Thursday, 2 September 2010

More Figaro: Crudel perche finora with contemporary embellishments

In 1789 the firm of Birchall & Andrews published an unusual souvenir of a current operatic hit at the King’s Theatre in London. On 9 May 1789 Francesco Benucci and Nancy Storace appeared in an opera called La vendemmia. On 11 May 1789, The Morning Post reported:

"The Opera. Haymarket. The attraction of a New Opera, and a new performer, drew a very large audience to this place on Saturday. La vendemmia (the Vineyard), so far as the music is concerned, is the production of Signor Gazzaniga. It has the merit of being light and pleasing, and is also very correct; but there is little to excite any high idea of the composer. Besides the music of Gazzaniga, a song by Paisiello, another by Tarchi, another by Pozzi, and a duet by Mozart, are introduced into the opera. ... Mozart's delicious duet was encored." (from C. Eisen: New Mozart Documents, Stanford University Press, 1991, 150).

Nancy Storace, the original Susanna

Francesco Benucci, the original Figaro

Mozart's "delicious duet" was "Crudel perche finora" from Act III of Le nozze di Figaro, where it is sung by Susanna and the Count. When it was inserted into La vendemmia it was sung by Nancy Storace (1766–1817) and Francesco Benucci (c.1745–1824) – who had taken the roles of Susanna and Figaro in the world première of Figaro at the Burgtheater, Vienna, on 1 May 1786.

The Birchall & Andrews edition of Crudel perche finora has the unusual status of being the first appearance of any part of the music of Le nozze di Figaro in print, even though it doesn't mention the opera by name. This edition was reissued in about 1794, with the imprint changed to Robert Birchall. A copy of this reissue, printed on paper with a dated watermark of 1794, is now in the British Library (G.537.z). What makes this a particularly interesting document is the addition of extensive vocal embellishments in a contemporary hand. The author of these decorations is unknown, but they seem to date from around 1800, and provide intriguing evidence for how this duet might have been ornamented at the time, with numerous added appoggiaturas and turns as part of the extensive embellishments.

A few months ago I asked three friends to record this version of "Crudel perche finora", so here it is, sung by Sophia Carroll (Susanna), Matthew Palmer (Count) and Gary O'Shea (piano). With warmest thanks to them, here is their performance, together with images of the embellished score:

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