Personalities | Joseph Haydn | Classical Era | Opera

1732–1809, Austrian

The operatic career of Joseph Haydn spanned four decades, from his lost German Singspiel Der krumme Teufel (‘The Crooked Devil’, 1753) to his Orpheus opera L’anima del filosofo (‘The Philosopher’s Soul’), composed for London in 1791 but not performed there (or anywhere else) during the composer’s lifetime. In between, he composed some 20 operas (several lost) for the Esterházy court, ranging from comedies like Il mondo della luna (‘The World on the Moon’, 1777) through ‘mixed-genre’ works like La fedeltà premiata (‘Fidelity Rewarded’, 1780) and Orlando paladino (‘Knight Roland’, 1782) to the ‘heroic drama’ Armida (1783). Haydn himself valued his operas highly. Yet while most have been recorded, none has entered the regular repertoire.

In his operas, more than anywhere, Haydn has suffered for not being Mozart. Criticisms of far-fetched, slow-moving plots (Haydn never had a Da Ponte at his disposal) and fallible dramatic instinct cannot be dismissed out of hand. Where Mozart would have propelled things forward in an ensemble, Haydn was too often content to write an elegant, static aria in full sonata form. Nevertheless, his operas abound in richly worked, vividly characterized music, sometimes of a sensuous beauty not readily associated with Haydn – for example, the ravishing ‘dream’ trio in the oriental opera L’incontro improvviso (‘The Unexpected Meeting’, 1775). In addition, among the stock-in-trade characters, there are memorable individual portraits: the ‘sentimental’ heroine Rosina in La vera costanza (‘True Constancy’, 1778–89); the irrepressible, fast-talking Pasquale in Orlando paladino, first cousin to Mozart’s Leporello; or, most richly imagined of all, the impassioned, vengeful, ultimately tragic sorceress Armida in Haydn’s final opera for the Esterhazy court.

Introduction | Classical Era | Opera
Major Operas | La fedeltà premiata by Joseph Haydn | Classical Era
Personalities | Johann Adam Hiller | Classical Era | Opera
Techniques | Singspiel | Classical Era | Opera
Techniques | The Sonata Principle | Classical Era | Opera


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