L' Anima del Filosofo - Joseph Haydn - Cecilia Bartoli
Royal Opera House - Covent Garden

22 October 2001, I saw L' anima del filosofo (The Soul of the Philosopher) (a version of Orpheus myth), with music by Joseph Haydn and libretto by Carlo Francesco Badini. Cecilia Bartoli, the world's most celebrated mezzo-soprano (although she can tackle soprano roles with ease) played the role of both Euridice and Genio. Roberto Sacca performed the part of Orfeo. Gerald Finley played Creonte. Brindley Sherratt played Plutone and Alison Rayner played Baccante.

This was Haydn's last opera. Intersetingly, he wrote it for an earlier Covent Garden Theatre when he visited London in 1791, but, for some reason, it was never performed. It finally premiered in 1951 with Callas.

And the story goes: Euridice laments her forthcoming marriage to Arideo. The chorus warns her of the monstrous savages that lurk in the wood, but the despairing Euridice says she is prepared to die on the pyre that has been prepared for her. Orfeo calms the savages, first by playing his harp and then by singing of his love for Euridice. The savages release their victim and the young lovers sing of their love.

Creonte (Euridice's father) is persuaded to allow his daughter to marry Orfeo instead of Arideo and gives them his blessing. The lovers sing of the joy in their hearts. A sound of war is heard and Orfeo goes off to investigate it, reassuring Euridice that he will soon return. Left to face the danger alone, his wife is terrified. She is almost captured by one of Arideo's men, but as she cries for help a snake bites her. She calls out to Orfeo, but he cannot hear her. She dies alone, singing of her love for him.

Orfeo returns to find Euridice's lifeless body and is overcome with grief and rage. Creonte hears of his daughters death an in a fury cries out for vengeance. A chorus morns Euridice and Orfeo and Creonte grieve together. Creonte is concerned about Orfeo and wonders what will become of him now that he has lost his beloved, for life without love is meaningless.

Orfeo consults the Sibyl, which reveals to be the Spirit of Love (Genio), who promises to lead him to the Underworld to search for his lost love. Genio says that he will soon find happiness if he is able to temper his desire with constancy and valour. Orfeo is overjoyed. He will face the terrors of the Underworld if only to see Euridice for one more moment. He proceeds to follow Genio.

In Hades, on the shores of the river Lethe, Genio leads Orfeo past a chorus of unhappy shadows and a horde of howling Furies. Orfeo asks Plutone for mercy. Impressed by Orfeo's love for Euridice, Plutone grants him permission to search for her in the Elysian Fields. He finds Euridice. Genio warns him not to look at her or he will lose her forever, but he cannot resist. Orfeo loses her for a second time. Tormented by grief, he longs to die. His grieving is interrupted by a chorus of Baccante praising love and pleasure ("Vieni, vieni, amato Orfeo"). Orfeo renounces the pleasures of the world. The Baccante offers him a drink, telling him that it will make him happy ("Bevi, bevi in questa tazza"). He drinks from the cup and realises that he has taken poison. Orfeo dies. The Baccante set off for the island of pleasure, but a storm arises and Baccante drowns. (I found quite a lot of humour in Hades, like when the lost souls take a communal shower and the Baccante were far too friendly to be alarming or scary.)


Verinha Ottoni.


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