Musical Delicacies

— Early Music Concert Series —

Website of Museum and Park “Kalkriese” (rampart and battlefield, perhaps Battle of Teutoburger Forest)

Hasse: Arminio – how a Baroque opera is made

How can a storyline from the Roman era, told through the eyes of the Baroque era, be communicated to a contemporary audience? Experience report (lectures and round-table discussion) plus video screening (1 hour) of highlights from the première. Don’t miss the live performance in Brno next year!.

Wednesday 7 December 2016 16:00–18:00 — Janáček Academy (JAMU) room 205, Komenského náměstí 6, 602 00 Brno, Czech Republic.

Love and war, life and death, honor and betrayal – these are the fatal dilemmas faced by the Germanic hero Arminio (Hermann), a prince of the Cherusci tribe, and his opponent (and later friend), the Roman general Varo (Publius Quinctilius Varus). The battle of Teutoburg Forest in the year 9 CE, where Arminio’s Germanic warriors annihilated three Roman legions, ends this musical drama.

Varus, give me back my legions!
[Quinctili] Vare, legiones [meas] redde!
Octavianus Augustus, Roman Emperor,
after Suetonius “Divus Augustus”.

About the event

The tour in October 2016 with the modern première of the Baroque opera Arminio (by J. A. Hasse, a co-production of Hudební lahůdky and Art in Motion) unfortunately had to bypass Brno. The Brno audience will now have an opportunity to hear lectures and comments from artists and the production team and from external experts involved in the staging, and subsequently to view excerpts from a recording of the première in Gliwice on 1 October 2016. This event thus offers an untraditional meeting between different worlds, approaching the subject how a Baroque opera is made from three different angles:

This event is also a contribution to the conference Musica Antiqua et Musica Nova of the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts. At the end of the event, you are invited to a casual glass of wine with the organisers, performers and presenters.

Words of the stage director

The opera Arminio Opera is an ancient political drama. Our concept focuses on three main themes:

Biblioteka Jagiellońska: Libretto Libretto (Warsaw, 1761)

The most serious question posed by the opera Arminio is: What does power do to a man?! Political and power interests often force people to lie, to hypocrisy, and to some sort of violence. Arminio represents the positive hero, depicting a perfect, honorable and righteous warrior who is a symbol of perseverance and loyalty in the struggle for goodness, truth and love. This can be considered an important value in our existence. However, he is put into conflict and internal pressures from his kin, his closest ones, who push him against the wall. When he does not go hand in hand with the establishment, he is subjected to betrayal, disruption and emotional extortion. The determination and support which Arminio receives from the side of his beloved is for him the driving force that demonstrates the genuine freedom.

Prison, act 2.
Prison, act 2
Scales, act 2.
Scales, act 2

For dramaturgical and practical reasons, we made some cuts. The content of the opera Arminio is very wide and has a large number of minor scenes that are unimportant for the essence of the main story line. It would be prohibitively long to perform the unabridged opera for a modern audience whose sensitivity is influenced by the experience of television and film. Therefore, we removed for example Segesta’s aria from the first act and some arias of Varo or Segmira and Marzia from the second act. In addition to the arias, we also reduced some recitatives, giving the opera more movement, and directing it towards a unified whole.

The staging is conceived in the form of realistic-symbolist theatre. It comprises four ancient columns that change position according to the situation. For example, from an antique hall arises a jail or a bridge. In addition, in one scene, the columns turn into giant pairs of scales, reflecting the imbalance of justice in the story. The second central symbol is the throne – a symbol of power, national stability and wealth. The throne is also a sort of window into the world. Practically, the audience will be able to see on this throne a live projection of what is happening behind the walls of the palace. The stage remains clear – in white, red and black colors. The most important function is the actors and their interrelationships.

The costumes are based on exact period antique figures. We keep the designs of togas or Germanic military costumes. The challenge was to sew the costumes such that we can turn a woman into a man: In the “breeches” roles, a woman appears as a man, such that for instance Arminio’s armor becomes a challenge, also for the singer herself.

Marek Mokoš

Synopsis of the opera

This is the year 9 C. E. At the Teutoburg castle, Segeste, the prince of the Chatti tribe, tells his children, the daughter Tusnelda and the son Segimiro, that Arminio, the prince of the Cherusci tribe, henceforth will be their enemy. Tusnelda argues that she loves Arminio (her fiance), and Segimiro that he owes him his life. Their father, however, insists that their civil obligations (pro bono publico) – obedience to Rome – stands above their personal feelings. Varo, the governor of the province of Germania and commander of three Roman legions, has prepared a politically motivated marriage for his sister Marzia to Arminio as a token of peace between Rome and the Germanic tribes. However, Arminio refuses. Instead, he proudly chooses freedom for himself and his people, even at the cost of war and imprisonment. With a heavy heart, Tusnelda enters the prison to convince Arminio to marry Marzia, since this is the only way to save his life, but Arminio prefers the death. Before the execution, Segimiro dresses up as a soldier and remains in the prison in Arminio’s clothes. Arminio escapes and returns at the head of the Germanic warriors surrounding the castle. Varo leads the Roman soldiers against them into the battle that will decide about life and death. When Varo sees that the battle is lost, he chooses death by his own hand. The desperate Segeste wants to follow Varo, but first he wants to punish his daughter and son. Eventually, however, he reconciles with his children and with Arminio, and they fall into each other’s arms. Segeste consents to Arminio and Tusnelda marrying.


See here (full version).

Wikimedia: Hermann’s Memorial (Photo: User:Kaikanne, 2009, CC-BY-SA 3.0)
Hermann’s Memorial
(Photo: User:Kaikanne, 2009)

Hasse and his Arminio

The battle of Teutoburg Forest in the year 9 CE, where the Germanic warriors annihilated three badly led Roman legions, became one of the founding myths of the German nationalism of the nineteenth century. It was commemorated with a gigantic, monstrous monument of the Cheruscan chieftain Arminius, which still today can be seen at the place of the alleged battlefield. Although Arminius himself, — accidentally, yet effectively the slayer of the Romans, — is sometimes called Hermann, he appears in the history books under his Latin name (he grew up in Rome, where he also was educated in the art of war). But before he was made a German national hero, the Italicized Arminio became the hero of several operas of the eighteenth century. Among them we must mention the works of G. F. Händel, but above all, Johann Adolph Hasse.

Why “above all”? If today we are talking about the late Baroque opera seria, the first name that comes to mind is Händel, followed by Händel, and at the third place Händel again. However, in the eighteenth century, the order was different. Händel would certainly have a place on the podium, but he fought for it with a lot of other artists: first Keiser, then Porpora, Graun, Jomelli, etc. — but the strongest candidate for the first place was Johann Adolph Hasse.

Star composer of operas

Hasse was born in 1699 in Hamburg, where he also received his education. In 1718, he began performing as a tenor in the theatre. However, the actual story begins in 1721 when he left Germany, heading to Italy. Via Florence and Rome he came to Naples, then the capital of music — especially of opera. Here a new style had developed, one which was to reign the theatre stages of the mid eighteenth century and prepare the ground for the emergence of the musical Classicism.

Wikipedia: painting: Johann Adolph Hasse
Johann Adolph Hasse (cca. 1740)

Its foundation was the bel canto — a beautiful melody, graceful and dazzling, allowing the singer to show all the qualities of the voice, but also full of character — seductive or pathetic, joyful and full of sorrow. Virtuosity reached the highest level, the main aim was to express emotions, thus without distractions from a too complicated accompaniment. The simplified orchestra serves to support the vocal line, — but with Hasse, this support is dynamic, effective, it follows the virtuosity and emphasizes the waves of tension. This was already the case in the 26-year-old composer’s first work, after a few years of study with Alessandro Scarlatti (and first with Porpora), dazzling the audience: the serenade (actually a mini-opera for two characters) Antonio e Cleopatra. The year was 1725 and Hasse’s career just took off. Within a few years he would reach heights which the eighteenth century had thought unreachable for a composer.

For the record, let us note: First a “supernumerary” chapel master to the court in Naples (there was no vacancy, so an extra post was created for him), then maestro di coro Ospedale degli Incurabili in Venice (one of the major conservatories of the city; it remained associated with him to the latest years), and above all, 30 years as chapel master to the Saxon Elector and Polish King at the court in Dresden, earning tens of times more money than — in the nearby city of Leipzig, in the same principality and at the same time — Johann Sebastian Bach. While staying in the service of the Wettin dynasty, he performed his operas in Venice (during the court’s residence in Warsaw; however, Hasse did also go there, as the historian Charles Burney recalls), and when there was a longer break (due to the Seven Years’ War), he also pursued his career both in Venice and in Vienna. In the imperial capital he was anyhow in permanent demand; Maria Theresia wanted his music, and indeed his main librettist was the imperial poet Metastasio, by far the most important author of librettos in the eighteenth century, nobody else ever came near his level of success (contrariwise, Hasse was the writer’s favourite composer). The complementary relationship between the king of music and the king of poetry did not escape the attention of commentators. The aforementioned Charles Burney stated that this poet and musician are the two halves of what, like Plato’s Androgyne, once constituted a whole; for as they are equally possessed of the same characteristic marks of true genius, taste and judgment; so propriety, consistency, clearness, and precission, are alike the inseperable companions of both.

Reception by contemporaries

To complete the picture of the quality, with which Hasse’s opera was performed, we must remember that it was sung by the most outstanding vocalists of the era: Apart from the primi uomini, the greatest castrati such as Farinelli (who already performed in Hasse’s Neapolitan debut, Antonio e Cleopatra), they also comprised the greatest prime donne, first of all Faustina Bordoni (privately, since 1730, Faustina Bordoni-Hasse, the composer’s wife).

Today we sometimes miss the complexity of the gallant style, which includes the Neapolitan school with Hasse at the helm. Hasse may be regarded as the Raphael – so Burney – If the affected French expression of le grand simple can ever mean any thing, it must be when applied to the productions of such a composer as Hasse, who succeeds better perhaps in expressing, with clearness and propriety, whatever is graceful, elegant, and tender, than what is boisterous and violent. The lesser role of the expressive drama, also on the part of the orchestra, is counter-balanced through brilliance and by utilizing the exorbitant capabilities of the singers, yet at the same time (while keeping the sound pleasing to the ears) expanding the emotional side of music: not through the form, but through the melody and its connection to the text. It was not without reason that Metastasio admired Hasse so; he knew that noone else is able to set music to his words equally perfectly.

The poet was not alone in this judgement. Burney’s opinion may again serve as an explanation: the most natural, elegant, and judicious composer of vocal music, as well as the most voluminous now alive; equally a friend to poetry and to the voice, he discovers as much judgment as genius, in expressing words, as well as in accompanying those sweet and tender melodies, which he gives to the singer. Always regarding the voice, as the first object of attention in a theatre, he never suffocates it, by the learned jargon of a multiplicity of instruments and subjects; but is as careful of preserving its importance as a painter, of throwing the strongest light upon the capital figure of his piece.

The hero Arminio, a symbol of peace in the Seven-Year War

And yet, although Hasse set music to Metastasio’s libretti one after the other (almost all of them, some many times), and although he reached twice for the hero from Teutoburg Forest, Arminio was not set to the text of the imperial poet. The first version, produced for Milan back in 1730, we leave aside. The librettist of the second version, currently performed, which was created for Dresden in 1745, was Giovanni Claudio Pasquini, the Prince Elector’s poet, who also reached the theme of Arminio for the second time.

Wikipedia: costume design: Angelo Maria Monticelli (Arminio, Dresden 1753)
Angelo Maria Monticelli as Arminio
(costume design, Dresden, 1753)
Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig: painting: Frederick Augustus II (1696–1763), Elector of Saxony
August III (1733)

The opera was a success, not only in Dresden but also in Berlin at the court of Frederick II “the Great”. However, when the latter’s actions forced the music-loving Elector for longer time to fill his double role as Polish King (when Dresden was occupied by Prussia during the Seven Years’ War, the court moved to Warsaw), the Polish capital finally experienced the start of an opera stage.

Until this moment, August III’s special object of fascination was not actually prevalent in Warsaw (although a theatre bulding, the Operalni, had been inaugurated in 1748 in the Saxon Garden). Now finally they pulled the musicians from Dresden (although not everybody), and it was possible to perform opera. Arminio appeared on 3 August 1761. In this way, after a break of more than a century since the disappearance of the opera tradition of Władysław IV’s time, the most fashionable, most demanding, but also the most spectacular entertainment of the baroque era returned to the Polish capital, immediately in its best form. Unfortunately not permanently, but it sow a seed that sprouted; despite crises and interruptions, the operatic life in Warsaw has not died.

In addition to the qualities of the music, the libretto may also explain why Arminio enjoyed particular success during the Seven Years’ War. This opera is just as much about romance, even of military nature (the battle scene in the third act), in which the content is the final victory of the objectively weaker, but heroic and guided by the legitimate rights of a king, over the unrelenting power of Rome. For August III, the protagonist is the belligerence of Frederick the Great, who in the eyes of the contemporary German rulers was considered a dangerous usurper, a destroyer of the fixed order.

Post-war problems

The war affected Hasse like the King. Although it did not disrupt his career, he lost a significant part of his vast fortune in the devastated and looted Dresden, — during the bombardment, his house was destroyed among other things, with the prepared printing materials for his collected works. The edition was sponsored by August, and after the war he did not succeed to undertake such a task. We still feel this today.

After the death of his princely patron (1763), Hasse had to leave the court of Dresden. The new ruler, not so much interested in music as his predecessors, facing both financial and political problems, had neither the desire nor the means to maintain the ensemble which earlier – in the Dictionnaire Rousseau – was considered the best in the world. True to himself, Hasse found a harbour in Vienna, where his music added splendor to the imperial ceremonies. The obstacle to his business had become, however, gout – and the public’s inevitably changing taste.

In 1773 he and his wife settled in Venice. They died in obscurity, Faustina in 1781, Johann Adolph in 1783. The world was already admiring the music of the next generation. This could not be changed neither by the continuing tradition of performing Hasse’s works in Dresden and in Berlin, nor by the efforts of Johann Adam Hiller to publish his arias, nor by Charles Burney’s enthralled eulogies to Arminio’s author.

Jakub Puchalski


Jana Čižmářová was born in Brno. After graduating in Prehistory from Brno University in 1973 with a dissertation topic focused on the protohistoric period, she worked in Brno City Museum at Špilberk castle. In 1987, she joined the Moravian Museum in Brno as curator of the protohistoric collections. Here she devoted herself to the processing of the collections, particularly from the La Tene period, but also from the Roman period, in addition to exhibition activities targeting the protohistorical period (e. g., the exhibitions “Lombards in Moravia”, “Gemstones in prehistory”, “Ancient art in Moravian collections and finds”, “Celts in Moravia”, “Teutons and Romans” and lately “Treasures of the barbarians”), shown in our country as well as abroad.

Marek Mokoš graduated in opera direction at the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts (JAMU) in Brno, as well as in acting and opera singing at the Conservatory in Bratislava. During his studies he completed an internship at the Bayreuth Wagner Festival and at the Ludwik Solski Academy for the Dramatic Arts in Kraków. He directed numerous operas including Pimpinone (Telemann), Don Giovanni (Mozart), L’impresario in angustie (Cimarosa), L’isola disabitata (Haydn), Orfeo ed Euridice (Gluck), stage performances of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater and Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ. As a co-director of the project VCHOD (Research Center for Musical-Operatic Theatre, under JAMU), he staged the operas Opportunity makes the thief (Rossini) and The Kiss (Smetana). As assistant director, he had the opportunity to work with David Radok at the National Theatre in Brno on the production of the opera The Makropulos Case (Janáček), and he assisted with the opera Romeo and Juliet (Gounoud) at the Slovak National Theatre. He also collaborated with Ensemble Opera Diversa and Wartberg Collegium.

Jan Čižmář is a versatile performer focusing on historical plucked instruments. He performs regularly in Europe, Asia and the USA with ensembles such as Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Capella Cracoviensis, and under conductors such as Frans Brüggen, Christopher Hogwood, Giovanni Antonini, Yannick Nézet–Séguin and Christina Pluhar. He appears also as soloist with of baroque and renaissance repertoire, and is the artistic leader of the ensemble Plaisirs de Musique. After graduation in guitar and musicology in his native Brno he studied at the Royal College of Music in London, where he began playing the lute in the class of Jakob Lindberg. He continued his studies at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague with the teachers Nigel North, Joachim Held, Mike Fentross and Christina Pluhar. He was the founder and editor of the Czech guitar magazine Kytara and contributes regularly to other musical periodicals. He is also intensely involved with publishing and research activities in the field of early music. Jan Čižmář taught lute and related instruments at the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice in Poland; currently he is teaching at the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts (JAMU) in Brno and at the Academy of Ancient Music at Masaryk University in Brno. He regularly gives courses and masterclasses in Europe and overseas.


Co-production: The organisers are:

Jan Čižmář
Hudební lahůdky, z. s.
Cacovická 729/50
614 00 Brno-Husovice
IČO: 22719458
tel: +420 606 222 416
Artur Malke
Stowarzyszenie Art In Motion
Bankowa 5/3
44–100 Gliwice
KRS: 0000400841
tel: +48 695 677 247

The performance is the result of a collaboration between the associations Hudební lahůdky and Art in Motion and the City of Gliwice.

The Czech-Polish cooperation between the associations Hudební lahůdky and Art in Motion has already to its credit a number of successful concerts, scenic and educational projects, especially the realisation in 2013–2015 of 13 performances of the Brno version of the opera Didone Abbandonata (libretto: Pietro Metastasio, music: Domenico Sarri).

The goal of the association Hudební lahůdky, z. s. is to increase the public awareness of the history of music through concerts, workshops, scenic, educational and children’s events, mostly focused on early music and historical performance practice. The association consists of musicians specializing in early music at a professional level, of music teachers and interested listeners.

The association Art In Motion was founded in Katowice in order to promote {oh!} Orkiestra Historyczna and early music in general, especially in the Upper Silesian region. It organises and co-organises concerts in Poland and abroad, most of them in collaboration with leading names within early music (e. g., Olga Pasiecznik, Marilia Vargas, Kai Wessel, Julien Chauvin, Alexis Kossenko, Lars Ulrik Mortensen and others).

Thank you

The event enjoys the auspices of the Minister of Culture of the Czech Republic Mgr. Daniel Herman and the Mayor of the Statutory City Brno Ing. Petr Vokřál.

It takes place with financial support from the Statutory City of Brno, the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic and the Ministry of Culture of Poland.

Ministry of Culture, Czech Republic Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland Statutární město Brno Miasto Gliwice Art in Motion (Katowice) Instytut Słowacki