Content / Background
Antonio Salieri was Italian, but also at home in Vienna. In 1766, the young man, just sixteen years old, was invited to the emperor’s city by Florian Leopold Gassmann and, until his death in 1825, left his mark on it as few others have done as a musician and opera composer, a teacher of numerous pupils and a fervent advocate of the promotion of musical training. Although Vienna was to all intents and purposes his permanent residence, Salieri, who, rumour has it, had only a shaky command of German right up until his death, also premiered operas in other cities such as Venice and Naples. The main reason for this was the introduction of the “Teutsches Nationalsingspiel” as part of the theatre reforms under Josef II. This meant that for the time being only German-language works could be performed at the opera in Vienna. Although Italian opera was back in vogue in Vienna from 1783, Salieri turned to Paris for a joint production created with his friend and supporter Christoph Willibald Gluck. Les Danaïdes, a tragédie lyrique, was a great success and remained so even after Gluck had stated that the music was the work of Salieri alone. However, his second production in France, Les Horaces (1786), was a disaster. With Tarare (1787), to a libretto by Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, Salieri was able to follow up his first success in Paris: from June 1787 to February 1788 the opera was performed over thirty times. The plot centres on the wild and uncontrolled passion of King Atar. Atar desires the beautiful Astasie, wife of the virtuous soldier Tarare. The king has her abducted and forces her to live in his harem under the name of Irza. In his despair, Tarare turns, of all people, to the king… murderous conspiracies, cases of mistaken identity and devious schemes — with the odd comic-buffonesque element thrown in — take their course until the cruel tyrant is finally toppled by the valiant and fearless Tarare. Christophe Rousset, having presented concert performances of Les Danaïdes in November 2013 and Les Horaces in October 2016 with his ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, now completes the cycle of Salieri’s three French operas with this concert.