Opera Scotland

Montezuma

Music

Carl Heinrich Graun (born Wahrenbrück c 1703/4; died Berlin, 8 August 1759)

Text

Giampietro Tagliazucchi.

Source

Scenario by Frederick the Great.

 

Premieres

First Performance: Berlin (Hoftheater), 6 January 1755.

First Performance in UK: Edinburgh (King's Theatre), 14 August 2010.

First Performance in Scotland: As above.

Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.

 

Background

Carl Heinrich Graun was a prolific composer of Italian style opera in Berlin, between 1727 and 1756, so Montezuma was one of his last pieces, and benefitted from his accumulated experience. By comparison with contemporaries such as Handel and even Vivaldi, his work is still little known to modern audiences.

The Emperor Frederick the Great was a champion of Protestantism and, to some extent, liberal in his views. His libretto creates in Montezuma a tragic figure, not so much a noble savage as a representative of the Enlightenment, a figure of liberality and tolerance, and also of great naivety. Cortes and the Spaniards, being Catholic, must therefore by definition be bad, and simply out to exploit the newly discovered country and civilisation in any way possible.

The opera's only exposure in Britain, before the release of a German recording made in 1992, was a disc of arias recorded in the mid-sixties by Richard Bonynge, with Joan Sutherland leading the cast in the role of Eupaforice.

An earlier work, Cesare e Cleopatra (1742) has been made available on record, and makes a good impression. It is a pity that such an unfamiliar work as Montezuma, when it was at last performed here, should be treated in such a cavalier fashion as it was at the 2010 Edinburgh Festival.

 

Main Characters

Montezuma, Emperor of the Azrecs (alto)

Eupaforice, Queen of Tlascala, his betrothed (soprano)

Tezeuco, adviser to Montezuma (tenor)

Pilpatoè, a general in the Aztec army (soprano)

Cortes, leader of the Spanish army (alto)

Narvès, a Spanish captain (alto)

 

Plot Summary

The opera takes place in 1519-20 in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (modern Mexico City).

Montezuma hears news of the arrival of the Spaniards, led by Cortez, and he prepares to make them welcome, His wife and advisers are worried about the situation, but Montezuma is confident that Cortes has peaceful intentions. However, as soon as the Spaniards arrive they mount an offensive and Montezuma is captured. Eupaforice kills herself rather than become a trophy, with the likely consequences of that.

Montezuma is then executed.

  

 

The Cast

Cortes
 leader of the Spanish army
Erissena
 Eupaforice's confidante
Eupaforice
 Queen of Tlascala, Montezuma's betrothed
Montezuma
 emperor of the Aztecs
Narvès
 a Spanish captain
Pilpatoè
 a general in the Aztec army
Tezeuco
 adviser to Montezuma

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