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Hasse's Siroe, Thirty Years Later: A Veritable Work in Progress

Published Online: 31 Dec 2021
Volume & Issue: Volume 18 (2021) - Issue 1 (December 2021)
Page range: 65 - 74
Journal Details
License
Format
Journal
eISSN
2353-5733
ISSN
1734-1663
First Published
31 Dec 2013
Publication timeframe
1 time per year
Languages
English

In the 1750s and ’60s Johann Adolf Hasse returned to a number of librettos he had already set to music before. A quite remarkable case is offered by Siroe, of which he created a new setting exactly thirty years after his first one. This proved to be Hasse's last opera for Dresden, as well as the last his patron King August III of Poland was able to attend, barely a couple of months before his death.

Specifically on the case of Siroe see R. Mellace, L’autunno del Metastasio. Gli ultimi drammi per musica di Johann Adolf Hasse, Firenze, Olschki, 2007, pp. 16–17, 96–111, 192–210. According to Reinhard Strohm (Dramma per musica. Italian Opera Seria of the Eighteenth Century, New Haven/London, Yale University Press, 1997, p. 281), Hasse may have already revised the opera also for Naples in 1747, a revision of which, however, no trace remains. On the 1747 performance in Naples, featuring, among others, Giziello (as Siroe) and Manzuoli (Medarse), see P. Maione and F. Seller, Teatro di San Carlo di Napoli. Cronologia degli spettacoli (1737–1799), Napoli, Altrastampa, 2005, p. 64–65.

This new score, which the composer mainly wrote while in Warsaw during the Seven Years’ War, is by no means a completely new work. Instead, Hasse breathed new life into a project which had proved successful on the stage and seemed worth going back to, in accordance with the practice the composer had followed throughout his career. A feature that makes Siroe especially worthy of consideration is the extremely long time interval between the settings, hardly comparable to any other in the entire history of the opera, even among Hasse's contemporaries such as Jommelli. Such a distance implies that the composer faced a significant change in dramaturgical perspective and audience's taste. On the other hand, what preoccupies us scholars discussing the composer's attitude towards his own (earlier) music is the extent of the composer's loyalty towards his own style and compositional habits. In this case, as in many others, Hasse's operas can be viewed as veritable works in progress, whose balance is permanently debated and undergoes a more or less radical renovation from time to time, according to the changing practical circumstances, tastes, and biographical stages in one of the longest-ever careers in the entire history of opera, comparable only to Verdi's or Richard Strauss's.

See the chapter ‘Revisionen und Neufassungen: Theater in Progress’, in R. Mellace, Johann Adolf Hasse, Beeskow, Ortus Musikverlag, 2016, pp. 218–223.

As a matter of fact, there are remarkable differences between the two versions of Siroe, with major changes both in the drama and the music, namely in: 1. the overall organisation of the opera, 2. the balance in the relationships between characters, and 3. the individual characterisations of the dramatis personae.

TWO OPERAS, TWO LIBRETTOS

Hasse set Metastasio's libretto to music for the first time in 1733 for a magnificent production at the Teatro Malvezzi in Bologna, conceived in the spirit of competition with the Venetian carnival seasons. The Bologna committee that organised that special event hired a luxury cast for the main roles: Farinello as Siroe, Gaetano Majorana ‘Caffariello’ as his brother Medarse, and prima donna Vittoria Tesi Tramontini as Emira.

On the Bologna production see R.D. Schmidt-Hensel, ‘La musica è del Signor Hasse detto il Sassone...’ Johann Adolf Hasses ‘Opere serie’ der Jahre 1730 bis 1745. Quellen, Fassungen, Aufführungen, II,1, Göttingen, V&R unipress, 2009, pp. 359–390; on the Bologna and Handel's Siroe see also R. Mellace, ‘Siroe re di Sassonia: Handel, Hasse and young Metastasio’, in F. Cotticelli and R. Eisendle (eds), Der junge Metastasio – Il giovane Metastasio, Vienna, Hollitzer, 2021, pp. 187–206.

Thirty years later Hasse selected this libretto for the new opera of the 1763 carnival, in his regular capacity as primo maestro di cappella of the Polish-Saxon Court. He began work on the new score in the autumn of 1762 in Warsaw (see Figure 1) but proved unable to finish it in time for the scheduled performance, and the opera could not be staged before the following August, already in Dresden, since the Court had moved back to Saxony after the end of the Seven Years’ War. The composer had been suffering from severe gout attacks, as Prince Frederic Christian's correspondence reveals. On 19 January 1763, King August III wrote to his son Friedrich Christian: ‘Hasse soufre cruelement de la goutte, il a en esprit de composer l’opera Siroe rè di Persia mais je ne sais sì il sera en etat de l’achever pour ce Carneval 7. aires et la Simphonie manque encor il essaie d’ecrire … si il a un momant de relache.’

Cited in A. Żórawska-Witkowska, ‘I drammi per musica di Johann Adolf Hasse rappresentati a Varsavia negli anni 1754–1763’, in Johann Adolf Hasse und Polen, Warszawa, Instytut Muzykologii Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, 1995, p. 147.

Hasse's illness certainly played a major role in the composer's decision to go back to the Bologna score from halfway through Act Two, borrowing six arias and the chorus from the first version. However, this is not simply a case of hurry and lack of time; the story of these two operas is in fact much more complex and deserves some attention.

Figure 1

J.A. Hasse, Siroe, 1762, title page, autograph manuscript, I-Mc Part.Tr.Ms. 178, I, fol. 1r. Courtesy of the Biblioteca del Conservatorio ‘G. Verdi’ di Milano

First of all, Hasse's two settings of Siroe go back to different versions of the same libretto, differentiated by a number of distinctive facets. Only one year after the Venetian première in 1726 with music by Vinci, Metastasio had supplied Sarro and Porpora with two different versions of the drama, for Naples and Rome, respectively.

See R. Candiani, Pietro Metastasio da poeta di teatro a ‘virtuoso di poesia’, Roma, Aracne, 1998, pp. 187–201.

Hasse, while composing for Bologna, worked on the version staged in the nearby Venice. However, when he went back to the dramma thirty years later, he turned to the Neapolitan libretto for Sarro, the version also set to music by Handel in London, which Metastasio had included in his collected works as the official version of the drama.

Librettos employed in the present research: a) from the Bologna 1733 production: copy in Bologna, Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale, Lo.2490 (facsimile reprint in the Garland series Italian Opera Librettos: 1640–1770, IX); b) from the Dresden 1763 production: copy in Praha, Národní Knihovna České Republiky, 9 G 7544.

This choice complies with Hasse's attitude of restoring Metastasio's authentic texts in the latter part of his career when his acquaintance with the poet became more personal and direct.

See the chapter ‘Metastasio und Hasse’, in Mellace, Johann Adolf Hasse, pp. 224–234.

In shaping the new setting, Hasse further followed the historical trend of reducing the number of arias (see Table 1), which had already been cut down in Bologna to 24 from Metastasio's original 27, and in Warsaw and Dresden he further limited them to just 20, a little more than two thirds of the original libretto. In doing so, Hasse came very close to the Metastasio's then brand-new libretto of Il Trionfo di Clelia, staged with Hasse's music in Vienna in the same year, 1762, which features no more than 19 arias and a duet. It is quite remarkable that the section that was cut most was not Act Two or Three, but Act One, from ten to only six arias. Of the 24 Bologna arias, no less than 16 belong to Metastasio's libretto for Venice, to which one should add three more arias taken from the versions for Porpora and Sarro. Only five arias use non-Metastasian material, most of which had been written for Farinelli. Out of the 20 arias in the 1763 libretto, the same number, 16, plus one more single stanza, belong to the Neapolitan libretto. Notwithstanding the changes that took place over the decades, we must conclude that the libretto keeps a very strong Metastasian identity already in the Bologna version, dating back to a time when Hasse felt at far greater liberty to substitute arias, but this identity especially comes to the fore in the later version. What is more remarkable is that the later Hasse setting, regardless of the music, retains only 13 aria texts out of the 24 of the first version, a circumstance that necessarily implies major changes in the overall musical and, to a certain extent, even dramatic shape of the opera.

Arias in Hasse's Siroe settings compared with their sources

Venice 1726 Vinci Bologna 1733 Hasse Naples 1727 Sarro Dresden 1763 Hasse
Total arias 27 24 27 20*
Arias on texts by Metastasio 27 16 + 3 from Porpora's and Sarro's Siroe 27 16,5
Arias appearing both in Hasse 1733 and 1763 (texts only) 13

For the sake of comparison: Il trionfo di Clelia, 1762 has 19 Arias + 1 Duet

As far as the balance and relationships among characters are concerned, Hasse's attitude has not changed dramatically, but still some choices have subtle consequences (see Table 2). In Bologna, Siroe's role was given a prominent position by providing Farinello with five arias, more than were given to any of his colleagues. Medarse, alias the famous Caffarello, does not stay that much behind him, being given two arias in Act 1, exactly like Farinello, whom he beats by getting the chance to end the act with the explosive bravura aria ‘Fra l’orror della tempesta’, while he is also given the very last aria in the entire opera. Reinhard Strohm was right to comment that in Hasse's 1733 setting ‘the villain Medarse is musically privileged with four arias of the greatest intensity’.

Strohm, Dramma per musica, p. 281.

Since Tesi as Emira, in one or her favoured female roles in male disguise, does not stay much behind them either, we might conclude that the three main roles are carefully maintained, if not on the same level, then at least not on completely different levels, through a subtle strategy that was necessary in an all-star show such as the Bologna Siroe, where none of the three main singers could be reduced to a secondary role.

Number of arias in Hasse's Siroe settings and in their sources

Venice 1726 Vinci Naples 1727 Sarro Bologna 1733 Hasse Dresden 1763 Hasse
Cosroe 5 5 4 3
Siroe 5 5 5 4
Medarse 5 4 4 3
Emira 5 5 4 4
Laodice 5 5 4 3
Arasse 2 3 3 3
Total no. of arias 27 27 24 20

Thirty years later, the pre-eminence of this trio of ‘prime parti’ was apparently still considered satisfying, but something had happened in the meantime. The focus of the drama shifted from the quarrel between the two brothers Siroe and Medarse to the romantic conflict between Siroe and Emira. A second, remarkable circumstance is the fact of the remaining four characters – Medarse, Cosroe, Laodice and Arasse – being pushed into the background, all within a very close range which reduces the differences in status among them. The game is now between the two lovers, while the remaining characters’ roles, particularly those of Siroe's brother and father, Medarse and Cosroe, become secondary. The two lovers now share the same number of arias, while the remaining characters pay the highest price for the general reduction of the number of arias and are limited to just three arias each, only one aria per act. On the side of the losers, there are differences, though. The main victim is certainly King Cosroe. Though a pivotal character of the drama, a sort of Persian King Lear in conflict with his two children Siroe and Medarse, whose inheritance of the throne was originally the main topic of the drama, Cosroe loses even his main vocal chance at the heart of the drama, the aria ‘Fra sdegno ed amore’ (II,7),

‘Fra sdegno ed amore, / tiranni del core, / l’antica sua calma / quest’alma perdé. // Geloso del trono, / pietoso del figlio, / incerto ragiono, / non trovo consiglio. / E intanto non sono / né padre né re.’

which explored the tyrant's internal struggle, shattering the image he had been trying to give in the very opening of the drama, declaring himself equally and peacefully the father of his children and of his kingdom. Hasse had set this text in Bologna as a furious G-minor aria. If the originally crucial role of King Cosroe is diminished as a result of this transformation, an originally minor character has unexpectedly gained, and undoubtedly benefits most in the competition among the secondary figures. It is Arasse, who gains unprecedented prominence thanks to three engaging new arias written for him, two of which are settings of texts not by Metastasio.

‘Contente non siete’ (I,9) and ‘L’alma a goder prepara’ (III,6).

A NEW SCORE

Let us now focus on the music. Rather than comparing the two scores systematically,

For a general comparison between the two scores, see F.L. Millner, The Operas of Johann Adolf Hasse, Ann Arbor, UMI Research Press, 1979, pp. 152–169.

I will concentrate on the later version in order to address three distinct issues to which I will devote a few comments: 1. the brand-new music written for the character of Siroe, 2. the new relationships between the main characters, and 3. the gains and losses of the remaining figures. Compared to the first Siroe, we can certainly observe similarities to the 1733 Bologna setting, from which it retains 6 arias and the chorus. However, the two versions can by no means be considered interchangeable.

Sources employed in the present research: Hasse's 1733 version published in facsimile (from the A-Wn manuscript Mus. Hs. 17256) in Italian Opera 1640–1770, vol. 33, Howard M. Brown (ed.), New York/London, Garland, 1977; Hasse's 1763 autograph in I-Mc (Part.Tr.Ms. 178).

The music for the character of Siroe was completely reconsidered by Hasse. In Bologna, Farinelli was the soul of the production, featuring as its main celebrity as well as acting as its manager, hiring the composer, the singers, and the dancers on behalf of the local nobility. Thirty years later, the role, now given to the male alto Pasquale Bruscolini, was completely transformed: One aria was eliminated, two more were replaced by as many others with different texts and music, while the remaining two were set to new music. Farinelli's Siroe had been a very coherent character, displaying elegant lyricism, a restrained and tender expression of ideal beauty and moral dignity. In contrast, Bruscolini's Siroe offers a more complex portrayal of the character, exhibiting different attitudes through the specific features of each aria. We might point to two opposites. On the one hand, Siroe's first aria ‘La sorte mia tiranna’ (Musical example 1) is an overtly pathetic piece that retains some features of the aria on the same text Farinelli had sung in Bologna, in both the melodic line (systematically exploiting syncopated rhythm in the setting of line 2) and the overall mood of its main section. It is the only aria to establish a link between representations of the same character in the two settings. It is worth noting that this early Largo, Siroe's first aria in the opera, constitutes the only instance of pathos in Bruscolini's role, albeit balanced by the dramatic E-minor Allegro which makes up the B section of the aria, as the singer quickly moves towards a livelier mode of expression, which he maintains for the remainder of the opera.

Hasse's 1733 Siroe has never been recorded, although it was performed by Ensemble Serse in London in 2008 and again in 2011. However, a complete edition of the later 1763 version is available (Armonia Atenea, G. Petrou, CD Decca, 2014). Hasse's 1733 version of the aria ‘La sorte mia tiranna’ is available, although with a slightly altered text, as part of a recording of Vivaldi's Bajazet, a pasticcio by the Venetian composer that includes that aria. The CD contains two more arias from Hasse's 1733 Siroe, although without acknowledging their origin: ‘Spesso tra vaghe rose’ and ‘Vedeste mai sul prato’ (Elina Garanèa, David Daniels, Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi; CD Virgin Classics 5 45676 2).

Musical example 1

J.A. Hasse, Siroe, 1763, Siroe's aria ‘La sorte mia tiranna’

On the other hand, Siroe's second aria from Act Two, ‘Fra’ dubbi affetti miei’ (Musical example 2), restoring Metastasio's text, departs very strongly from Farinelli's original number, substituting the Adagio ‘Dal tuo voler dipende’ with a more energetic Allegro ma non troppo in ⅜ time. Siroe is provoking Emira, urging his lover to decide whether he should face prison or marry Laodice. Farinelli's original sincerity (‘Dal tuo voler dipende / questo mio core amante’), expressed in a moving Adagio, gives way to a simulated indecisiveness, which shows Siroe much more in control of his feelings than he is pretending to be. The new aria steers clear of any pathetic flavour.

Musical example 2

J.A. Hasse, Siroe, 1763, Siroe's aria ‘Fra’ dubbi affetti miei’

Siroe reaches the climax of his euphoria in his last aria, the new version of ‘Se l’amor tuo mi rendi’ (Musical example 3). A typical polonaise (Allegro, vivo, e nel gusto polacco, in D major, ¾ time) and a brilliant, fast piece, it is very distant from the bombastic tone of Farinelli's piece. It turned out to be, even if none could suspect this, Hasse's last homage to August III as king of Poland. The use of the polonaise rhythm was a current symbol expressing political allegiance to the crown, as can be inferred from its regular appearance in works of the Dresden tradition composed by Hasse himself (e.g. Egle's aria ‘Oh, che felici pianti’ in ZenobiaAllegretto, con spirito, molto staccato, ed un poco nel gusto polonese), as well as Johann David Heinichen, Jan Dismas Zelenka, Joseph Schuster, Johann Gottlieb Naumann, and even possibly Johann Sebastian Bach.

For a comprehensive overview of this topic see S. Paczkowski, ‘The role and significance of the polonaise in the ‘Quoniam’ of the B-minor Mass’, in Y. Tomita, R.A. Leaver and J. Smaczny (eds), Exploring Bach's B-minor Mass, New York, Cambridge University Press, pp. 54–83, at 70–73.

Musical example 3

Part.Tr.Ms. 178, III, fol. 28v Courtesy of the Biblioteca del Conservatorio ‘G. Verdi’ di Milano

As mentioned previously, a further major change is the shift of focus towards the conflict between Siroe and his lover Emira. Emira, was now enacted by the soprano Caterina Pilai, endowed with considerable agility.

On Pilai's merits, see P. Mücke, Johann Adolf Hasses Dresdner Opern im Kontext der Hofkultur, Laaber, Laaber Verlag, 2003, pp. 194–196.

Hasse had judged her as one of the leading singers of the time just one year earlier. In Siroe she matches her lover in the number of arias and is given ones that are better on average than Tesi's in Bologna thanks to more effective substitute arias and clever changes in the extant original arias. In her new aria ‘Sgombra dall’anima’ (Musical example 4), a stable and reassuring C-major Allegro, the shrewd princess convinces King Cosroe of her loyalty through an assertive circular melody conveying a sense of confidence, which succeeds in almost hypnotising her enemy.

Musical example 4

J.A. Hasse, Siroe, 1763, Emira's aria ‘Sgombra dall’anima’

Let me finally address the last novelty in the new setting of the opera: the unexpected importance gained by the ultima parte, Arasse. He is supplied with the same number of arias as Medarse, King Cosroe, and Laodice, and all of his arias are, again most unusually, brand-new. The reason for this choice was ostensibly the presence in the cast of the brilliant male soprano Luca Fabris. He had reached Warsaw in the summer 1762, winning the favour of the King himself to the point that Hasse added two new arias for him in Il trionfo di Clelia, in which Fabris was likewise asked to sing one aria in each act. Arasse's aria from Act Two, ‘Se pugnar non sai col fato’ (Musical example 5), is a brilliant, lively number in C major, Allegro, e con molto spirito. It contains a contrasting and extremely moving central section, which by 1763 seems to herald new stylistic trends, pointing directly to young Mozart in the stamina and energy of the vocal line, the transparent orchestration, and classical balance between the voice and orchestra. It seems as if the sixty-four-year-old Hasse had been inspired to reconsider and update his own style, achieving outstanding results, through his encounter with a remarkable singer whose career had developed in the modern field of Goldoni's comic opera.

Musical example 5

J.A. Hasse, Siroe, 1763, Arasse's aria ‘Se pugnar non sai col fato’

Figure 1

J.A. Hasse, Siroe, 1762, title page, autograph manuscript, I-Mc Part.Tr.Ms. 178, I, fol. 1r. Courtesy of the Biblioteca del Conservatorio ‘G. Verdi’ di Milano
J.A. Hasse, Siroe, 1762, title page, autograph manuscript, I-Mc Part.Tr.Ms. 178, I, fol. 1r. Courtesy of the Biblioteca del Conservatorio ‘G. Verdi’ di Milano

Musical example 1

J.A. Hasse, Siroe, 1763, Siroe's aria ‘La sorte mia tiranna’
J.A. Hasse, Siroe, 1763, Siroe's aria ‘La sorte mia tiranna’

Musical example 2

J.A. Hasse, Siroe, 1763, Siroe's aria ‘Fra’ dubbi affetti miei’
J.A. Hasse, Siroe, 1763, Siroe's aria ‘Fra’ dubbi affetti miei’

Musical example 3

Part.Tr.Ms. 178, III, fol. 28v Courtesy of the Biblioteca del Conservatorio ‘G. Verdi’ di Milano
Part.Tr.Ms. 178, III, fol. 28v Courtesy of the Biblioteca del Conservatorio ‘G. Verdi’ di Milano

Musical example 4

J.A. Hasse, Siroe, 1763, Emira's aria ‘Sgombra dall’anima’
J.A. Hasse, Siroe, 1763, Emira's aria ‘Sgombra dall’anima’

Musical example 5

J.A. Hasse, Siroe, 1763, Arasse's aria ‘Se pugnar non sai col fato’
J.A. Hasse, Siroe, 1763, Arasse's aria ‘Se pugnar non sai col fato’

Number of arias in Hasse's Siroe settings and in their sources

Venice 1726 Vinci Naples 1727 Sarro Bologna 1733 Hasse Dresden 1763 Hasse
Cosroe 5 5 4 3
Siroe 5 5 5 4
Medarse 5 4 4 3
Emira 5 5 4 4
Laodice 5 5 4 3
Arasse 2 3 3 3
Total no. of arias 27 27 24 20

Arias in Hasse's Siroe settings compared with their sources

Venice 1726 Vinci Bologna 1733 Hasse Naples 1727 Sarro Dresden 1763 Hasse
Total arias 27 24 27 20*
Arias on texts by Metastasio 27 16 + 3 from Porpora's and Sarro's Siroe 27 16,5
Arias appearing both in Hasse 1733 and 1763 (texts only) 13

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