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PREVIEW | UofT & McGill Present North American Premiere Of Haydn’s Last Opera

By Anya Wassenberg on May 1, 2023

The cast of The Soul of the Philosopher (L’anima del filosofo) L-R: Asitha Tennekoon (Orfeo); Lindsay McIntyre (Euridice); Parker Clements (Creonte); Maeve Palmer (Genio)
The cast of The Soul of the Philosopher (L’anima del filosofo) L-R: Asitha Tennekoon (Orfeo); Lindsay McIntyre (Euridice); Parker Clements (Creonte); Maeve Palmer (Genio)

The University of Toronto Faculty of Music presents the North American premiere of Haydn’s opera The Soul of the Philosopher (L’anima del filosofo). It’s Haydn’s lost Orfeo, titled in full L’anima del filosofo, ossia Orfeo ed Euridice as an answer to Gluck’s successful work on the same mythical story.

The production is the result of a collaboration between the University of Toronto and McGill University. The performances take place on May 26 and May 27, 2023, and they are free to the public.

Haydn’s opera

Haydn is not particularly well known for his operas per se, yet he wrote several between 1762 and 1791, during his time at the Esterházy court. In 1791, after the death of his patron, he went to London, and he wrote L’anima del filosofo, ossia Orfeo ed Euridice, Hob. 28/13, dramma per musica in 4 acts, with a libretto by Carlo Francesco Badini, for the trip. He’d been contracted (and paid) by a London impresario to write a piece for opening of The King’s Theatre.

Haydn’s opera, however, became caught up in political intrigue between King George III and the Prince of Wales. According to some scholars, the essential conflict between human desires and nature, and the tragedy of final judgment, was a little too close to the zeitgeist. In 1791, the French Revolution had culminated in the first meeting of the constitutional legislative assembly in Paris, and London censors feared the story might excite an already rebellious public. The production was shut down during rehearsals.

After lying in an archive in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, the opera wasn’t performed until 1951 at the Teatro della Pergola, Florence. The cast included luminaries such as Maria Callas, Tygge Tyggeson and Boris Christoff. It’s been sung in Europe by Joan Sutherland and Cecilia Bartoli.

Haydn would never see his version of the Orpheus tale performed on stage, but according to historical record, he seems to have been relatively unperturbed. Perhaps the payment in advance had something to do with that.

The story

The story follows the ancient Greek tale of Orpheus, the musician, who loses the love of his life, Euridice, and goes to search for her in the Underworld.

They meet when Orpheus, son of a river god, rescues Euridice from an attack. However, the attacker comes back to kidnap her, and she dies of a snake bite. In the tragic story, Orpheus brings her back to the land of the living, but he loses her again. There’s more to the story still, in the often violent fashion of Greek myth.

Haydn’s opera calls for four parts.

  • Tenor Asitha Tennekoon, a Dora Award winner, performs the role of Orfeo;
  • Soprano Lindsay McIntyre sings the role of the princess Euridice;
  • Baritone Parker Clements plays Creonte, Euridice’s Father;
  • Soprano Maeve Palmer, a Dora Award winner, will perform Genio, Orfeo’s guide to the Underworld.

They are joined by vocalists from the University of Toronto and the McGill Baroque Orchestra.

Musicologist and performer Dorian Bandy, a specialist in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries, will conduct the McGill Baroque Orchestra, with Ivars Taurins (Tafelmusik Chamber Choir) as Chorus Master. The creative team is rounded out by Dora Award winner Astrid Janson (scenic, costume, and props design) and Abby Esteireiro (UofT Drama Coalition Award winner), with Nico Krell directing.

Performance details:

  • May 26 & 27, 7:30 p.m.
  • Free — register [HERE].
  • MacMillan Theatre, University of Toronto, 80 Queens Park, Toronto, ON

Symposium: Resurrecting Haydn’s Orfeo

You can learn more about Haydn’s Orfeo and how it was resurrected at a symposium.

The half-day symposium is organized by musicologist Caryl Clark (University of Toronto), and features 18th-century music specialists Emily Dolan (Brown University) and Deirdre Loughridge (Northeastern University), along with a panel of artists from the production.

  • May 27 from 10:00 a.m. — 1:00 p.m.
  • Walter Hall, University of Toronto, 80 Queen’s Park, Toronto, ON
  • Free – register [HERE]. 

A simulcast of the symposium will be available via the UofT webpage.


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