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SALIERI: The Chimney Sweep

spacer Oomens, Farrugia, Todd; Haycock, Saunders, Woloszko, Hidden;  Sydney Children’s Choir;  Orchestra of the Antipodes, Helyard.  Text and translation. Pinchgut Live PG005

Recordings Pinchgut Chimney Sweep Cover 715

Pinchgut Opera, the plucky chamber group based in Sydney, Australia, presents the world premiere recording of Antonio Salieri’s singspiel, Der Rauchfangkehrer, oder Die Unentbehrlichen Verräther ihrer Herrschaften aus Eigennutz (The Chimney-Sweep, or The Indispensible Betrayers of Their Lordships out of Self-Interest). Even with spoken dialogue omitted for the recording, the charms of this 1781 work are evident in the verve of the young cast and the period instrument orchestra under the baton of Erin Helyard, as well as the obvious pleasure of the live audience.

The enlightened Emperor Joseph II, hoping to expand opera’s audience beyond a bunch of noble courtiers, had founded a German National Theater in order to present works in the vernacular, where spoken dialogue alternated with tuneful and accessible musical numbers. The court composer Salieri, who had no experience in German and spoke it poorly, must have cajoled his amateur librettist Leopold Auenbrugger into inserting four Italian numbers, which would allow him to spoof Italian opera seria while composing more comfortably in that style. Mozart arrived in Vienna just as the work was enjoying a successful run, and shortly after it closed, presented his own Entführung aus dem Serail with the same company and several of the same singers.

Volpino (the Little Fox) is an Italian singer and chimney sweep, who concocts a scam to get money to finance his marriage to Lisel, the cook. One of the schemes involves singing lessons for an attractive widow and her step-daughter, whose gentlemen suitors eventually uncover the ruse, allowing a happy ending. 

Amelia Farrugia is sensational as Mrs. Hawk, nimbly detailing the bravura writing of her Italian aria with clear, firm tones (including a sweeping run to a big high F) and exemplary diction. As her step-daughter, Janet Todd’s wide vibrato mars much of would be lovely singing, in virtuosic arias written for Caterina Cavalieri, Mozart’s first Konstanze. Soprano Alexandra Oomens sings the servant role of Lisel with freshness and pert musicality. 

The excellent bass David Woloszko shows off the low notes expected in a role written for Ludwig Fischer, who would create the role of Osmin for Mozart, and his aria “To be a singer of finesse” is a fun showcase for such a nimble actor-singer. Andrew Johnston’s fine English translation lists various vocal requirements, including possession of “lyrical phrasing” and “breath quite amazing,” which the singer demonstrated capably. For the all-important requirement, “You must be a pro / at singing quite low,” Woloszko’s easy low Ds fill the bill.

The two tenors fare better in the score’s many delightful ensembles than in their respective arias. Christopher Saunders struggles with top notes as well as line. Volpino’s virtuoso comic aria includes a high D (where Salieri switches to soprano clef, indicating falsetto), but Stuart Haycock shows little comic flair, although his appearance as Ganymede, in a pastoral playlet the group puts on, is well-sung. David Hidden is fine as the late-arriving Tomaso. spacer 


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