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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 18, No. 7

Ensemble Caprice takes on Vivaldi’s Motezuma

by Hassan Laghcha / June 1, 2013

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The Montreal Baroque Festival (June 21-24) will host Ensemble Caprice’s reconstruction of Vivaldi’s opera Motezuma, a partial score of which was discovered in Berlin in 2002. The Montreal premier of this opera is a staging midway between concert and opera, taking the original work in a new artistic direction. Recitative and baroque arias will combine with the main actor’s narration against a backdrop of music with a contemporary feel. Digital technology will also come into play in order to recreate the captivating story of the last Aztec emperor. It will be quite a programme.

“This is our biggest project,” says Matthias Maute, artistic director of Ensemble Caprice, which has been described by The New York Times as “an immensely thoughtful and progressive force on the musical scene.” He confides that “performing this opera is a challenge in itself, given the particular care with which Vivaldi composed it. It was especially important to him that this piece be of the highest quality.” Maute adds that he has found it extremely stimulating to work with performers from the Atelier Lyrique de Montréal.

“Reconstructing this work, premiered in 1733, is a test of my ability to internalise the spirit of Vivaldi’s style,” Maute says. Waxing eloquent on the virtues of the Italian composer, more renowned for his concertos than for his operas, he explains, “In order to re-compose the 17 missing movements, I had to immerse myself in the context for the composition of Motezuma. Aged 55, Vivaldi was at the peak of his capacities, but he was under great pressure from the imposing Neapolitan School with its arias and Galant style.” In fact, according to composer Maute and his Ensemble Caprice colleagues, Motezuma is a summary of Vivaldi’s relationship to opera. “Vivaldi as an opera composer had yet to be discovered,” says Maute, expressing his fascination for Vivaldi’s “wonderful feel for storyline.” And yet the operas did not meet with the success their composer had hoped.

Birth of an opera

“Vivaldi wanted to retain his particular style and ideas about operatic composition at all costs. Of course, he ended up compromising by inserting a few Neapolitan-style arias into his works, but he never identified fully with the Neapolitan school,” says Maute. This could explain why his operas met with less success than his concertos. In fact, the genesis of the pieces adds to their appeal; they are emblematic of the composer’s style. Vivaldi varied musical and harmonic colour and did not hesitate to use instruments that were uncommon in operatic compositions at the time. “In my version,” says Maute, “I’ve taken all these elements into account for a mix that recreates the spirit of the piece and its context. For example, I wrote an aria recreating the Neapolitan style with its triplets and distinctive harmonic structure, for arias, as we all know, are the salient points of Baroque opera. Above all, I want to produce an interpretation that is faithful to the innovative essence of Ensemble Caprice, its signature and personal artistic sensitivity.” He stresses that Ensemble Caprice is committed to reviving early music in a living fashion, connecting the past to the present in all its activities. “Performance must be more than just repetition. The biggest problem with classical music today is that music from the past is repeated over and over in the same way. On the contrary – performing early music should give pieces a new life by relocating them in the present day and responding to the needs of today’s audiences,” he explains.

Motezuma: an extravagant plot

Motezuma was premiered in Venice in 1733 at the Sant’Angelo Theatre. Alvise Giusti’s libretto tells the story of Moctezuma II, last emperor of Mexico. Motezuma, defeated, is wanted by the soldiers of Spanish conquistador Fernando Cortés.  The fallen emperor asks his wife Mitrena to kill their daughter Teutile to prevent her from falling into the hands of the Spanish. Destinies collide in the ensuing events, and a captivating and unpredictable plot unfolds. At the end, Teutile marries Ramiro, Cortés’s brother.

The score that German musicologist Steffen Voss discovered in 2002 in the archives of the Berlin Sing-Akademie is missing the beginning of Acts I and III and the finale of Act III. Only Act II is complete. In the version that Ensemble Caprice performs on June 21, 2013, at the Montreal St-James Theatre, the reconstructed score is composed of 31 movements, 14 of which were written by Vivaldi.

Montreal Baroque Festival. June 21. montrealbaroque.com

Translation: Ariadne Lih

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