It’s probably only in the world of opera that you can see someone being beaten up by pillow-wielding hoodies. The talented young director Alessandro Talevi and designer Madeleine Boyd go down the self-consciously trendy route with Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded), in a student production at the Royal Academy of Music.
They transpose this semi-pastoral tale of nymphs and shepherds into the Big Brother house, with intrusive cameras zooming in and out, a baying crowd and a diary room for intimate soul-searching. If the uneasy alliances, betrayals and break-ups reflect life on the reality TV show, there’s the familiar threat of tedium setting in after a very short time too.
It’s not for nothing that Haydn is best-remembered for anything but his operas. The score of this one is never less than pretty but as much can be said for any number of opera composers of the Classical period: Piccinni, Galuppi and Freschietti among them. If all we had were the operatic works, the composer of The Creation and the Nelson Mass would probably now be among their largely forgotten ranks.
In La fedeltà premiata, a sea monster demands sacrifices of the innocent folk of Cumae, and Talevi neatly turns this chimera into the hungry, bone-crunching crowd which gobbles up its temporary idols and spits them out when indigestion sets in. Gags are plentiful, some misfiring and a few witty, a whole pack of Russell Brands as pelvis-thrusting satyrs carrying off innocent maidens among the more entertaining.
For most of the performances of this run, the RAM students had Trevor Pinnock, no less, at the baton but for the final show Iain Ledingham, who is currently leading the college on an ambitious voyage through Bach’s cantatas, took the helm. The Royal Academy Sinfonia did themselves proud under his sprightly direction.
The cast I saw (as usual with student productions, one of two companies), fielded some fine voices. Tenor Thomas Hobbs and baritone Gerard Collett stood out but were not alone in making us feel that the future of opera is safe.
Haydn is never likely to be reinstated as a composer of first-class operas but this bi-centenary (he died in 1809) is providing opportunities to sample works that can make a refreshing change from yet another revival of The Marriage of Figaro or The Magic Flute. If only the older composer matched Mozart’s operatic genius.