S&H Concert review

João de Sousa CARVALHO L'amore industrioso Apollo Chamber Orchestra/ John Theocharis with soloists. St John's Smith Square 12 April 2001

It's been touted as the missing link between Handel and Mozart. But though Carvalho tills the same soil as Mozart's Da Ponte operas, whether L'amore industrioso remotely measures up to Mozart is a different matter.

Lisbon-born João de Susa Carvalho honed his craft in Naples, and on this showing could handle the stock-in-trade of Italian opera deftly and fluently. The characters in this typical dramma giocoso (young lovers outwitting their go-getting elders and superiors) uncannily pre-echo those of Figaro ñ and indeed Mozart met Carvalho's teacher Joseph Doll and may have known about the opera. Compared with Mozart's masterpieces of two decades later, though, Carvalho's melodic invention is agreeable but cliched, his characterisation routine (though the libretto is hardly on the Da Ponte level) and, most crucially, his harmony all too predictable, often confined to tonic, dominant and subdominant.

David Chernaik, who discovered and now conducts the opera, directs the bustling, fluent overture with panache, and indeed throughout the work he injects the music with all the necessary fizz, never allowing it to drag. The young cast produced some fine acting in this semi-staged presentation, especially the baritone Jonathan Gunthorpe (Basilio) and the diminutive Mark Wilde (the 'French secretary' Armidoro), both possessed of fine voices. Richard Burkhard, as the penniless, scheming Count, had presence and a suitable worldly cynicism as well as an incisive baritone, while Robert Burk's Frontino (Basilio's servant) had a convincingly wideboy swagger to compensate for a lack of vocal power (though his nasal Act 2 Notary, a male counterpart to Mozart's Despina, was vocally very adept). Louise Cannon's graceful, frustrated Countess, the opera's only seria character, is one of the production's classiest acts, vocally and dramatically, though Carvalho's character fails to move us in the way that Mozart's Countess does. Lorna Anderson's charming Giulietta, Basilio's daughter destined to be married off to the Count, commands our allegiance with a spirited and well-sung performance, despite a habit of swelling too much on higher notes and a tendency (shared with Mark Wilde) to have her head in the score too often. Her cunning maidservant Bettina is winningly taken by Catriona Barr despite occasional touches of squalliness.

Generally the opera's scurrilous action comes across very nicely and its high spirits are more than maintained by the polished, sensitive and rhythmically crisp orchestral playing as well as by the singers. Two musical highlights are the Countess's aria on realising Armidoro doesn't return her love, with its lilting triplet motif in the orchestra recalling the overture, and the music lesson scene, where the frantic singing of Giulietta and Armidoro (alias Maestro Cromatico) is reflected in the hectic sforzandos and tremolos of the orchestra. But for all Chernaik's eloquent advocacy for this work, I didn't come away humming the tunes, and truly memorable moments in Carvalho's well-turned but conventional score were at a premium.

Sarah Dunlop

See also review of world premiere at Holland Park Theatre (Editor)

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