The series The Dramatic Music of Antonio Vivaldi, published by Casa Ricordi in collaboration with the Antonio Vivaldi Italian Institute of the Giorgio Cini Foundation of Venice, and directed by Reinhard Strohm and Alessandro Borin, has added yet another work to its collection: Il Teuzzone (RV 736).
We had a chance to talk about the new critical edition with the curators, Alessandro Borin and Antonio Moccia, who explained some of the peculiarities of this opera, including editorial curiosities and a few anecdotes.
Reinhard Strohm has called Teuzzone «the crown jewel of the so-called Arcadian Reform of serious Italian opera». Where does this work fit in among Vivaldi’s long list of compositions?
Il Teuzzone is a perfect example of the kind of musical work that Vivaldi had developed by the end of the second decade of the eighteenth century. In 1719 he had only recently left Venice and its theaters, having accepted a high-profile job at the court of Prince Filippo D’Assia in Mantua. Seeking to impress his new boss, Vivaldi debuted with a “pasticcio”, which is to say, a work combining music of his own as well as others’, which he would rework. Often, music by other composers would be incorporated among some of his best and best-loved arias. What makes Vivaldi’s Teuzzone so distinctive is his attempt – which was so happily successful – to offer audiences in Mantua a compendium of the entire first phase of his career as a composer of operas, on the eve of epochal change in the history of Italian opera in the first half of the eighteenth century. Indeed, it would not be long before Venetian theaters would be “colonized” by the diaspora of Neapolitan composers who headed north. This forced Vivaldi and many other Venetian composers to rethink and update their musical language, and seek out their fortune in what were considered secondary platforms and theaters.
As far as the actual editorial work is concerned, what aspect most influenced your approach to this critical edition? What might be the biggest challenges in terms of production?
The work method used in the creation of a critical edition of a work of music from the past should always depend on the particular nature of the subject at hand, so to a certain degree it’s predetermined. Vivaldi’s Teuzzone is based on an earlier drama by Apostolo Zeno, which had been staged three years previously in Torino, featuring music by two masters who worked at the court of the Duke of Savoia, Andrea Fioré and Girolamo Casanova. Thus, in the critical edition we try to reconstruct the various drafts of the score, identify the parts that Vivaldi himself composed, and reconstruct the manuscript, long since lost, that he used. This kind of work doubtless provides precious information for anyone interested in staging Il Teuzzone for contemporary audiences. The intent is not to slavishly reproduce each and every one of Vivaldi’s musical choices, but to seize upon the most profound meaning behind Vivaldi’s method. And that method was based on a kind of pragmatism that had nothing to do with modern ideas regarding originality and repertoire. All of the decisions Vivaldi made were goal-oriented, and the goal was to achieve immediate success in a given setting with whatever resources were available, be they vocal, instrumental or scenic.
What kind of curiosities did you run into? Did you come up with anything unexpected?
We examined archive sources during the preparation of the critical editions of the two operas Vivaldi composed in Mantua, Il Teuzzone and Tito Manlio. What came to light was a series of unpublished documents that led us to the discovery of a wealth of curiosities, little-known aspects of the business of making operas at that time. Among the most interesting, it’s worth noting those discovered by Stefano L’Occaso in the Fine Arts Archives of Venice. There’s a mention of a shipment of hundreds of mirrors, cruets and glassware, which Vivaldi commissioned from the master glass-blowers on the island of Murano, in the Venetian lagoon. The goods were used to decorate a mirror-filled room, lit by torches and candles. Just a hint of the splendor and originality that was involved in staging music in the early 1700s.
When it comes down to it, in order to come to life, music has to be performed and listened to. While we wait to hear the results of this critical edition, can you tell us which arias, among those you worked on, are the most interesting?
Teuzzone is basically an anthology of arias, so it’s hard to choose one over another. We might at least cite «Ti sento, sì ti sento», this being one of Vivaldi’s big guns. He included it in a host of different operas over the course of his long career. The splendid rage aria «Si ribelle anderò, morirò», from Orlando finto pazzo (1714), which was Vivaldi’s debut opera in Venice, and lastly the aria di bravura entitled «Son fra scogli e fra procelle», stand out for their respective orchestral treatments, which recreate the daunting scenes of a stormy sea. Another theme that may be heard in many of Vivaldi’s instrumental masterpieces.
What’s next for this series of publications? What are you working on now?
We’re pretty busy, actually! From Verità in cimento to Bajazet; from the two surviving drafts of Farnace to Atenaide. Our curators are working with great passion and enthusiasm in their efforts to bring to light the first contemporary editions of those works. As far as the two of us go, we’re working on Olimpiade, one of Metastasio’s best-known and most-loved libretti. Vivaldi was the second composer to set his lyrics to music, and Pergolesi was the third. A nice combination, we would say!