Review of Ensemble XXI Moscow’s Gala Concert of the Nordic Premiere of Haydn’s Opera “Orfeo and Euridice” in Ilomantsi, Finland
Helsingin Sanomat (the main Finnish National Daily newspaper with the biggest circulation of any paper in Scandinavia and Nordic Europe) 15.07.1996

Haydn’s unknown opera proves itself a surprising masterpiece

Although there are many beautiful wooden Churches in Finland, the IIomantsi Church one of the most beautiful. It is like a fairy tale. It created the perfect atmosphere the Opera, Orpheus and Euridice. With this music the Church celebrated its 200th anniversary. L’Anima del Filosofo is the original title of the opera. It is a symbolic story of life, death, love and a soul seeking its spirits even during the dark night of death. Haydn’s Opera found its way to Ilomantsi Church as a result of several fascinating coincidences. It has never been performed in Finland or needed in Nordic Europe. Haydn’s opera was commissioned by the King’s Theatre in London. However King George the III prohibited its performance. Although the King had nothing against Haydn himself, he and his son, the Prince of Wales, patronized rival theatres. As the King’s theatre was under the patronage of the Prince of Wales, the King didn’t want the Prince of Wales competing with his own theatre, the Pantheon. Haydn was therefore a victim of the intrigues of the English Royal family.

The world premiere took place in Florence in 1951 when Euridice was sung by Maria Callas. The other great coloratura diva of our century, Joan Sutherland performed Euridice in 1967 conducted by her husband Richard Bonynge in Vienna and in Edinburgh. Without Dame Joan Sutherland, the performance in Ilomantsi could not have taken place as she trained the young Russian soloists  for this difficult task last autumn. The performance in Moscow with the choir, soloists and Ensemble XXI Moscow was conducted by Richard Bonynge. Haydn’s Opera represents typical 18th century opera seria tradition where Virtuosi coloratura singing was at its peak. Nothing is more foreign to the Russian vocal school than the light baroque, bel canto technique with its sparkling, coloratura passages, flexible vocal line and majestic phrasing.

However you could hear that these young singers had received excellent coaching. The difficult passages succeeded very well and with great accuracy.

Haydn’s Orpheus and Euridice is not a heroic ‘opera seria’ but a sensitive and intimate story of love with its tragic end. The main soloists of this performance, Ludmilla Shilova and the Tenor Nikolai Dorozhskin were appealing as lovers who could be separated only by death itself. The Russian emotional style suited this very well. Shilova has a beautiful, sensitive lyric soprano voice which is already able to soar to a dazzling coloratura of ecstatic heights. The voice has great potential to grow even more. Dorozhskin is a brave singer, fearless in the high register. His performance went from good to great in the course of the evening. He brought out the poetic and tragic spirit of Orpheus. The blind Baritone, Yuri Sarafanov, has a beautiful voice, which is able to produce the most wonderful pianissimos. A colorful and very resonant choir was made up of Maria Struve’s children’s choir and the Helsinki Quartet Singers. The role of the choir is very important. It was performing the monsters, the amorini, the maidens and men, the unfortunate shadows in the underworld, the furies and the bacchantes.

The choir’s task was to create the terrifying fantasies and the magical effects which belong to the opera’s underworld. However the fury of the Bacchae and the monsters was covered with a fairy like beauty. Thanks to Bonynge, the majestic beauty and poetical sensitivity was revealed to the audience as was Haydn’s vitality and his inventive effects. Bonynge’s conducting brought out  a sterling performance of the highest standard from the young players of Ensemble XXI Moscow.  
Hannu-Ilari Lampila