Dramma eroicomico in two acts
Libretto by Giovanni Battista Casti
Premiere of the original Italian version
Kublai, ruler of the Tartars, has a whole host of problems on his plate: his court officials are plotting against him, his own son is such a dimwit that the princess of the neighbouring country refuses to marry him, and to cap it all a couple of Italian adventurers are interfering with his country’s traditions. Although the comic opera Cublai, gran kan de’ Tartari by Giambattista Casti with music by Antonio Salieri is apparently set in Cathay, the situation it portrays is actually that of European royal courts, especially the court of the Russian tsar. The central question raised by the authors, in the true spirit of the Enlightenment in Europe, is how those in power deal with the responsibility they have for their lands. But because Russia was an ally of the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, the monarch cancelled the premiere following the outbreak of the Austro-Turkish War in 1787. As a result, one of the most unusual operas of the 18th century, which draws on the comedy of the commedia dell’arte and whose biting satire almost equals that of Jacques Offenbach’s works, was forgotten for over 200 years. Conductor Christophe Rousset, a champion of Antonio Salieri’s music for many years, now takes on responsibility for the belated premiere of the original Italian version of Cublai, gran kan de’ Tartari.
In Italian with German and English surtitles
Introduction to the work 30 minutes before curtain-up
Les Talens Lyriques
Arnold Schoenberg Chor
(Leitung: Erwin Ortner)
Kublai Kan, the powerful, pleasure-loving but not very drink-hardened ruler of Cathay, intends to marry his son Lipi to the Bengali princess Alzima. To this end, he has her brought to his court by his nephew Timur. However, this plan has two difficulties of which he is completely unaware: Alzima and Timur are in love, which is immediately obvious to everyone except the couple themselves. And Lipi, who was raised by the bigwig Posega and has had little contact with his father, has no interest in women and pursues other interests entirely. Posega, who for years has been telling Kublai Kan of his successes as a tutor, now finds himself in a tight spot. He impresses on Lipi that women are cruel and calculating and that on no account should he marry. Two Italian adventurers employed at the court of Cathay, Memma and Bozzone, make ironic comments about all these goings-on. The resolute Memma convinces all the Tartars to shave off their beards after the European fashion. In the end, the inevitable happens: the first official meeting between Alzima and Lipi ends in a scandal.
It is Bozzone who finally states the obvious: if Kublai Kan made his nephew Timur his heir and the latter married Alzima, everything would turn out for the best for all concerned. Posega, fearing the loss of his position of power at the palace, discredits Timur, and especially Memma, to Alzima, telling her that Memma has her eye on the throne and is planning to overthrow Kublai Kan and Lipi and rule with Timur. But after many twists and turns everything turns out well: Timur is named heir to the throne of Cathay, he and Alzima become a couple, and Lipi can continue his “education” under Posega.