The lazy, uninquisitive assumption is always that neglected works of the past have been forgotten with good reason, but one of the many things I love about my job is the opportunity to show that this is often not the case. Already this season we have performed works by Gluck, Hasse, Jommelli and Giardini which had probably not been performed in London since the 18th century, if at all, and we have been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and praise with which they have been received.
Even a composer as famous as Haydn is not exempt from neglect, and his fascinating Applausus cantata, which we will perform at Cadogan Hall on 15 March as the next instalment of MOZART 250, was never performed between its première 250 years ago and a BBC studio recording of the work in 1958. As far as we have been able to ascertain, ours will be the first ever public performance of the work in this country.
There are undoubtedly some clear reasons for its abandonment, most notably its slight plot and the great length of some of its arias, but the music is of such quality and beauty that its almost total neglect seems astonishing. It’s true that two of the work’s five arias are very long, but they are also sublimely beautiful, featuring extended concertante solos for harpsichord and violin respectively. The work is a hymn of praise, written to celebrate the 50th anniversary of a senior Cistercian monk taking his vows, and its context and subject matter require space for reflection and contemplation. Such respite and ‘mindfulness’ (to use a modern educational word) are no less valid or valuable today, and if I had to choose between listening to fifteen minutes of exquisite music or five minutes of boring music I know which I’d choose.
The work also provides abundant opportunities for beautiful and expressive singing, and we have assembled another wonderful young cast for this project. Soprano Ellie Laugharne, whose previous appearances with the company have included Emirena in Adriano in Siria and Zerlina in Don Giovanni, makes a welcome return, as does David Shipley for the first time since graduating from the Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Young Artists Programme. They are joined by three young artists making their company débuts. Thomas Elwin, who recently joined Ellie and David as a Classical Opera Associate Artist, will return in the summer to sing Fracasso in La finta semplice, John Savournin is currently singing Leporello in Don Giovanni at Opera North, and Elspeth Marrow is currently rehearsing Orfeo in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice in Florence.