Opera in Concert Revives Forgotten Masterpiece

January 29, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015

Conductor and harpsichordist Ashiq Aziz. (Courtesy of Ashiq Aziz)
Conductor and harpsichordist Ashiq Aziz. (Courtesy of Ashiq Aziz)
Under the direction of veteran director Guillermo Silva-Marin, a group of talented young artists is bringing to life Haydn’s forgotten masterpiece La Fedelta Premiata (Fidelity Rewarded). For one day only, on Sunday, Jan 30, the opera will make its Canadian debut at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Centre of the Arts, as part of Opera in Concert’s mission of presenting rare and innovative works.

Celebrated in his time and recognized by subsequent generations for his role in developing the symphony and the string quartet, as well as for his influence on Mozart and Beethoven, Josef Haydn is less known for his operas, even though he has written more than ten.

Conductor Ashiq Aziz, founder of the Classical Music Consort orchestra and known for his enthusiasm for 18th century music, admits he hadn’t heard La Fedelta Premiata before being introduced to it by Opera in Concert director Guillermo Silva-Marin. In fact, until listening to it, he had some doubts about the quality of Haydn’s operas.

“This opera is actually quite exquisite and it’s completely destroyed any negative misconceptions I had about the piece. It’s so dramatically interesting and enthralling. Most of the music is really exquisitely written; it’s beautiful for the voice,” said Ariz.

Yet following Haydn’s death, the opera disappeared from the stage, not resurfacing until the late 20th century. Appearances have been rare since.

“Its neglect is incomprehensible, perhaps as a result of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ syndrome,” said Silva-Marin who brought to life another Haydn opera, Il Mondo della Luna, in 2009 on the 200th anniversary of Haydn’s death.

Aziz believes the neglect of Haydn’s operas may be connected to Mozart’s popularity.

“He has competition from Mozart and Mozart is the ultimate opera composer from the 18th century, and Mozart’s operas reign supreme in opera houses all over the world, so Haydn has less of a chance because Mozart’s operas are so well known and loved universally,” he said.

Breaking the Spell

“The opera is quintessential classic in its use of Greek mythology, in this case the goddess Diana and the foibles of shepherds, satyrs, and aristocrats—all searching for balance, clarity, and simplicity in life,” explains Silva-Marin.

Angered by an act of treachery, the goddess Diana condemns two lovers in the Greek city of Cumae to be sacrificed each year to a lake monster. Only the sacrifice of a faithful lover can break the spell. One such couple appears—Celia and Fileno. Yet their loyalty is not only tested by the sea monster, but perhaps even more so by the jealous intrigues surrounding them.