fri 14/06/2024

La Canterina, Classical Opera, Page, Wigmore Hall | reviews, news & interviews

La Canterina, Classical Opera, Page, Wigmore Hall

La Canterina, Classical Opera, Page, Wigmore Hall

Youthful elixir revives Haydn's sparkling material girl

The vivacious Kitty Whately

Papa Haydn might have been tickled to see his early intermezzo, La Canterina, pack out the Wigmore Hall on a Monday night. A night for connoisseurs, then, but Classical Opera has form when it comes to refreshing classical repertoire with the elixir of vocal youth. And with a line-up boasting Susanna Hurrell, Rachel Kelly, Kitty Whately and Robert Murray, this was no exception.

Each was neatly introduced through solo arias by Haydn’s Czech contemporary, Josef Mysliveček (b 1737). Prised from his opera Semiramide, with its bewilderingly convoluted backstory, they revealed a composer of considerable range, and made challenging show-pieces. Tenor Robert Murray took on a bravura outpouring, with hair-raising high cadenzas, just achieved, while Kitty Whately inhabited the torridly indignant part of Tamiri with impressive immediacy. There’s a bright, focused depth to Rachel Kelly’s mezzo - splendidly demonstrated in Classical Opera's superbly-cast performance earlier this season of Jommelli's Il Vologeso - which suggests boundless reserves, and she lent emotional weight to Semiramide’s charming pastorale. Soprano Susanna Hurrell (pictured below), replacing Ailish Tynan, breezed through Mirteo’s bucolic vision with agile ease. Mysliveček’s idiom is spacious and colourfully Italianate: little wonder Mozart admired him.

Susanna HurrellThis concert was part of Classical Opera’s Mozart 250, a characteristically intelligent project exploring the music scene in each year of the composer’s life, here 1766: Mozart was a ten-year-old travelling prodigy, Mysliveček wrote Semiramide, while Haydn had finally taken over as Kappellmeister for Prince Nicolaus Esterházy. Opening the evening was his Symphony No. 34 in D minor, whose grave, ‘churchy’ Adagio, felt as drear and indistinct as the mists over Esterházy’s Lake Neusiedl. Haydn once said that for his employer ‘nothing can ever be too long’: this was, and somewhat shapeless, even if Iain Page’s restraint was repaid in a vivaciously outdoorsy Allegro. The fleet, soft Presto could have been tighter.

And so to La Canterina, or The Diva, a buffa tale of a scheming soubrette (Gasparina, played by Hurrell), her procuress or "mother" (Apollonia, Kelly), the singing teacher in whose house they’ve been lodging (Don Pellagio, a proto-Don Basilio, the adorable Robert Murray) and a young blood who fancies her (Don Ettore, Kitty Whately). Of course, the subject matter is irresistible: Haydn parodies every operatic trick in the book, and himself as composer. When Don Pellagio performs his new opera seria parody to Gasparina, he’s so bewitched by his own part-writing for horn and oboe he almost forgets its seductive import (mocked in testosterone-charged scales). An occasional ‘honking’ oboe adds to the knockabout.

Robert MurrayMurray (pictured left) relishes the part, apoplectic at chaperone Apollonia’s interjections ("Knit socks and keep out of it!"), torn between admiration and exasperation when his protegée uses his teaching against him. Hurrell sparkles as the insouciant material girl, milking her tragic aria while protesting "I’ve lost my voice". Only the smell of hard cash will rouse her from her faint.  As the brains behind the operation, Kelly brings sassy authority, kicking off proceedings with a paen to the wonders of make-up (it was originally a drag role). Only Whately’s part as Ettore seems underwritten, though she delivers it with clean aplomb. 

The second act exposes Haydn’s lack of instinct for dramatic pacing: Pellagio’s eviction of his tenants is positively languid, and even Steven Devine’s lively, articulate continuo cannot cover for prolix recitative. Instrumental tuning began to fray, but the singers held steady for a gloriously rich quartet finale in which the girls come out very much on top.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters