Monday, June 13, 2005

Boris Goudenow, Motezuma, L'Upupa, and Doctor Atomic

Richard Taruskin and Alan Riding write about, respectively, two baroque operas handling -- or rather mishandling -- world history in yesterday's and today's New York Times -- Johann Mattheson's Boris Goudenow and Antonio Vivaldi's Motezuma.

Apparently, Mattheson wrote his own libretto for what would have been the Hamburg premiere, but he "took little from actual history, and what little he took he [or his source] often got wrong."
And, according to musicologists studying the Vivaldi score and libretto to the Motezuma opera, Vivaldi and his librettist (either Alvise Giusti or Giorlamo Giusti) -- writing for the Venetian opera capital -- seemed less interested in history than in a fictional love story between the Aztec princess and Cortez's brother.

Modest Musorgski and Roger Sessions have, of course, followed in the footsteps of Mattheson and Vivaldi, penning grand operas reflecting the 19th and 20th century views of historical accuracy. Both composers themselves consulted with historical documents in preparing to set their historical masterpieces. (The Sessions opera still awaits its MET premiere.)

Also, it is to be noted that John Adams and Peter Sellars are following Musorgski's and Sessions's earlier practice by themselves examining historical documents in preparation for their J. Robert Oppenheimer opera, Doctor Atomic -- for the San Francisco Opera, this coming October. According to Mr Adams's site, the "libretto adapted from original sources by
Peter Sellars". (Thanks to Alex Ross for the direction to Mr Adams's own synopsis to the work.) The San Francisco Opera has a web-site so that music lovers and intellectuals can prepare themselves for this autumn's premiere. (Mr Adams's site.) (San Francisco Opera site.)


And on a non-historical opera note, I tip my hat to Hans Werner Henze for his strong recent (and final?) opera, L'Upupa and the Triumph of Filial Love, for which Henze wrote both libretto and score. The video to the Salzburg Festival premiere of this Mozart, Schikaneder, Goethe, and Arab - inspired work is highly recommended to all friends of opera.


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