Opera Scotland

Artaxerxes

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Music

Thomas Arne (born London, 12 November 1710; died London, 5 March 1778)

Text

Pietro Metastasio (translated by Arne)

Source

Libretto Artaserse (1830) by Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782). Previously set by many composers.

 

Premieres

First Performance: London (Theatre Royal, Covent Garden), 2 February 1762.

First Performance in Scotland: Edinburgh  (Theatre Royal), 31 July 1769.

 

Background

Tha craze in London for Italian opera had faded even before Handel's death in 1759.  Here Arne attempted to compose an opera in the Italian style, but using an English text, his own translation of Metastasio.

Metastasio's original first appeared in 1730 in operas by both Vinci and Hasse.  Over the next few decades there were many other settings, including Gluck (1741),  Graun (1743),  Jommelli (1749),  Galuppi (1751),  Paisiello (1765),  Piccinni (1766),  Sacchini (1788),  Cimarosa (1781),  Anfossi (1788).

Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783) spent most of his career in Dresden.  He was working in London for one season in 1734, as a rival to Handel, when he revived his Artaserse.  It is therefore possible that Arne, at the age of 24, could have become familiar with the work, or at least obtained a copy of the libretto for future reference.

'Mr Tenducci', as he was billed in Edinburgh, was a Sienese castrato Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci (c1736- 1790).  He was a well known performer on the London stage.  His first visit to Britain beginning in 1758 saw him create the role of Arbaces (written for a high soprano) in 1762. He returned to London in 1768, and clearly toured widely.  It is quite important to find him still performing a part he had created seven years previously. This surely indicates the immediate popularity gained by the piece. It remained popular, and was performed regularly for over half a century.

 

Characters

Artaxerxes, younger son of Xerxes, friend of Arbaces (alto castrato)

Mandane, daughter of Xerxes, in love with Arbaces (soprano)

Artabanes, general of Xerxes' army (tenor)

Arbaces, son of Artabanes, in love with Mandane (soprano castrato)

Semira, daughter of Artabanes, in love with Artaxerxes (soprano)

Rimenes, captain under Artabanes (tenor)

 

Synopsis

The plot revolves around the assassination of Xerxes by Artabanes and the various political and amorous complications that ensue.  Arbaces is eventually permitted to marry Mandane, in spite of his father's actions.

The Cast

Arbaces
 son of Artabanus, in love with Mandane
Artabanes
 General in the army of Xerxes
Artaxerxes
 younger son of Xerxes, friend to Arbaces
Mandane
 daughter of Xerxes, in love with Arbaces
Rimenes
 Captain in the forces under Artabanes
Semira
 daughter of Artabanes, in love with Artaxerxes

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