of its ‘normal’ manifestation lie in Oedipal jealousy – our unresolved love and hate of the mother.  Derived from ‘zeal’ (zelus), which combines fervent desire with resentment, jealousy certainly brings love and hate into explosive proximity.  In Puccini’s Il tabarro, when Luigi and Giorgetta meet secretly and confess their love, terrified that her husband Michele will discover their subterfuge, her ‘folle il desidero’ is equated with his ‘folle di gelosia!’, as he threatens her with violent death should any other man touch her body.

Afflicted by suspicion or knowledge of the disloyalty of a loved one, the jealous ‘see’ infidelity and betrayal in remembered or imagined actions.  The provocations may be slight but the consequences can be fierce: degradation and humiliation, with malice and deception, vanity and violence often not far behind.

Jealousy literally makes us sick: Othello is poisoned by Iago’s chromatic hiss of venom – ‘Temete, signor, la gelosia’.   Anthony Trollope recognised this in his novel He Knew He Was Right (1869), which describes the breakdown of the protagonist, Louis Trevelyan, from the instant when his lack of trust pollutes his marriage to his dying moments, when his wife Emily begs Louis to kiss her hand to confirm that he acknowledges her constancy.  Trollope places his representation of jealousy within the contemporary medical theories of Jean Esquirol’s Des maladies mentales.  More recently, John Cordingly’s Disordered Heroes in Opera: A Psychiatric Report explores the ‘primitive sexual disease’, which may be indicative of ‘personality disorder’ in psychopathic protagonists such as Iago and Claggart.

Jealousy is more than anger or despair: it is a self-consuming obsession which ‘feeds’ on itself, through repetitive, fragmented re-enactments of treachery and vengeance.  The ‘victim’ of jealousy craves both evidence and refutation, demanding ‘ocular proof’ which will, ironically, destroy both jealousy and love.  Like an addictive drug, jealousy requires ever greater doses of itself, feasting on self-expression.  Ironically, though self-perpetuating and self-affirming, ultimately it provides no satisfaction for the afflicted, who are engulfed by narcissistic suffering and glut on self-harm and damage to others – think of Laca slashing Jenůfa’s cheek.

Opera offers countless warnings of jealousy’s corrosive malignancy.  Take Handel’s Hercules, which depicts Dejanira’s devouring distrust, when her conquering husband returns from Oechalia with the beguiling Princess Iole at his side.  Dejanira kills Hercules with a poisoned cloak and subsequently goes mad.  Then, there is Tosca – herself an opera singer – who submits to envy’s destructive lures in the very first scene of the opera: as her lover Cavaradossi works on his picture of Mary Magdalene, she urges him, ‘Paint her with dark eyes!’.

Jealousy is no stranger to comedy, though.  In Le nozze di Figaro,Susanna is jealous of a woman who turns out to be Figaro’s mother; he suspects Susanna of a liaison with the Count; the latter is enraged by thoughts of his wife’s dalliance with Cherubino, who is himself envious of Susanna’s closeness to the Countess.

Verdi’s last two operas, Otello and Falstaff, provide a neat juxtaposition of tragic and comic jealousy.  They also illuminate the way gender shapes society’s expectations and censure.  The cuckolded male may be either an object of ridicule or an injured representative of proprietorial rights, but his counterpart is more likely to be depicted as a shrew.  Moreover, the unfaithful woman’s misdemeanours are punished harshly, for assaulting male honour and pride.

Is there a ‘musical rhetoric’ of jealousy?  The da capo aria of Baroque opera seria, with its concentration on a single affekt, offers obvious opportunities for the distillation of emotion.  In Act 2 of Xerxes, the sudden dynamic changes, melodic jaggedness, urgent syncopations and tumultuous descending scales of Romilda’s ‘È gelosia quella tiranna’ convey her fury at her ‘treacherous sister’, Atalanta, and her lover Arsamene, whom she believes has been unfaithful.  However, Handel’s Ariodante, which drew on episodes from Ariosto’s Orlando furioso presents a contrast: deceived by Duke Polinesso into believing that Princess Ginevra, daughter of the King of Scotland, has betrayed him, Ariodante imagines his beloved frolicking with his rival, but his aria, ‘Scherza infida’, evokes his suicidal despair with surprising simplicity and melodic directness.

In the 19th century, the idealisation of family life by the opera-going bourgeoisie promoted the debasing of jealous female rage as representative of a surfeit of carnal desire which would carry them dangerously close to the precipice of madness.  Norma, Carmen, Santuzza, Amneris, Eboli, Electra … the list is long of women who act on jealous impulse and set in motion inexorable tragic events.  In contrast, the resentful rampaging of those men – Edgardo, Alfredo, Don Jose, Count di Luna – who are consumed by sexual competitiveness and thwarted political ambition are ultimately redeemed by the cathartic death of the object of their passion.

Can jealousy ever have a happy ending?  We might find some answers, as ever, in Mozart.  Both Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Così fan tutte warn against mistrust and jealousy.  The moralistic canon in the second act final of Die Entführung pronounces the perils of jealousy, while at the end of Così,Ferrando and Guilelmo renounce their intent to test their lovers’ fidelity: ‘Te lo credo, gioia bella,/Ma la prova io fa non vo’’ (I believe you, my beautiful beloved, but I do not want to ask for proof).  Perhaps in Mozart’s exposure of the dangers of both romantic idealism and green-eyed suspicion, there lie lessons for us all.

Claire Seymour

Claire Seymour is an Associate Lecturer with the Open University, and a freelance musicologist and music journalist.