Musical Delicacies

— Early Music Concert Series —

The theatre in the Tavern

Domenico Sarri and his Didone abbandonata in Brno’s Teatro della Taverna

The history of Italian Opera in Brno began in 1732, when a group of “operisti” arrived in Brno, led by Angelo Mingotti (cca. 1700 – after 1767). This capable businessman worked later — alone or together with his brother Pietro Mingotti — as an opera director in a number of European cities. His next “stagione” was in Graz, then he was two seasons in Ljubljana. In the years 1745–1748 we find Angelo Mingotti’s company in Prague, Leipzig and Dresden. Angelo later cooperated with his brother, together conducting serious and comic operas in Hamburg and Copenhagen. Angelo Mingotti’s last place of activity was Bonn (1764–1767). Brno was thus the beginning of his successful career, which spread the fame of Italian opera throughout Europe.

Joseph Maserle (1736–1781): View of “Vegetable Market” from West (1773)

Before Mingotti arrived in Brno, he resided in Prague, where the impresario Antonio Denzio provided him with the scores and libretti, which he later utilized in the productions in Brno. Together with Mingotti came the greater part of Denzio’s vocal ensemble (in the first season, four singers and the composer Antonio Costantini; later followed other artists from Prague to Brno). In the first season from autumn 1732 to the end of the carnival 1733, Mingotti played in a makeshift wooden theatre in the Riding School of the Estates below Spielberg (Špilberk). The second season took place in a newly built theatre in the Tavern, today’s Reduta.

Theatre In the Tavern — ground floor, 1733.   
Cross-section and plan of the Theatre in the Tavern from 1733, marked with the letter A. — Newly planned theatre from 1785–1786 (?), marked with the letter B. — Click here to magnify.

The opera theatre in the Tavern was established at the direct instigation of Angelo Mingotti and his successful first season in Brno. In March 1733 the city council decided to establish a theatre in the building of the city’s Tavern, which at the time served as guesthouse and “Quartierhaus”. The construction was led by the city’s carpenter Anton Ebenberger with participation by the architect Moritz Grimm. After Mingotti’s proposal, the city council engaged the Venetian theatre engineer and artist Federico Zanoja, who painted ten decorative sets for the new theatre. The theatre hall was located in the same place as today, but in reverse orientation, such that the auditorium was the site of today’s stage. In addition to the parterre (pit), the auditorium had two rows of loges (stall boxes) and galleries; it was reported to accommodate 1200 spectators. The external appearance of the theatre can be seen in historical pictures of Zelný trh (Krautmarkt, the vegetable market); the interior layout can be seen from plans in Brno City Archives. The development and early history of the Theatre in the Tavern are presented by Margita Havlíčková’s book from 2009, Profesionální divadlo v královském městě Brně (Professional Theatre in the Royal City of Brno).

The first performance in “Teatro della Taverna” took place on 28 November 1733, it was the magic opera Armida abbandonata with an extravagant stage design. In 1736 Angelo Mingotti rented the theatre; later Filippo Neri del Fantasia and Alessandro Manfredi asserted themselves as impressarios. After 1740, the tradition of Italian opera came to an end; only dramas were played in the Tavern. Brno was only occasionally visited by theatre groups capable of performing an opera (for instance in 1761 by impresario Bellino Vigna; one libretto from his staggione is preserved in the collections of ODH MZM). Mingotti was the most important of Brno’s theatre directors, mainly because of his contacts with Venice, which he visited regularly in the summer to gather the most modern repertoire and new singers.

In terms of repertoire, the Brno theatre did not differ from other Central European city scenes. It played primarily pastiches composed of opera arias from various Italian composers. The opera companies hired composers to make arrangements of these works and write new recitatives and some arias, in Brno they were Antonio Costantini, Matteo Lucchini and Eustachio Bambini. Original operas appear rarely in the Brno repertoire, and even they were modified to match the local conditions. From Mingotti’s period, it was Baldassare Galuppi’s Argenide, which the impresario brought from Venice, and which was played in Brno just a few months after its première; furthermore the Don Juan-style opera La pravità castigata, where Antonio Caldara can be identified as author of most of the music, and Orlando furioso with music by Antonio Vivaldi and Antonio Bioni, which was heard in Brno in almost the same form as its Prague première in 1724. The local repertoire was very closely connected with Prague — not only using the same libretti for setting the music, but also borrowing the German translations, which were an “obligatory” part of the printed libretti from all city theatres north of the Alps. Although the actual opera text and music in Brno had been modified, the German translation was copied verbatim from Prague and therefore disagreed with the Italian text and with the action on stage.

Sarri’s Didone abbandonata is one of the few exceptions where it is possible to cite a single composer as author, although there also here have been several modifications. Domenico Natale Sarri (also referred to as Sarrò, 1679–1744) belonged to the newly emerging generation of composers, who in the 1720s formed a progressive style of vocal composition, termed “Neapolitan opera”. He served as the second and later the first maestro di cappella to the viceroy of Naples, where he wrote a number of operas for Teatro San Bartolomeo. In Moravia, Sarri was not completely unknown as composer. His oratorio Santo Ermenegildo was already played in Brno in 1727 at the behest of prince-bishop Wolfgang Hannibal von Schrattenbach, who knew Sarri’s art from his time as acting viceroy of Naples. In the same year, Sarri’s opera Siroe was performed in Jarmeritz (Jaroměřice nad Rokytnou); later his intermezzo Dorina e Nibbio (1736, originally inserted into the opera Didone abbandonata) and the serenata Il giudizio di Paride (1738) were played there. Count Johann Adam von Questenberg owned also the score of Sarri’s opera Partenope.

Didone abbandonata is probably Sarri’s most famous opera, because it is the first musical setting of Pietro Metastasius’ famous libretto, which the young poet wrote in 1724 under the influence of unhappy love to the fourteen years older singer Marianna Benti-Bulgarelli. She was also the original actor of the abandoned Dido; her co-actor in the role of Enea was the castrato Niccolò Grimaldi (nicknamed Nicolini) of more than 50 years of age, who had had many successes on European stages, including Händel operas in London. The première took place on 1 February 1724 in Teatro San Bartolomeo, Naples.

Franz Richter (1774–1860): View from north of “Vegetable Market” with Redoute and the Parnassus fountain (1827)

Sarri later reworked the opera for Venice, where it was played in the autumn of 1730 in the prestigious Teatro Grimani di San Giovanni Grisostomo. From the original cast, only the castrato Nicolini participated in this performance. His role as Enea remained virtually unchanged, the other parts were more or less re-composed. For Didone remained mostly arias from the Neapolitan version, likewise for Araspe (instead of a tenor, this role was sung by a soprano, transposed up an octave). The roles of Iarba and Osmida were performed by tenors instead of altos, most of their arias are only transposed. In contrast, the “seconda donna” role of Selene was completely rewritten. In addition to the musical changes, the Venetian version shows also substantial dramaturgical changes: In the third act, the talkative comments about the destruction of Carthage are condensed from originally seven scenes to four, accelerating the arrival of the heartbroken Dido, bringing the disaster quickly to its climax. Overall, the opera is more dramatic, contains more accompagnati, and the more modern elements manifest themselves even in the music of those arias that were kept from the first version. This second version is preserved in a single score, probably written by Sarri himself, today in the library of the Neapolitan Conservatory (signature Rari 7.2.5, title: La Didone, Musica Del Sig. Domenico Sarri, 1730). For the actual performance in Teatro Grimani, foreign arias were inserted into the opera according to the wishes of the singers, as shown by the surviving libretto in the Milanese Biblioteca Braidense (signature Raccolta Drammatica 435).

The Brno performance of Didone was modelled on Sarri’s second version, from Venice 1730. This can be seen from the aria Tu mi guardi, e ti confondi, which occurs only in the Venetian libretto and as an “aria aggiunto” in the score in Naples. This confirms previous hypotheses about the zeal with which impressario Angelo Mingotti acquainted the Brno audience with novelties from Venice, — introducing the ten-year-old Neapolitan version would not have fitted well into this concept. It should be emphasized that here we are talking about the music only, but the text was also changed significantly against the Venetian version. Text-wise, the Brno opera copies the Prague version of Didone. There the opera was heard in the spring of 1731 in an adaptation by Antonio Denzio with music by Tomaso Albinoni (who set Metastasio’s libretto to music for Venice 1725). The texts of the recitatives are identical in Brno and Prague, therefore the texts that were not by Metastasio had to be newly composed. Like other Brno libretti, the printed libretto of Didone borrowed its German translation from Prague, together with the shortened title Didone (which also appears on top of the score of the Venetian version of the opera). The arias come with three exceptions from Sarri’s musical setting from 1730. Foreign arias are Araspe’s Son qual Nave frà più venti (II/7) and Mio cor non sospirar (III/4), and Selene’s Anime tormentate (II/9). The text of the latter and perhaps also the music come from Giovanni Porta’s opera Nel perdono la vendetta, which was premièred in Venice in 1728 and later played, inter alia, in Holešov in 1739. The Brno arranger had to transpose some roles for the local singers; the tenor Carlo Dardozzi sang Araspe’s soprano part, and the alto Margarita Flora sang Osmida’s tenor role.

Didone was performed in Brno as “prima” of the carnival season 1734/35. The première took place on 26 December 1734, the date of Mingotti’s dedication to the patron of the performance. This was the highest imperial hereditary postmaster, count Johann Adam von Paar (1680–1737), but in the audience there were further members of the Bohemian nobility, who supported the Brno opera. The number of repeats is not known, but the opera played for more than three weeks, because on 18 January 1735 another opera Orlando Furioso was premièred. We know the plot of Didone only through the libretto published by the Brno printer Jacob Maximilian Swobody, two copies of which are preserved in the Moravian Library (signatures CH-0003.525, ST1-0242.152). One of these copies comes from Veselí nad Moravou castle library of baron Chorinský, who apparently was present at the performance. The reconstruction of the musical aspect of the opera is based on Sarri’s aforementioned score, stored today in Naples.

Jana Spáčilová
Fine dell’ Dramma

Thank you

We thank the Moravian Museum for providing illustrations for this article.

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