Gli Equivoci — An Opera Buffa in two acts
As in life, so in art: family connections are often the spur to action. Separated identical twins and the comedy of their mistaken identity are the theme of Stephen Storace’s opera Gli equivoci. And it was Stephen’s connection with Vienna’s Burgtheater through his sister the soprano Nancy Storace, prima buffa and favourite of the music-loving Emperor Joseph II, that most likely prompted its commission in 1786 for performance by the same company and in the same year as Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.
And with the same librettist. Lorenzo da Ponte’s skilful adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors into a two-act drama, with impressive ensembles and complex, extensive finales, is unique in the records of operatic music by British composers. In England, Gli equivoci’s status has always been recognised, along with the tragedy of unfulfilled promise of its composer, who died in 1796, aged thirty-three. But it was only in 1974 that it was first heard in a British production, at the Camden Festival, shortly followed by others at Wexford, Batignano and Bampton. Finally, its publication in the renowned Musica Britannica series in 2008, with an English performing translation by Brian Trowell, confirmed its status as the most ambitious, sophisticated and mainstream ‘European’ opera of any British composer before Britten.
Now, the Free Opera Company Zurich’s lively staging in October 2017, with young singers taking the lead in music that has many opportunities for budding soloists, has demonstrated the vitality of this remarkable score. The first production since 1797 for a German-speaking audience, it left no doubt that, with its variety of roles, colourful orchestration and sparkling libretto, Storace’s masterpiece has stood the test of time. To the delight of all lovers of eighteenth-century opera, it will now assuredly assume its rightful place in the international repertoire of opera buffa, whether in conservatoires and university operatic societies, no less than on the grand operatic stages of Europe, America and the Far East.