12. Nina – Giovanni Paisiello


Commedia per musica in 1 act

By Giovanni Paisiello

Libretto: Giuseppe Carpani and Giovanni Battista Lorenzi, after Benoît-Joseph Marsollier de Vivetières’ Nina ou La folle par amour

First performed: Belvedere di San Leucio, Caserta, 25 June 1789

Revised: Teatro dei Fiorentini, Naples, in 2 acts, autumn 1790

Reception: Enthusiastic, and popular in Italy until 1845.

For more information about the opera, see the dossier.


2 stars

Nina is a hard girl to like.  She’s mad, and gloomily so; like most gloomy things, she bores.  She believes that her lover is dead, killed in a duel by the man her father wanted her to marry.  And so she mopes, pines, and laughs hysterically, until reunited with her lover.

These days, her composer, Giovanni Paisiello, is best known for composing the original Barbiere di Siviglia.  He was a favorite of the crowned heads of Europe; Napoleon considered him “the greatest composer there is” – but, on the strength of Nina, it’s easy to see why Rossini supplanted Paisiello.

The opera is static.  Most of Act I is an extended mad scene, lasting more than half an hour.  One has to admire it, if only as a display of stamina, but it doesn’t make for entertaining drama.  There’s also a shepherd’s aria, accompanied by bagpipes – guaranteed to put your teeth on edge.

There are some fine things in the score:

Nina’s aria “Il mio ben quando verrà”;

the quartet “Comè!  Ohimè !  Partir degg’io”;

Lindoro’s cavatina and aria “Questo è dunque il loco usato…  Rendila al fido amante”;

and the duet “Oh momento fortunato!”.

The rest of the score sounds like Mozart, but not as good; and the finest thing in the filmed production (Zurich 2002) is by Mozart: the concert aria “Ah, lo previdi”.  As an interpolation, it smacks of self-indulgence.

That filmed production does the opera no favours.  The opera should be a pastoral semiseria, a sentimental piece with a happy ending.  The director, Cesare Lievi, reads: “Delightful garden, bordering a park on one side, and on the other a main road, which one reaches through a majestic gate” – and thinks: “Basement of an asylum, with peeling walls, and one chair.”  O God, another opera about mad people, set in a lunatic asylum!

This is a vehicle for Cecilia Bartoli.  Bartoli was a sympathetic Angelina in Rossini’s Cenerentola; she has an excellent voice, but…!  Here she channels Helena Bonham-Carter: all frizzy hair and wild eyes.  She rolls around on the floor in spasms, kicking her heels, and cramming flowers into her mouth, like a cross between Nebuchadnezzar and a two-year-old.  Frankly, it’s embarrassing.

The young Jonas Kaufmann, playing her presumed dead lover, shows why he is one of the great tenors of the generation.  Blessed with a fine voice and natural stage presence, he lights up every scene he’s in.


Suggested recordings:

Nina - Hirsch.jpgHans Ludwig Hirsch’s 1998 Arts Music recording, starring Jeanne-Marie Bima, William Matteuzzi, Alfonso Antoniozzi, Gloria Banditelli, and Natale De Carolis, with the Hungarian Chamber Chorus Concentus Hungaricus.

Nina - Bonynge.jpgRichard Bonynge’s 2003 Nuovo Era recording, starring Marina Bolgan, Don Bernardini, Francesco Musinu, Fiorella Pediconi, and Giorgio Surian, with the Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Massimo “Bellini” di Catania.

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