Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


Robert Torre (University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA)

Operatic twins and musical rivals: two settings of Artaserse (1730)

Pietro Metastasio once remarked that his drama Artaserse was “the most fortunate of all my children.” One attributes part of the fame to musical settings by its earliest composers, Vinci and Hasse. Vinci premiered the official version in Rome on 4 February 1730, while Hasse’s production (Hasse was a rival of Vinci), appeared weeks later in Venice, much altered by Boldini. Strohm has suggested that this drama is a companion piece to another Metastasio work set that year, Alessandro nell’Indie; however, he admits that in dramatic terms, Alessandro nell’Indie and Artaserse do not compare, except assassination attempts and twin dedications: Artaserse to Maria Clementina and Alessandro nell’Indie to her husband James Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender. Strohm reminds us that assassination attempts do not constitute a similarity, as they pervade many Metastasian texts.

I propose an alternate view; namely, Vinci and Hasse’s settings of Artasere were conceived as twin productions. Several factors influence this interpretation. First, a precedent exists: Vinci set Metastasio’s Semiramide riconosciuta the year before in Rome. By way of rivalry, Porpora and librettist Lalli altered Semiramide for an unofficial premiere the same season in Venice. Second, Boldini’s alterations to Artaserse set up, either intentionally or unintentionally, minor textual oppositions with Metastasio’s text, thus giving Hasse a setting with more emotional bite.

Finally, this quick resetting of libretti for new venues gives us much insight into the use of opera libretti in early eighteenth-century musical rivalries.

Last updated on 11 May 2004