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Stranger Things takes author down rabbit hole – to Paisiello

Almost Mozart not good enough

Paisiello. The young Mozart and his father met Paisiello in 1771.
Paisiello. The young Mozart and his father met Paisiello in 1771.

I’ve been watching the fourth and final season of Stranger Things with my kids. This Netflix Original show had a fantastic first season, a solid second season, and a terrible third season. The third season was so terrible that I didn’t finish it. It appears the creators of the show recognized their mistakes in the third season and have atoned for them in the fourth with a well-constructed story.

Part of that story includes an episode entitled “The Nina Project”. The episode refers to an opera entitled Nina which was written by Giovanni Paisiello and premiered in 1790. I was impressed that this opera was incorporated into Stranger Things because I have never heard of Paisiello or his opera Nina. How could anyone from the vapid television industry know more than me about opera?

Video:

Nina

Jonas Kaufmann - Cécilia Bartoli

Jonas Kaufmann - Cécilia Bartoli

Maybe this Nina was a hidden gem that I’ve simply overlooked. It is not.

I found a full-length production of Nina on YouTube and gave it a listen/watch. The opera opens with a nice and polite chorus but the rest of the first act has no ensembles at all. It is a string of characters reflecting on what happened before the opera started.

Nina was in love with a young man named Lindoro. She was to be married to Lindoro with the blessing of her father, The Count. However, a more desirable suitor shows up, and Nina’s father removes his blessing. Lindoro challenges the new suitor to a duel and is killed. This destroys Nina and she breaks with reality. Now she wanders the town doing good deeds for the peasants. Every day she goes to the place where she was to meet Lindoro and leaves flowers.

Video:

Giovanni Paisiello - Nina (1789)

Cavatina for Nina - "Il mio ben" (Teresa Berganza)

Cavatina for Nina - "Il mio ben" (Teresa Berganza)

Keep in mind, that we don’t see the new suitor. We don’t see the duel. We don’t see Nina’s grief. We are told about it. It makes no sense. It would be like Leporolo telling the audience about Don Giovanni dueling and killing the old Commandante at the start of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Of course, Mozart doesn’t do this, he puts the duel to the death on the stage.

Speaking of Mozart, the music in Nina sounds like Mozart. Granted all music of the Classical Period sounds like Mozart or Haydn. I’m not saying Paisiello was influenced by or tried to emulate Mozart. In fact, Mozart could have been influenced by Paisiello. The young Mozart and his father met Paisiello in 1771 during one of their trips to Italy. Paisiello was already an established opera composer at that point.

The problem with Mozart is that he did the classical style of his time better than anyone else. Why would we listen to or watch Nina when we have Mozart’s operas which are in the same style and superior in both story and song?

Nina’s cavatina, “Il mio ben” is sometimes performed as a concert piece for soprano but the rest of Nina is doomed to an everlasting obscurity.

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Paisiello. The young Mozart and his father met Paisiello in 1771.
Paisiello. The young Mozart and his father met Paisiello in 1771.

I’ve been watching the fourth and final season of Stranger Things with my kids. This Netflix Original show had a fantastic first season, a solid second season, and a terrible third season. The third season was so terrible that I didn’t finish it. It appears the creators of the show recognized their mistakes in the third season and have atoned for them in the fourth with a well-constructed story.

Part of that story includes an episode entitled “The Nina Project”. The episode refers to an opera entitled Nina which was written by Giovanni Paisiello and premiered in 1790. I was impressed that this opera was incorporated into Stranger Things because I have never heard of Paisiello or his opera Nina. How could anyone from the vapid television industry know more than me about opera?

Video:

Nina

Jonas Kaufmann - Cécilia Bartoli

Jonas Kaufmann - Cécilia Bartoli

Maybe this Nina was a hidden gem that I’ve simply overlooked. It is not.

I found a full-length production of Nina on YouTube and gave it a listen/watch. The opera opens with a nice and polite chorus but the rest of the first act has no ensembles at all. It is a string of characters reflecting on what happened before the opera started.

Nina was in love with a young man named Lindoro. She was to be married to Lindoro with the blessing of her father, The Count. However, a more desirable suitor shows up, and Nina’s father removes his blessing. Lindoro challenges the new suitor to a duel and is killed. This destroys Nina and she breaks with reality. Now she wanders the town doing good deeds for the peasants. Every day she goes to the place where she was to meet Lindoro and leaves flowers.

Video:

Giovanni Paisiello - Nina (1789)

Cavatina for Nina - "Il mio ben" (Teresa Berganza)

Cavatina for Nina - "Il mio ben" (Teresa Berganza)

Keep in mind, that we don’t see the new suitor. We don’t see the duel. We don’t see Nina’s grief. We are told about it. It makes no sense. It would be like Leporolo telling the audience about Don Giovanni dueling and killing the old Commandante at the start of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Of course, Mozart doesn’t do this, he puts the duel to the death on the stage.

Speaking of Mozart, the music in Nina sounds like Mozart. Granted all music of the Classical Period sounds like Mozart or Haydn. I’m not saying Paisiello was influenced by or tried to emulate Mozart. In fact, Mozart could have been influenced by Paisiello. The young Mozart and his father met Paisiello in 1771 during one of their trips to Italy. Paisiello was already an established opera composer at that point.

The problem with Mozart is that he did the classical style of his time better than anyone else. Why would we listen to or watch Nina when we have Mozart’s operas which are in the same style and superior in both story and song?

Nina’s cavatina, “Il mio ben” is sometimes performed as a concert piece for soprano but the rest of Nina is doomed to an everlasting obscurity.

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