The Taming of the Shrew

Martín y Soler

Information

The Taming of the Shrew (La capricciosa corretta)

music by Vicente Martín y Soler (1795)
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte
English translation by Robert Thicknesse

The Deanery Garden, Bampton, 21 and 22 July 2006
The Theatre at Headington, 29 July 2006

Cast

Bonario a wealthy merchant Adrian Powter
Ciprigna his second wife
Kim Sheehan
Isabella his daughter Tamsin Coombs
Valerio his son Peter van Hulle
Cilia maid to the household Amanda Pitt
Fiuta a manservant John Lofthouse
Lelio suitor to Isabella Eamonn Mulhall
Don Giglio an admirer of Ciprignia
James Harrison
   
Conductor Paul Hoskins
Director Jeremy Gray

 

Synopsis

Act 1
In a comfortable villa, picturesquely but perhaps foolishly situated at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, a single traumatic day unfolds. Bonario, a wealthy merchant and widower, has rashly entered into a second marriage, with the young, vain and headstrong Ciprigna. At daybreak, Bonario’s children Valerio and Isabella, and his servants Fiuta and Cilia threaten to leave home, at the end of their tether through Ciprigna’s capriciousness and bullying. Bonario promises to reassert his authority that very day, and thus – for the moment – delays their departure. Don Giglio, a flamboyant admirer of Ciprigna, arrives to court her, but their encounter is overseen. Bonario attempts to regain his position as head of the household, but accidentally drops his prepared speech to his wife, who picks it up and is outraged. Pandemonium ensues. Fiuta chides Bonario for his cowardice, and hears the pathetic story of how the husband lost his authority even on his wedding night. Lelio arrives, hopeful and in love, to request Isabella’s hand in marriage. Meeting him for the first time and unaware of his purpose, Ciprigna immediately transfers her affections to him; Fiuta counsels Lelio to play along as a means to trapping her. Bonario rehearses a further speech to his wife in front of a chair. Fiuta provides weapons to intimidate Ciprigna, but she seizes them and attacks Bonario. Don Giglio is tricked into believing that he is being pursued by assassins; hiding himself he becomes the unwilling witness to the flirtation between Ciprigna and Lelio. The act ends in total uproar, but at least Giglio is smiling: he’s discovered a purse of gold.

 

Act 2
Valerio repeats his intention to leave to join the army, whilst Isabella worries about her reputation and is unhappy about eloping with Lelio. Fiuta is confident that he will engineer everything for the best, and will then himself be able to marry Cilia. Ciprigna rejects Giglio in favour of Lelio, whom she presents with jewels and property deeds. As these in fact belong to Bonario, Lelio returns them to their owner. Ciprigna is suspicious and sends a letter to Don Giglio. A mysterious oriental ambassador named Irco Berlico arrives and tempts Ciprigna with tales of a magical island: here her surpassing beauty will cause her to be elected queen by forty young men, and she will enjoy eternal youth and life. She decides to leave home during the night; her letter to Giglio has instructed him to take Isabella to a convent to keep her away from Lelio. However Cilia discovers this plot, and Lelio rescues Isabella from Giglio. In the night, Ciprigna’s preparations to leave are upset by frightening explosions. She finds herself locked outside in an apocalyptic storm and becomes petrified. Her illusions shattered, she begs forgiveness from Bonario and promises submission. Fiuta reveals that he was disguised as the oriental, but Ciprigna acknowledges her debt to him. Giglio is dismissed, and the family prepare a feast of reconciliation.

Reviews

invariably slick, …cleverly imaginative...
Opera Now, November 2006

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invariably slick, …cleverly imaginative...

Opera Now, November 2006

Another Mozart? Maybe not quite. But Vicente Martín y Soler, along with Salieri, Paisiello and Cimarosa, enjoyed massive popularity in Joseph II's Vienna. Later he went on to a similar success at the court of Catherine the Great, and from St Petersburg made his way in the 1790s to London's King's Theatre.

It was Lorenzo da Ponte who partly accounted for this success. La capricciosa corretta (usually, slightly misleadingly, dubbed The Taming of the Shrew, although Shakespeare's Petruchio and Katharina have nought to do with it) was the fourth of five collaborations between the pair (three for Vienna, including Una cosa rara; two for London). It's an amiable tale about a wilful new spouse won back to the family fold by the wiles of two servants, with the offsprings' amours confusing the issue. Shades of Figaro? To a degree, yes.

The setting is Pompeii, AD79, with Vesuvius in sight; and during the opera the balloon actually goes up. It is typical of Bampton's ingenuity to attempt something as bizarre as staging an eruption amid the herbage and shrubberies of an English country garden, and even more typical of them to pull it off. The lighting and set effects were both hilarious and chokingly realistic. I still have the smoke in my nostrils.

Invariably slick, always cleverly imaginative, Bampton was ready to move up a notch, and this show arguably achieved it. Its casts are always characterful and well chosen; it has a rare gift for marrying professionalism with the tongue-in-cheek and making the mix work. This time, all the elements came together. Strong and lucid playing from the orchestra tent, well-nursed and paced by Paul Hoskins, ensured the music had plenty of punch and lots of character and colouring.

Adrian Powter kept the comedy flowing as the hapless merchant husband, Bonario, a character straight out of Goldoni or Beaumarchais; as the wayward spouse, Kim Sheehan came fully into her own as the evening unwound, serving up a delicious aria in the second half. Eamonn Mulhall and James Harrison provided entertaining diversions as boyfriend and wan suitor, and there were characterful vignettes from Tamsin Coombs and Peter van Hulle as the put-upon, long-suffering offspring who have marital plans of their own. The love scenes between Mulhall and Coombs furnished some of the most immediately winning music, but the quality rarely dipped overall, although one did miss that unique flair for obbligato special to Mozart. Pick of the cast were John Lofthouse and Amanda Pitt, who found plenty of 'Figaro and Susanna' spirit in Da Ponte's servant pair, Fiuta and Cilia, with pliant arias for good measure.

Robert Thicknesse was the wag behind the humour, serving up a sly and wrily rhymed translation up to Bampton's usual high standard. All in all, this was terrific value for money, with sizzling explosions thrown in.

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Roderic Dunnett

 

first rate...
Opera News

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first rate...

Opera News

It takes a fiery imagination to stage a full-scale eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in an Oxfordshire country garden. All credit, then, to Jeremy Gray’s set and production of Lorenzo da Ponte and Vicente Martín y Soler’s La capricciosa corretta (The Tamed Wife) for pulling off this cheerful opera’s thunderous climax with such delightful aplomb.

Martín y Soler (1754-1804) - a contemporary of Mozart - collaborated with da Ponte not once but five times: thrice during the Figaro years (1786-7) in Joseph II’s Vienna, and twice in the mid 1790s, when he switched his attention to Russia, where he served Catherine the Great, and then England.

La capricciosa corretta – quite different from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew - involves the cheerful shenigans of two curiously Figaro-like servants as they seek to head off inappropriate suitors and restore their warring master and mistress. Chief culprit is the new mistress of the house, Cipregna (sung with increasing beauty and poise by Kim Sheehan). Her increasingly flighty fancies have distanced her from her wealthy spouse, Bonario (Adrian Powter), who has rashly embarked on a second marriage. Even the children, Valerio (Peter van Hulle) and Isabella (Tamsin Coombs) threaten to leave home.

It’s cheerful stuff, nicely rooted in Roman Comedy, with perhaps a milder moral undertow than Mozart’s Cosi or even La Grotta di Trofonio, da Ponte’s collaboration with Salieri, staged recently by Opera de Lausanne. In a capable cast, both of the central sparring duo served up handsome arias in turn. Much of the work’s success centred on the quick-fire scenes, reminiscent of Figaro, whereby the wily da Ponte makes pairs of characters interact in subtly-planned sequence. Bampton’s ensemble work is invariably first-rate; here it was rarely less than outstanding; several duets were excellent.

Bampton has played its part in encouraging some pristine young talent (the most recent being the fine soprano Rebecca Bottone). One of the company’s most valuable assets is Amanda Pitt (here, as the Despina-Susanna figure, Cilia): it was she, along with baritone John Lofthouse as her fellow-servant Fiuta, who brought out the fun and the fizz in this amazingly swift-moving, clever production. Bampton stagings always look good; spiced with imagination, this one looked terrific. The evening sprouted numerous finely-honed exits and wittily-contrived surprises.

Soler’s arias can seem a little more pert than Mozart, his ensembles less fulsome, his obbligati plainer, but there were some splendid orchestral touches enlivened by unexpected harmonic dalliance. These the thoughtful conductor Paul Hoskins allowed to beam through, culminating in the musically vivid eruption sequence. Robert Thicknesse’s artful English translation greatly enlivened the evening.

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Roderic Dunnett

 

the magnetism of Bampton Classical Opera...
The Oxford Times, July 2006

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the magnetism of Bampton Classical Opera...

The Oxford Times, July 2006

La capricciosa corretta is hardly a name that trips off the tongue. And Martín y Soler is not, I suspect, a composer whose works feature in many music-lovers' CD collections. Yet such is the magnetism of Bampton Classical Opera that the Deanery garden was full last weekend with eager opera-goers, enjoying a fun-filled piece that fitted perfectly into this idyllic setting.

The title translates as The Taming of the Shrew – the 'shrew' in this instance being Ciprigna, second wife of a wealthy merchant Bonario. Poor Bonario is driven to distraction by his wife's vanity, spitefulness and erratic behaviour. His daughter and son from his first marriage, and his two faithful servants, have reached the end of their tether, and threaten to leave. Bonario manages to forestall them by promising to assert some measure of control over his wife. But he fails miserably, pandemonium ensues, and it is left to the servants, Fiuta and Cilia, to sort out the mess. Eventually, of course, all is put right; Ciprigna admits the error of her ways and promises to be a dutiful wife, and the opera ends with general rejoicing.

This 18th-century operatic romp has been given a fresh, raunchy feel by Robert Thicknesse's witty new translation. Some of the unsubtle visual innuendo may not sit well with Bampton audiences, but otherwise director Jeremy Gray has masterminded another triumph, with some slick staging and a cast that performs with style and panache.

Adrian Powter is full of voice and suitably pathetic as the brow-beaten husband, who, strangely, really seems to adore his unlovable wife. John Lofthouse nearly steals the show with his comic portrayal of Fiuta, the servant who engineers Ciprigna's downfall. But it is Kim Sheehan, as Ciprigna, who gives the star performance – by turns sexy, tetchy, scheming and vain, and vocally strong throughout.

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Nicola Lisle, The Oxford Times

 

Articles

“No modern composition is equal to it” (The Times, 1802)
Jeremy Gray

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“No modern composition is equal to it” (The Times, 1802)

In his colourful but not always accurate Memoirs, Lorenzo da Ponte tells how, in 1794 Vicenzo Frederici, the conductor at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, ordered two contrasting operatic libretti as vehicles for rival Italian divas, Anna Morichelli and Brigida Banti, both recently arrived in London:
“At length I set tremblingly to work at the double task. I chose my subjects, wrote down my plans and presented them to the two composers [Martín y Soler and Francesco Bianchi]. They both approved my choice, and that was some small comfort to me. In less than three weeks I had finished La capricciosa corretta for Martín. He was then living with me, and his ever merry face and the pleasant recollection of past days served as an inspiration to me. As I wrote the words, he composed the music for them.”
Da Ponte had come to London in 1792 prompted by Casanova, thus escaping the open hostility in Vienna of Antonio Salieri, which had erupted after the death of his protective patron Emperor Joseph II. He probably hoped to renew his friendship with the singers Nancy Storace and Michael Kelly, and with Nancy’s brother, the composer Stephen Storace with whom he had collaborated in Vienna on Gli equivoci (The Comedy of Errors, performed by Bampton in 2000). At the King’s Theatre, Da Ponte attempted to nurture the best standards of the Italian opera and of course, to further his own interests – little wonder therefore that he expressed dismay that Gazzaniga’s Don Giovanni should have been performed in preference to the one by Mozart set to his own libretto.

Unlike Da Ponte whose arduous travels between Italy, Vienna, London and ultimately New York were generally for the purpose of escaping troublesome creditors or outraged women (and their husbands!), his friend Atanasio Martín Ignacio Tadeo Francisco Pelegrin, known as Vicente Martín y Soler, traversed Europe with apparent ease on a growing wave of fame and fortune. Born in Valencia in 1754, his early success with opera in Italian led him to Naples and to comfortable employment under Don Carlos of Bourbon, brother of King Ferdinand. In Italy he quickly became a star, spurred on by a spectacular concert involving orchestra with several cannons, and opera and ballet commissions took him to Turin, Venice and Parma. Perhaps thanks to the recommendation of the soprano Nancy Storace in Venice, he left Italy in 1785 for the Vienna of Joseph II; there he allied himself to Da Ponte, who professed that he preferred working with him to Mozart. Together they created three dazzling hits in 1786-7, overshadowing all other rivals: Il burbero di buon cuore (The Good-hearted Grouch), Una cosa rara (A Rare Thing), and L’arbore di Diana (The Tree of Diana).

A performance of Una cosa rara in St Petersburg late in 1788 led to an invitation from the most illustrious patron all – Catherine the Great. Martín y Soler became her new Kapellmeister, but although the position brought prosperity and security, there were few opportunities for Italian opera since Cimarosa held the position of court opera composer. Martín did however create a new genre of comic opera in Russian. Da Ponte’s invitation to his friend to join him in London in 1794 led to both La capricciosa corretta and L’isola del piacere (completing their cycle of five collaborations) and these are considered Martín’s last significant operas. Following a disagreement with Da Ponte, he returned to Russia in 1796, but the final ten years of his life were mostly devoted to teaching and administration. Nevertheless for some years his works were performed to enormous acclaim throughout Europe, in languages as diverse as Dutch, Danish and Polish. La capricciosa corretta itself was played in Venice, Florence, Genoa, Udine, Turin, Milan, Naples, Pisa. Dresden, Prague, Vienna, Weimar, Darmstadt, Madrid and Lisbon, and still enjoyed some popularity as late as 1824.

La capricciosa corretta is less complex and sophisticated than other libretti by Da Ponte, although it is well suited to the delightfully easy grace and charm of the Spaniard’s music. Despite what is frequently said in the literature, ‘The Capricious Woman Corrected’ has little to do with Shakespeare and The Taming of the Shrew: rather it is a Goldonian comedy of manners, rooted, like Il barbiere di Siviglia, in the stock characters of the commedia dell’arte, brought up-to-date into a more naturalistic context familiar to the audiences of the late 18th century. As in Shakespeare’s treatment of Falstaff (so brilliantly set as an opera by Salieri in 1799) the story revolves around the vanity and amorous indiscretions of the central character, here the spoilt wife Ciprigna (whose name suggests the word ‘bitter’): as so often redemption is brought about through fanciful disguise and deceit and Ciprigna’s embarrassment in the presence of her family and friends leads to her painful self-realisation and re-admittance into the norm of social decorum. Like Le nozze di Figaro the action takes place through the course of one mad day, mixing up the social classes of aristocracy, bourgeoisie and servants with hilarious but ultimately moral consequences. Just as Count Almaviva falls victim to the scheming of his servants abetted by his own wife, so too the plot around Ciprigna is shaped by her servants who are forced to compensate for the cowardly failure of her husband Bonario to assert his rights and authority. As in Figaro and Falstaff the denouement takes place outside at night, although it appears to be the chance intervention of a terrifying storm as much as the complex charade which persuades Ciprigna to repent and reform.

At its first performance the opera was entitled La scuola del maritati (The School for Spouses), and like Da Ponte/Mozart’s La scuola degli amanti (The School for Lovers), better known to us as Così fan tutte, the action takes place in a villa against the backdrop of Naples and Vesuvius. In Così the process of re-education is effected through oriental disguise (at once fashionably romantic and dangerous); just as Dorabella and Fiordiligi become embroiled in a dream of hedonistic escape from conventions and restraints, so Ciprigna’s vanity and desire for power and freedom is pandered to until the exotic Irco Berlico, ambassador of the Queen of Almerina, is revealed to be none other than the family retainer Fiuta. If less profound and subversive than the great Mozartian trilogy, La capricciosa corretta perfectly joins a plot of rococo charm with music of lyrical elegance and dance-like energy. Recent performances by Christophe Rousset for l’Opéra de Lausanne (recorded on the Naïve label) and by Mark Tatlow for the Drottningholm Festival have revealed the enjoyable vitality of this fruitful ‘marriage’ between composer and librettist – a school for spouses indeed.

Jeremy Gray
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Production Photos