NINA, O SIA LA PAZZA PER AMORE
Commedia per musica in 1 act
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.
- NINA, Lindoro’s lover (soprano)
- LINDORO (tenor)
- CONTE, Nina’s father (bass)
- SUSANNA, Nina’s guardian (soprano)
- GIORGIO, the Count’s valet (bass)
Synopsis, based on Piotr Kaminski, Mille et un opéras, Fayard, Paris, 2003
Nina, the Count’s daughter, has gone mad. She’s asleep for the moment, but what will happen when she wakes up? Nina and Lindoro were going to marry, with her father’s approval. Unfortunately, on the day of the marriage, a richer and more powerful rival turned up, and the Count broke his word. Lindoro died in a duel with the rival, and Nina went mad. Having left her father’s home, she wanders around the village doing good deeds for the people, who all adore her. Tortured by remorse, the Count arrives in the village, lamenting his sad fate. Nina appears, and the Count, Susanna, and Giorgio withdraw discreetly. It’s the hour when she goes to the crossroads to wait for her lover.
The villagers come to comfort her, and sing her favourite song. Shaken, the Count approaches, but his daughter doesn’t recognise him. At sunset, a young Shepherd brings back his flock. His sweet voice reminds Nina of Lindoro’s who, once more, hasn’t come. Having left, like every day, flowers at the place where she waits, Nina returns to the village.
Joy follows sorrow. Giorgio brings the Count good news: Lindoro isn’t dead, and he’s at the castle gates hoping to see his darling. The Count’s servants bring him before their master. At first afraid, he is reassured by the tears of joy with which the Count greets him. Lindoro tells him that, seriously wounded, he was cared for by a friend, but, believing Nina married to his enemy, he delayed making his appearance. The news of Nina’s sad state knocks him sideways.
Nina is brought to him. Seeing him stand before her, she cannot believe her good luck. Lindoro reminds her of the happy days they spent together.
Learning that it really is Lindoro who stands before her, and that nothing stands in the way of their happiness, Nina recovers her wits.
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.
Despite some fine things (see above), 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.
Hans 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.
Richard 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.