SALIERI The Chimney Sweep
Premiered at Joseph II’s new German National Theatre in April 1781, Salieri’s The Chimney Sweep (Der Rauchfangkehrer) is an agreeably frothy compound of slapstick and soft-edged satire. True to the Singspiel genre, the servants – chimney sweep Volpino and his lover, Lisel the cook – run rings round their improbably gullible social superiors. Disguised as an Italian nobleman-cum-singing teacher, Volpino (‘little wolf’) makes both Mrs Hawk and her stepdaughter fall hopelessly in love with him, then succeeds in ‘selling’ the ladies back to their lovers, Bear and Wolf, to enable him to marry Lisel. The silly plot prompts apt, tuneful, if not always distinctive music: slight buffo ditties for Volpino and Lisel, a comic catalogue aria for Bear, parodies of the heroic seria style for the ladies and brief, skilfully wrought ensembles. To 21st-century ears there are inevitable superficial resemblances to Mozart, occasionally to Gluck, though it comes as no surprise that the triumph of Die Entführung a year later effectively swept The Chimney Sweep from the Viennese stage.
Pinchgut Opera’s English-language production evidently went down well with Sydney audiences, though it’s a pity that virtually all spoken dialogue has been excised in this recording, at the expense of dramatic continuity. While there are no star voices on show, the mainly youthful singers form a lively ensemble. As the servant pair, Alexandra Oomens and Stuart Haycock make up in quick-wittedness and comic resource what they lack in vocal finish. Despite moments of shrillness, Amelia Farrugia and, especially, Janet Todd negotiate their high-wire bravura arias with panache, while bass-baritone David Woloszko nicely catches the pompous bluster of Bear, a role written for Mozart’s first Osmin, Ludwig Fischer. Erin Helyard gets spirited playing from the period band, with nicely turned flute and oboe solos in Volpino’s ‘birdsong’ aria. If a touch more vocal glamour would have ‘sold’ Salieri’s pleasant, slender music even more persuasively, these discs offer 90 minutes of undemanding enjoyment to anyone who likes to explore the 18th-century operatic hinterland.