Poor Salieri. Having paved the way for Mozart, whom he admired and encouraged, he became known as the man who killed the young genius. Salieri’s reputation for attractive, well-crafted music was swept away by the falsehood.
Bampton Classical Opera’s sprightly performance, the first in London since 1786, of The School of Jealousy, showed the debt Mozart owed his mentor. Mozart’s Così fan Tutte was the sequel to this story of straying wives and jealous husbands.
Salieri’s opera is full of barbed humour, comic confusion and cod psychology. The music, lightly scored for strings, oboes, horns and bassoons, bowls along under the direction of Anthony Kraus, conducting CHROMA for the this London performance.
On the tiny stage of St John’s the orchestra is hidden behind the simple set and communication between singers and conductor is remarkable considering the obstacles.
Director Jeremy Gray captures the fun and silliness of opera buffa, encouraging his young cast to ham it up in a translation that included digs at Trump, Brexit and the Mexican wall. There are inspired comic performances from Samuel Pantcheff as Lumaca, the lanky servant with a beguiling baritone and Alessandro Fisher singing the blustering Count Bandiera, while Matthew Sprange makes a sympathetic figure out of the bumbling merchant Blasio.
The women are by turns graceful and venomous: Rhiannon Llewellyn, in the role written for star soprano Nancy Storace, veer between lustrous high phrases and spitting rage, mezzo Kate Howden was a cheerful insolent maid and Nathalie Chalkley a flirtatious but faithful wife. Thomas Herford, refined and elegant as the Lieutenant, enjoys the chaos his meddling had produced.
It’s clear to see why The School of Jealousy was the most popular opera in its day.