stay in Vienna. The subsequent history of the work is too complex to detail here, but can be found in Ian Page’s scholarly notes to this recording. Suffice it to say that the version employed is the original Vienna version, performed probably for the first time since 1768 with spoken dialogue throughout.
The simple pastoral tale of a lover’s tiff resolved by a self-proclaimed soothsayer owes its provenance to a German translation of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s immensely popular intermédio Le Devin du village (1752), a work that not only proclaims the superiority of Italian over French opera, but also conforms with Rousseau’s philosophical beliefs in the values of the simple life over wealth and sophistication. In today’s less innocent world the tale of the reconciliation of the shepherds Bastienne and Bastien, with the help of Colas’s basic psychology, stretches credibility. Nonetheless, the work has a charm that stems from the more bucolic, less formal verse of the translation, the irregular verse of which was set by the 12-year-old Mozart with no small skill.
Bastien demands relatively little from its singers other than an ability for the two young lovers to project a youthful fragility in their plight (though Bastienne is not without certain innate wiles) and Colas to convey common sense. The potential danger is to bring too great an element of sophistication, one here avoided in an enchanting performance in which the vocal freshness and allure of Anna Lucia Richter’s Bastienne and Alessandro Fisher’s Bastien are admirably complemented by the rounded paternalism of Darren Jeffery’s Colas. Ian Page directs the admirable Mozartists with the now familiar mix of crisp, pointed rhythms and warm sensitivity, allowing Mozart’s youthful spirit to speak for itself while never overloading his engaging score. It remains only to add that the performance of Bastien is prefaced by the Passiontide Grabmusik (K42/35a), composed the previous year and one of the most extraordinary of all the child Mozart’s works. brian robins
Catharina Cornaro, Lachner Kristiane Kaiser (Catharina Cornaro), Daniel Kirch (Marco Venero), Mauro Peter (Jakob II), Simon Pauly (Andrea Cornaro), Christian Tschelebiew (Onofrio), Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Münchner Rundfunkorchester, c. Ralf Weikert. CPO 777 812-2 (two CDs)
Franz Lachner (1803-90) is remembered these days, if at all, for supplying recitatives for Cherubini’s Médée—for which altruistic activity he is usually roundly told off. But there was a good deal more to him than that. He enjoyed success as a conductor in Vienna, Mannheim and then Munich, where he remained for three decades until eventually removed and replaced by Hans von Bülow in order to further Wagner’s interests. Himself a musical conservative, he composed four operas, of which Catharina Cornaro—premiered in Munich on 3 December 1841—was the most successful.
The text is a German translation of the libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de SaintGeorges also set by Halévy (whose La Reine de Chypre appeared at the Paris Opéra three weeks later) on a subject subsequently additionally developed by Balfe and by Donizetti (both 1844). Catharina herself (1454-1510) was a political pawn, daughter of a pre-eminent Venetian family utilized by her own government to acquire the island of Cyprus on their behalf; the libretto is a fictionalized account of how this came about, up to the point where her husband, the king of Cyprus, dies, and the island is—nominally at least—hers to command.
Opera, December 2018