Martín y Soler (La) capricciosa corretta
Vicente Martín y Soler, born and raised in Valencia, was one of the most acclaimed among Mozart’s contemporaries. He received three commissions for comic operas from the Imperial court theatre of Joseph II, and the popular Una cosa rara (1786) marked the artistic peak of his career. In 1787 he accepted the lucrative post of Kapellmeister at the court of Catherine the Great in St Petersburg. This hindered his creativity because Cimarosa had already been engaged to provide operas there, so the best operas of his later years were produced in London between 1794-95.
La capricciosa corretta was first performed at the King’s Theatre in London on January 27, 1795 under the title La scuola dei maritati, and its plot examines the marriage of an older man to a young second wife who makes life miserable for everybody else due to her excessive vanity and capriciousness.
The libretto was provided by Lorenzo da Ponte, whose career had been launched by his Viennese collaborations with Martín y Soler and Salieri a decade earlier. There are illuminating musical and dramatic parallels between La capricciosa corretta and, most notably, Così fan tutte and Le nozze di Figaro. ‘Se figli vi siamo’ is a gorgeous lyrical quintet, graced with sensitive woodwind colour, that would not be out of place in Così. ‘Qui vive, e respira’ is a tender tenor aria in which Lelio softly enthuses about the woman he loves: it is a striking counterpart of Ferrando’s ‘Un’ aura amorosa’. Valerio’s mock-martial aria ‘Un fucil, un spadon’ is an intriguing close descendant of Figaro’s ‘Non più andrai’, with a lightly scored military accompaniment illustrating a text about taking up a post in the army.
Where Mozart created moments of introspective beauty and emotional characterisation in arias, here individual personalities are not portrayed to quite such memorable effect, despite Christophe Rousset’s cast of relative unknowns delivering a competent and committed team performance. But there is plenty of distinctive Martín y Soler evident to overcome the inevitable comparisons with Mozart.
Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques savour the music with their customary zest and astute musical intelligence. Accompanied recitatives such as Lelio’s ‘Isabella mio ben, anima mia’ are attractive and dynamically theatrical, and Ciprigna’s ‘La donna ha bello il core’ boasts a spectacular introduction featuring trumpets and timpani counterpointed with charismatic flourishes from a solo cello. Although La capricciosa corretta was created four years after Mozart’s death, this delightful recording invites the riddle of which composer was imitating whom. Mozart’s affectionate quotation from ‘Una cosa rara’ in the Don Giovanni dinner music suggests he admired Martín y Soler, whose contemporaries praised his music as ‘sweet’ and ‘graceful’. Such descriptions remain apt for a charming and brilliantly executed performance that is essential for anybody curious about late-18th-century opera beyond Mozart.