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Dramatic dualities: Metastasio and the tradition of the opera pair.

Like other works of literature, dramas and operas sometimes form pairs, groups or sets. The trilogies of ancient Greek drama--performed with a concluding satyr-play--were the first examples of this tradition. In the 17th and 18th centuries the phenomenon was frequent in the European repertories, in opera as well as in spoken drama. Usually two or more `matching' works were created and performed together in the same season, or spread over a short span of years. Also sequels or `spin-offs' might be produced in later seasons to match an earlier single work that had met with success. There were, furthermore, artificial pairs (the coupling of two originally independent works), split dramas (a single work performed over two or even three occasions), series and mini-series, rings and cycles. Of all these varieties, paired (or `twinned') dramas are perhaps the most striking.

What is the use of investigating such formal aspects of the repertories? Dramatic pairs are brought about by certain practical circumstances of theatrical life, but they may also reflect and thus reveal the cultural or political biases of their users. They function almost like amplifiers of underlying cultural messages by duplicating, contrasting, paralleling or balancing them. Often the meaning of an isolated drama that is opaque to us may become apparent when it is reflected in a sibling or twin of the same dramatic `family'. And sometimes there was a cumulative effect of reciprocal interpretation when a pair was repeated or matched by a later one of similar content or form: pairs could breed further pairs.

Hamburg, Vienna and Venice

An example of a special kind is Hamburg's `double opera' Der gluckliche Grosz-Vezier Cara Mustapha/ Der ungluckliche Cara Mustapha (`The happy grand vizier Cara Mustapha'/`The unhappy Cara Mustapha'). This was performed in 1686 for the reopening of the Hamburg opera-house which had been derelict for a while.(1) It narrated the `Rise and Fall' of the Turkish vizier who had besieged Vienna in 1683, but had been beaten off by combined Christian armies. (We may distinguish this `double opera' from an ordinary `opera pair' by the fact that its plot is actually continuous throughout the two performances.) Besides the bipartite form, the opera indulges in straightforward ethnic dualism (East/ West) with its contemporary plot about the rescue of the Empire from the Ottomans.

In fact the Cara Mustapha pair was a sequel to another `double opera', given in Hamburg in 1678 with the equally explicit title Der gluckseelig-steigende Sejanus/Der unglucklig-fallende Sejanus (`The happily rising Sejanus'/`The unhappily falling Sejanus'). This, in turn, had been a revival, with new music, of La prosperita di Elio Sejano/La caduta di Elio Sejano by Niccolo Minato and Antonio Sartorio, given in Venice in the carnival of 1667.(2) In the Sejanus opera a tyrannical emperor is ousted by Roman aristocrats. The political message of the plot is a `republican' criticism of the depravity of the empire--a Venetian civic rhetoric that, surprisingly or not, seems to have appealed to foreign monarchs who visited the carnival. Hamburg, where the opera was staged in 1678, regarded itself as a republic like Venice. Since, however, Hamburg's constitutional liberty was guaranteed by the Holy Roman Empire itself (Reichsfreiheit), its ruling elite officially supported the idea of imperial power. Cara Mustapha and Aelius Sejanus were presented in Hamburg as two variants of the same sort of tyranny, one threatening the empire from without, the other from within. It is remarkable that the first Sejanus opera was revived in many other cities, whereas the second, narrating his fall, was apparently revived only in Hamburg.(3)

`Double' dramas such as these were, of course, based on a dualistic ideology: good and evil were two dramaturgical pillars that could be erected on either side of the Hellespont, the straits of Gibraltar, or of religious and class barriers. But when the fortunes of an evil or alien protagonist were distributed over two plays, the sympathies of the audience were likely to be disappointed at the end of the first: even if the opera pair ended in a lieto fine, the first night's performance had to conclude with the apparent or preliminary triumph of evil.(4) It is this dramaturgical inconvenience, rather than any philosophical restraint, that seems to be the reason why double operas on political themes such as `Rise and Fall' were uncommon. Other sorts of dualities, however, such as woman and man, love and war, nature and court, shepherd and prince, man and god, are highly typical of the theatre of that period. They were employed to articulate world views of an essentially homogenous kind, appealing to the sense of balance that the theatre as instrumentum regni was meant to convey.

That dualities and symmetries appear everywhere in Baroque drama and opera, in the detailed structures of plays as well as in the outlines of the repertory, also demonstrates how a popular philosophy was translated into ceremonial and dramaturgical practice. Bounded by the calendars of Church and State, oscillating between feast and labour, the repertorial practice in itself provided all sorts of opportunities for duplication, pairing or twinning. The courtly calendar offered many dynastic festivities into which opera performances could be fitted. The Habsburg dynasty, opera-mad like few others, regularly celebrated the birthdays of emperor and empress, and often also their name-days, with operas or other musical plays. It is no surprise that the Habsburgs made the first significant bid for opera pairs on the basis of gender.

On 17 January 1688 the festa musicale Il marito ama piu (`The husband loves more') was given before the court at Bratislava to mark the birthday of the empress, Eleonore Magdalena Theresia, by command of the emperor, Leopold I, who also composed some of the music. Reciprocating the birthday present, Eleonore ordered the festa musicale La moglie ama meglio (`The wife loves better') to be performed on 10 June in Vienna for Leopold's birthday. Members of the imperial family appeared as dancers in both events; the professionals involved were the same in both works (court librettist Minato, court Kapellmeister Draghi, stage architect Burnacini, and so on).(5) The plots were only superficially matched. Based respectively on episodes from the classical historians Valerius Maximus and Xenophon, the first shows a Roman hero, Tiberius Gracchus, who saves his wife, the second the devotion of Spartan princess Cleonima, who follows her husband into exile. What seems to have mattered in addition to the explicit gender competition, was the duality Rome/Sparta and the fact that both episodes are historical allegories, not mythological ones.

The protagonist of either drama is allegorically compared not with the dedicatee but with the instigating patron of the production, who seems to be saying to his/her partner: `This is what I would do for you out of love.' In single allegorical operas of this kind the hero is always the dedicatee himself. But here, where the dedicatee was not the protagonist of his/her own birthday opera, a matching birthday opera was essential to make the game seem fair.

This case also exemplifies the importance of ancient literary sources for paired operas. Classical Latin and Greek literature, itself a great duality, had provided parallel or matching stories that could now be revived in the theatre. Especially important for the Baroque theatre--and little studied--was the resource of classical biographic literature. The story of Cleonima in La moglie ama meglio, for example, is also related by Plutarch (who calls her Chelonide) in his biography of Agis, King of Sparta--a part of his famous Parallel lives, arguably the most influential model of Western biographic writing. The principle of the opera pair is in nuce present in Plutarch's work. Many of his literary double-portraits compare a Greek hero with a Roman counterpart, guided by criteria such as `virtue', `fortune', `military success', `wealth', or `self-denial'. Valerius Maximus also reported on Chelonide, and his version had already been used as the basis for the Viennese opera Chilonida, performed on 20 February 1677 in honour of an archduchess (although previously intended for the dowager empress).(6) When considering the variant versions it turns out that the story is in itself `dualistic': the virtuous Chelonide is equally faithful to her husband and her father, although they are at war with each other.(7)

There appears to be no ancient model for comparative biographies of men and women. Plutarch, whom the moderns read mostly in Jacques Amyot's French translation (1567), has no female biographies at all, although his narrations about women connected to male heroes are highly relevant(8) and have become sources for theatrical portraits of women in several languages. Female biography began in earnest with Giovanni Boccaccio's De claris mulieribus (1360-62) and its sequel, Christine de Pisan's Le livre de la cite des dames (1405). In the following three centuries French writers were prolific in the field of female hagiography and biography; it may suffice to mention the names of Martin le Franc, Antoine Dufour, Philippe Brantome and Madeleine de Scudery, all of whom discussed heroines and episodes which were then taken up by the dramatists.

Before exploring further types of operatic pairing, let us return for a moment to the sphere of theatrical practice. The Habsburg opera pair of 1688 with its explicit gender opposition was a rarity for that period. Other opera pairs surely existed but are more difficult to identify--for example, when the titles are not explicitly matching. Sometimes allegorical plots need to be unravelled by using a `key' or some other contemporary interpretation to reveal correspondences; thus the Viennese carnival operas La lanterna di Diogene (1674) and Il silentio di Harpocrate (1677) appear related as coded satires on court intrigues.(9) The Viennese opera repertory of the 17th and early 18th centuries as a whole(10) is attached to many different types of occasions--carnival, birthdays, name-days, weddings and so on--which were celebrated with individualized forms or genres, aiming at annual patterns. For example, a three-act dramma per musica was annually provided for the emperor's birthday or for carnival, a one-act festa musicale for the empress's name-day, a trattenimento musicale for the birthday of an archduchess, and so forth.

This differentiation of status hindered a pairing of operatic events within the same year, particularly a pairing of drammi per musica. In addition, it was a typical Habsburg problem--still significant for Metastasio--that festivities were often prevented by wars and family mourning. The tendency to ritualize the annual performances, however, was unabated. From the later years of Leopold I (d 1705) onward, fixed teams of artists were employed for different types of operatic work. Under Joseph I (1705-11), for example, the poet Silvio Stampiglia and the composer Giovanni Bononcini wrote most drammi per musica; under his successor Charles VI (1711-40), the poets Pietro Pariati and then Apostolo Zeno collaborated with the musicians Fux, Caldara and Conti, though Zeno was spared the lighter or lesser genres, Fux had no hand in comedies, and Conti rarely set heroic drammi per musica.

In the Italian operatic world, practical opportunities to offer paired or `parallel' operas typically arose in smaller courts and in establishments where only two opera performances per year were the norm. The court theatres in Northern Italy and the smaller opera houses of Venice, for example, hired a full company for at most two operas per year, usually both in carnival: if this could be achieved, then it was likely that the operas were planned together as a pair. Many striking examples occur in the rich opera repertory of Venice.(11) The criteria for pairing can be centred on the plot, as, for example, in two drammi written by Apostolo Zeno and Pietro Pariati and set by Francesco Gasparini for the Teatro San Cassiano--Antioco (autumn 1705) and Ambleto (carnival 1706). Both librettos present the old tyrant or king as a rival in love of the young hero. In Antioco the magnanimous king (Seleuco) is the hero's own father;(12) in Ambleto the tyrant (Fengone) is the hero's stepfather.(13) In many other cases the criteria may be found in the common literary source for the two works (Ariosto pairs, Tasso pairs), in specialties of genre (tragedy, comedy, pastoral, farsa) which also arise from the contracting of visiting opera troupes specializing in such genres, or, after c. 1725, in famous authorship (pairs of operas by Johann Adolf Hasse, pairs of librettos by Metastasio, and so on).

Rome and London

The practice of the opera pair is most clearly documented in the second and third decades of the century in Rome, from where it also interacted with Naples and other centres. (It should be noted that Pietro Metastasio's youth and early career were spent in Rome and Naples during this period.) From 1710/11 onwards, Roman theatres fairly regularly produced two operas each year, both in carnival. When there was a competition between the two to four theatres, all sorts of dualistic schemes were tried.(14)

Princess Maria Casimira, ex-queen of Poland, had operas produced in her private palace in 1710-14; all were written by her court poet Carlo Sigismondo Capeci and set to music by her maestro di cappella, Domenico Scarlatti. In 1713 they produced Ifigenia in Aulide and Ifigenia in Tauri--an example of the various mythological `sets' cultivated by the Greeks which narrate different episodes or adventures involving the same hero at different points in his/ her career. (Oedipus, Orestes, Hercules, Achilles, Theseus and Ariadne are other obvious examples of this practice.) In 1711 Maria Casimira's operas were Tolomeo et Alessandro, ovvero la corona disprezzata (`Ptolemy and Alexander, or the rejected crown') and Orlando, ovvera la gelosa pazzia, (`Orlando, or the jealous madness'): both were by Capeci and Domenico Scarlatti, and staged by Filippo Juvarra. This operatic pair on the theme of magnanimity, which also contrasts a more courtly setting with a more pastoral one, seems to have been considered for a wholesale transfer to London in 1728, when Nicola Haym and Handel produced Tolomeo on Capeci's libretto.(15)

In 1713 Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni took over the patronage of the public opera house (the Teatro Capranica) and offered a prize for the better of two dramas to be newly written by the two Roman literary academies for the carnival operas at the Capranica. The contest produced Lucio Papirio, which Antonio Salvi of Florence wrote for the Accademia dei Quirini, and Tiro e Berenice, Carlo Sigismondo Capecis's libretto for the Accademia dell'Arcadia. The former portrays a Roman republican hero who condemns his own son to death for military disobedience. The latter (based on Corneille and Racine) is the well-known story of Emperor Titus giving up Queen Berenice, despite their mutual love, to obey Roman laws. We do not know which libretto won the prize. The plots are carefully contrasted in terms of setting and historic period (republican/imperial) as well as in the balance of the main roles. The composers, Francesco Gasparini and Antonio Caldara, had been appointed beforehand and had perhaps been chosen by the patron, Ottoboni.

Patronage now came to the fore quite regularly in the commissioning of paired operas. In both carnival seasons of 1719 and 1720 the Teatro Capranica staged opera pairs dedicated to the patrons of the theatre at that time, Don Carlo Albani (a nephew of the pope) and his wife Donna Teresa Borromei Albani.

The first opera in 1719, Astinome, presented a Greek heroine at the time of the Trojan war; the dedicatee, Donna Teresa, persuaded a member of the Accademia del Quirini to write it. The second opera, Attilio Regolo, presented a Roman hero in order to flatter Carlo Albani; the libretto, probably by Capeci, was a revision of a much older drama. The settings were by two great old men and rivals in opera composition, Carlo Francesco Pollarolo of Venice and Alessandro Scarlatti of Naples. Setting aside all the conscious and playful dualities of plot, patronage, literary and musical rivalries, one wonders why and how these particular stories had been chosen and adapted to fit a gender contest of heroism, or why and how the Albani couple was involved in bringing it about.

In the 1720 season the pattern of patronage was the same, and the two operas Turno Aricino and Tiro Sempronio Gracco were slightly contrasted to show two different aspects of Roman republican virtue, celebrating the Albani clan and its ancient lineage. Both operas were revivals of older works by the librettist Silvio Stampiglia and the composer Alessandro Scarlatti.

In 1721 the Teatro Capranica staged its most successful pair. The operas Crispo and Griselda were perfectly balanced in gender and history. In each plot an innocent person is victimized: the man is falsely accused of adulterous love, the woman unfairly taunted with lowly birth.(16) The Roman imperial setting of Crispo contrasted with the medieval pastoral of the rejected queen who returns to her life as a shepherdess. The sentimentality of the whole design attracted the interest of the Royal Academy of Music in London: the Crispo/Griselda pair was transferred wholesale to the Haymarket Theatre in the autumn season of 1722, though Griselda was rewritten in both poetry and music by Rolli and Bononcini, so that both librettos and scores were by the same authors. In a scene of his comedy The conscious lovers,(17) which was performed after 18 nights of Crispo and 16 of Griselda, Richard Steele confirms that the two operas were understood as a gender competition:

BEVIL JUNIOR.... Pray, how did you like the opera last night?

INDIANA. First give me leave to thank you for my tickets.

BE. Oh, your servant, madam. But pray tell me, you now who are never partial to the fashion I fancy must be the properest judge of a mighty dispute among the ladies, that is, whether Crispo or Griselda is the more agreeable entertainment.

IN. With submission now, I cannot be a proper judge of this question.

BE. How so, madam?

IN. Because I find I have a partiality for one of them.

BE. Pray, which is that?

IN. I do not know--there's something in that rural cottage of Griselda, her forlorn condition, her poverty, her solitude, her resignation, her innocent slumbers, and that lulling `Dolce sogno' that's sung over her; it had an effect upon me that--in short, I never was so well deceived at any of them.

BE. Oh! Now then, I can account for the dispute: Griselda, it seems, is the distress of an injured innocent woman; Crispo, that only of a man in the same condition. Therefore, the men are mostly concerned for Crispo, and, by natural indulgence, both sexes for Griselda.

The London operatic sphere continued to be a breeding-ground for pairs and contests, as is often emphasized by the contests of singers, actors, rival composers and companies. Less well known is a competitive opera pair that appeared early in 1726. The pasticcio-opera Elisa, written by Nicola Haym to accommodate arias by Porpora, seems to have matched Rolli's and Handel's Scipione if not in actual plot then in historical parallelism, since the male hero of Elisa is another member of the Scipio clan, and the historical episode (conquests in Africa rather than Spain) vaguely analogous.

In 1733/4 there were two rival opera companies in London; they mounted two explicitly competing operas--Pariati and Handel's Arianna in Creta and Rolli and Porpora's Arianna in Nasso. Whatever the managerial or allegorical interpretation of this well-known case, the dualism did concern a mythological heroine who had given scope for these two different plots ever since antiquity; her two contrasted stories had been most influentially told by Plutarch in his Life of Theseus, and any political or gender-based interpretations (for example, a pro-and anti-Athenian plot, a heroic and a submissive Ariadne) might well have to be related to the literary precedents and other contrasting dramatizations of the famous myth.(18)


The professional career of Pietro Metastasio began in Naples, but his cultural and literary standards depended more on the Roman tradition owing to the influence of his teacher, the academician Gian Vincenzo Gravina (d 1718), and then of his prima donna and friend, Marianna Benti Bulgarelli, `detta la Romanina'. Metastasio's general poetic style and outlook favoured symmetries and balances of many kinds, from rhetorical duplications to philosophical maxims; as a dramatist he habitually operated with dualities as a necessary precondition for harmony. These dualities are specifically set up to engender the events and are different from drama to drama: there are dialectics of duty and allegiance, of ethos, pathos, social status, race and--notably--age and gender. Metastasio progressively internalized the acting-out of the various conflicts, or, indeed, tended to juxtapose an internalized, mental conflict with an externalized, physical one--La clemenza di Tiro is a good example.

Metastasio's first six drammi per musica were commissioned in Naples, Venice and Rome, all apparently singly. Siface was performed as the birthday opera for Archduchess Maria Theresa (the poet's later employer) on 13 May 1723 at the Teatro San Bartolomeo of Naples; Didone abbandonata was the main carnival opera of 1724 in the same theatre; Siroe re di Persia originated as the first carnival opera of 1726 at the Teatro San Giovanni Grisostomo, Venice; Catone in Utica was the second carnival opera of 1728 at the Teatro delle Dame, Rome; Ezio and Semiramide riconosciuta were respectively the first and second carnival operas of 1729 in the same theatre. The two last-named works (set by Auletta and Vinci) are surely not a pair. It is tempting, however, to view Catone in Utica and Ezio as some sort of pair or sequel, since their subjects, plot lines and settings are quite analogous.(19) The theme of Roman virtue is paramount; its representatives feel threatened in Catone, by Julius Caesar's dictatorial ambition, in Ezio, by the Emperor Valentiniano's decadent despotism. In both the heroine stands between two fighting men--her father and her lover--and suffers from divided loyalties. The dramas diverge, however, in so far as good and evil are differently balanced. Whether they were or were not intended as a pair, they convey symmetrical views of the late republican and late imperial periods and their political ideologies.

Following on from the 1729 carnival season with two librettos by Metastasio, the Teatro delle Dame produced two Metastasian works in 1730 as well--Alessandro nell'Indie and Artaserse. These were to be set by the musical rivals Leonardo Vinci and Nicola Porpora; but according to Charles Burney's report, Vinci undercut Porpora's fee, and so obtained the commission for both. Porpora had to be content with composing two operas for the less popular Teatro Capranica.(20) A perhaps acknowledged precedent for the Metastasio-Vinci pair was the 1720 Stampiglia--Scarlatti pair for the Teatro Capranica, mentioned above. The patrons on that occasion had been an aristocratic couple, the Albanis; in 1730, too, the two librettos were dedicated to a royal couple--Alessandro to James Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, and Artaserse to his wife Clementina. (Both resided in Rome and had previously sponsored opera at the Teatro delle Dame.) Remarkably, the dramas do not appear to match in any convincing sense. For example, the themes of victimized innocence, family relationships and dynastic succession are insignificant in Alessandro, essential in Artaserse. The reverse is the case with magnanimity of a ruler, jealousy between lovers and military bravery. What the dramas have in common--assassination attempts and betrayals--is found in all early Metastasian dramas that invariably rely on a villain threatening the life of a ruler.

When Metastasio joined the Habsburg court in 1730 he became subject to the ceremonial conventions which at that time required regular carnival, birthday and name-day performances; but he was never asked to write more than two librettos per year, and then for occasions of different status. In the first year this happened, 1733, he wrote Olimpiade for the birthday of the empress, Elisabeth Christine (28 August), and Demofoonte for the name-day of the emperor, Charles VI (4 November). These occasions were held to be of different status, the August opera being conventionally a pastoral, performed in the summer residence (the Favorita), and the November opera a heroic drama for the great court theatre. I suggest that these two famous librettos are a pair, not only because of their tender and sentimental overtones which separate them from all the other early librettos, but because of a common main action. It is the conflict between fathers and children, articulated by the fathers' erroneous designs for the marriages of their children, causing mismatched couples, conflicts of loyalty, and suffering in the children and their spouses. The conflicts are exacerbated by misdemeanours (deceit and/or infidelity), of one of the young men in each case; but there are no villains. The solutions come about through agnitions--dramatic moments revealing the true identity of characters--which disclose correct family relationships, confirm the partner choices of the children and prevent incestuous marriages. Each drama contains symbolic pointers such as oracles, male as well as female friendships and pagan rituals in which the unknowing fathers are in danger of sacrificing their own son or daughter. Greater dangers--i.e, of death and incest--are found in Demofoonte, where, indeed, the agnition is double (the suspicion of incest arises between the first and the second agnition). The poet had carefully absorbed traditions of genre, using simple intrigue and agnition in the (semi-) pastoral, double in the heroic drama. The second belongs to what he himself called the genere implesso (see below). Each work also has a significant motif of its own, taken from the dramatic tradition: Olimpiade has the motif of the Olympic games which provide the pastoral setting and a general presumption of youthful innocence; Demofoonte has the motif of a secret marriage and a baby, overshadowed for some time by the frightening suspicion of incest.(21)

Why did Metastasio design an opera pair at this particular moment of his career? This was the first year in which he was asked to write librettos for the feast-days of both the empress and the emperor; court ritual accorded different generic status to the two operas, but he attempted to equate the two as much as possible. This is also the reason why he gave the pastoral opera the normative three-act form and the title dramma per musica (rather than, for example, dramma pastorale). Perhaps this was intended as a special homage to the empress--or it was sheer ambition and formal virtuosity.

In both 1736 and 1740 Metastasio furnished librettos for the birthday of the empress and the name-day of the emperor. I believe that the poet grouped these four dramas in two pairs (Ciro riconosciuto/Zenobia and Temistocle/Attilio Regolo), not by year but by occasion. Ciro riconosciuto was the (semi-) pastoral opera for performance in the Favorita on 28 August 1736. A nature setting with outdoor decorations suited the occasion, but was attached to a heroic and dynastic plot (derived from Valerius Maximus), which had previously been treated by several dramatists (Pariati, Zeno, Lagrange-Chancel). The tyrant Astiage fears being dethroned by a new-born son of his daughter; he orders the killing of the infant and the permanent separation of his daughter from her husband. But the boy is spared and grows up in the wilderness; when his identity is about to be revealed by a faithful servant, he comes into conflict with his mother, who suspects him as the murderer of her real son. But he overcomes her doubts; she helps to save his life and ultimately persuades her father to repent. If there were not so many similar plots, the opera would seem terribly unsuitable for a woman's birthday in the very year when her eldest daughter (Maria Theresa) had been married and was expected to produce a male heir. Elisabeth's only son had died soon after birth in 1716. The tyrant Astiage could hardly be identified with anyone other than Emperor Charles VI himself. The generation conflict had already occurred in the opera pair of 1733, when the young couple in Demofoonte had had a baby (see above). The allegorical family was now moving, as it were, into the next generation.

Zenobia, one of Metastasio's least appreciated and yet most stirring dramas, was performed for the analogous occasion in 1740. Elisabeth Christine is reflected here (as the final licenza makes clear) in the virtuous Zenobia, who has been forced to marry Radamisto, whom she does not love and suspects of having killed her father, while she is secretly in love with his enemy Tiridate. Radamisto even attempts to kill her, to prevent her from being captured by Tiridate. Zenobia remains loyal and faithful to Radamisto, rejects Tiridate's advances and even finds love for Radamisto, whom she successfully defends. A shepherdess who has healed Zenobia's wounds turns out to be her long-lost sister.

Both dramas show noble examples of feminine virtue and loyalty to two different men at the same time--father and son, husband and lover. The actual family structures are contrasted; the ethos is the same. Happy relationships are marred by masculine cruelty and presumption. Only the youngest male generation (i.e. only Ciro) is free from these evils. The question whether these were intentional allegories can be answered in the affirmative: it is the repetition of the main theme--feminine virtue--under contrasted family patterns that confirms the intention. Scholarly reluctance to see these dramas as related may stem from unease about their uncanny allegorical relationship with the patron dynasty.

Temistocle (4 November 1736), on a well-worn subject previously treated by Zeno, directly corresponds to Attilio Regolo in the following way.(22) These historical dramas depict heroism and self-sacrificing love for the fatherland. Temistocle, the saviour of Athens against Xerxes, is in exile at the Persian court; when he is urged to wage war against his ungrateful compatriots he prefers to die rather than attack Athens. The libretto of Attilio Regolo was based on a tragedy by Pradon; an older operatic version had been part of an operatic pair in 1719 in Rome (see above). Regulus is a prisoner of the Carthaginians, who send him back to Rome to negotiate peace; if he returns with a peace agreement, he is to be let free, but if he comes back with empty hands, he must die. Regulus goes to Rome and persuades his fellow citizens to destroy Carthage, then keeps his oath to the Carthaginians and returns to his prison and certain death. The situations are dialectically opposed: the interest of the fatherland is served on both occasions, but with peace in the first case, war in the second. The hero's action takes place in foreign lands in the first instance, at home in the second. The other figures, too, are subtly contrasted. In both operas the hero has a daughter and a young son who try to support him but whose understanding falls short of his loftier ideals. Temistocle's daughter is engaged to a Greek ambassador and therefore hopes for reconciliation with the Greeks; Regulus's son is in love with a Carthaginian woman whom he gives up, following in his father's footsteps. Thus a civic ideology is superimposed on the duality of gender and generation.

Metastasio had only one further opportunity to write two drammi per musica in the same year, in 1744. His wedding opera for Archduchess Maria Anna, Ipermestra (8 January 1744) is, surprisingly, related to Antigono, written for the Saxon court in the same weeks and performed in Dresden probably on 20 January.(23) Hasse composed the music for both librettos. The challenge of pairing a wedding opera with a carnival opera, and for two different courts, seems to have stimulated the poet. Ipermestra's father Danao commands her to kill her newly wed husband Linceo, fearing an oracle; she refuses but simultaneously protects her father from Linceo's revenge, risking her life in the process. In Antigono, the often-treated story of Seleuco and Antioco--father and son in love with the same woman--is grafted onto the historical setting of the Macedonian kingdom of Antigonus Gonatas. The king's son, now called Demetrio, is mutually in love with Berenice but gives her up for his father Antigono to whom she has been promised. When they are imprisoned by the enemy, Demetrio saves the life of his father, who in turn yields Berenice to his valiant son. Antigono is clearly identified with the Saxon king, Ipermestra with the archduchess. The gender and generation dialectic, now again detached from political allegory, is driven further as heroine and hero perform virtually the same type of action--satisfying conflicting demands of loyalty to family and spouse under threat to their own lives. The resonances of earlier Habsburg operas such as Chilonida and La moglie ama meglio, but also the Venetian librettos of Antioco and Ambleto (see above), may suggest that Metastasio merely exploited traditions; his achievement is the sharpening of symmetry and dialectic, and the ever bolder genderization of the heroic themes.

Metastasio's final pair is the only one for which explicit evidence from his own letters and other documents survives--Il re pastore (1751) and L'eroe cinese (1752). These two slightly smaller dramas were performed for Maria Theresa's birthdays (13 May) in 1751 and 1752, respectively, by the same little group of members of the imperial family and courtiers. Metastasio's letters on both occasions make it clear how unquestioningly he saw them as related; on 6 December 1751 he mockingly quotes Tasso's description of the fruits in Armida's garden to characterize their complementary relationship (and his own fertility): `e mentre spunta l'un, l'altro matura' (`and while the one is budding, the other ripens').(24) The two librettos also had to suit particular performance constraints: decorum forbade the archduchesses to wear male garb of the Greek and Roman kind, with short skirts and naked legs. But breeches parts were needed as the Habsburg boys were too young to appear in the opera. Thus the poet situated the first drama among shepherds, the second among the Chinese, whose warrior vestments are long, wide pants. He made his task difficult for himself by differentiating the second drama from the first in genre, assigning it not to the pastoral but to the `complex genre' (genere implesso) which means a double intrigue and agnition.(25) There is here a reflection also of the pastoral/heroic duality as practised in 1736 and 1740. Other dualities now introduced--East and West, war and peace, shepherds and kings--contrasted with the repetitive element in the two performances a year apart that was pre-established by the birthday ceremony and its executants.

It is a pity that Metastasio did not have to write further drammi for this same circle; I wonder how long he would have gone on before running out of choices. But can there be any doubt that artistic choice and contextual determination are intertwined here all the time? Would it not be presumptuous to dispute the creative freedom of authors and patrons who built such ingenious prisons for themselves?

(1) See w. Braun, `Cara Mustapha oder die zweite Eroffnung des Hamburger Schauplatzes', Studien zur Musikwissenschaft, XXXV (1984), pp.37-64; H. J. Marx and D. Schroder, Die Hamburger Gansemarkt-Oper: Katalog der Textbucher (1678-1748) (Laaber, 1995), nos.136, 275.

(2) See Marx and Schroder, Die Hamburger Gansemarkt-Oper, nos.138, 274.

(3) Metastasio noted the subject of the fall of Sejanus, and only this one (`Sejano, la ruina')--for possible dramatization in his manuscript sketchbooks: see Pietro Metastasio: Tutte le opere, ed. B. Brunelli, ii (Milan, 2/1965), p.1284.

(4) In the Venetian Sejanus operas the first play was morally sufficiently ambiguous to allow enjoyment of Sejanus's triumph without tears.

(5) Habsburg operas up to 1705 are comprehensively discussed in H. Seifert, Die Oper am Wiener Kaiserhof im 17. Jahrhundert (Tutzing, 1985); on this pair, see pp.239-40, 523-5.

(6) Seifert, Die Oper am Wiener Kaiserhof, p.487 and passim.

(7) The episode, with emphasis on the duality, is again recorded in Metastasio's sketchbook (Tutte le opere, p.1281). This is relevant for our consideration of Ipermestra, below.

(8) See the excellent survey by F. Le Corsu, Plutarque et les femmes (Paris, 1981).

(9) See Seifert, Die Oper am Wiener Kaiserhof, pp.248-62 and 270-72 respectively.

(10) The standard chronology, to be used in conjunction with Seifert's work, is F. Hadamowsky, Barocktheater am Wiener Kaiserhof (1625-1740) (Vienna, 1955).

(11) For the repertory, see T. Wiel, I teatri musicali veneziani del settecento (Venice, 1897; R/Leipzig, 1979). I am preparing a more detailed study of Venetian opera pairs.

(12) Two rival French tragedians, Thomas Corneille and Philippe Quinault, had treated this same plot. Zeno and Pariati depend more on Quinault's Stratonice. Conversely, Antonio Salvi's libretto Stratonica (Florence, 1707) is almost a translation of Corneille's Antiochus.

(13) This libretto is traditionally considered as uninfluenced by Shakespeare.

(14) For more information on Rome, see also R. Strohm, Dramma per musica: Italian opera seria of the eighteenth century (London, 1997), pp.33-60.

(15) The production of Orlando is likely to have been envisaged then as well, but had to be postponed because of the collapse of the Royal Academy of Music, and Haym's death in 1729. See R. Strohm, Essays on Handel and Italian opera (Cambridge, 1985), pp.249-67; Strohm, Dramma per musica, p. 211.

(16) While the Griselda story was well known since Boccaccio, the undoing of Crispus had to be gleaned from Euripides' Hippolytus (Racine's Phedre).

(17) Richard Steele, The conscious lovers, ed. S. S. Kenny (London, 1968), II/ii, p.43. The operatic interest of the passage was first noted by L. L. Lindgren, `Il dramma musicale a Roma durante la carriera di Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725)', Le Muse galanti: la musica a Roma nel settecento (Rome, 1985), p.43 (quoting from Paolo Rolli's translation of Steele's comedy, 1724). See also Strohm, Dramma per musica, pp.54-5.

(18) For a comparison of the two Ariadne stories in opera, see G. Gronda, `Varianti di un mito classico nella librettistica settecentesca', I vicini di Mozart, ed. M. T. Muraro and D. Bryant (Florence, 1989), pp.3-18; see also G. Gronda, `Le peripezie di un libretto', La carriera di un librettista: Pietro Pariati da Reggio di Lombardia, ed. G. Gronda (Bologna, 1990), pp.291-723 (with critical edition of Pariati's libretto).

(19) K. S. Markstrom, The operas of Leonardo Vinci, Napoletano (PhD diss., U. of Toronto, 1993), pp.202-6, suggests that Catone in Utica had been commissioned already for carnival 1727, as a follow-up to the successful production of Siroe at the Teatro delle Dame. This would rule out its pairing with Ezio.

(20) See Markstrom, The operas of Leonardo Vinci, pp.267-72.

(21) For the dramatic traditions inherent in Demofoonte, I am indebted to advice from Dottoressa Francesca Menchelli-Buttini, Pisa.

(22) Attilio Regolo could not be performed on 4 November 1740 because of the emperor's death on 19 October; it was not given until 1750.

(23) On the circumstances of several Habsburg wedding operas, see A. Sommer-Mathis, Tu felix Austria nube: Hochzeitsfeste der Habsburger im 18. Jahrhundert (Vienna, 1994).

(24) Metastasio, Tutte le opere, iii (Milan, 1951), no.531; this quote is from Tasso, Gerusalemme liberata, xvi, 10.

(25) See his letter of 6 May 1752 in Tutte le opere, iii, no.561.

Reinhard Strohm, Heather Professor of Music at Oxford University, has written extensively on late medieval music and Baroque opera; his book Dramma per musica: Italian opera seria of the eighteenth century was published by Yale University Press in 1997.
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Date:Nov 1, 1998
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