Steffani’s Orlando Generoso: Drama and Music
On the quincentary of the first edition of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (1516), this essay argues that Orlando Generoso is an exceptional opera for Steffani and Ariosto, that it is an imaginative and powerful musical drama, that it warns against the pursuit of blind passion, and that it reflects a major concern of the Hanoverian court at the time.
Setting the scene
Orlando Generoso is the third of the six three-act operas that Steffani created at the court of Hanover between 1689 and 1695. He had moved there in the summer of 1688 from Munich, where he had been employed from 1667, first as a singer, then as an organist and finally, from 1681, as director of chamber music. During these twenty-one years he had composed Latin psalms and motets, secular Italian chamber cantatas and duets, the music for an equestrian ballet, and five operas (1681–1688). He was thirty-three years old when he went to Hanover, where Duke Ernst August, having disbanded the chapel of his Catholic predecessor, Johann Friedrich, had decided to place Italian opera on a firm footing. Ernst August believed that the cultivation of high-quality opera at the court would raise him and his duchy in the estimation of the emperor and the imperial electors and thus strengthen his case for the elevation of Hanover to an electorate.1 He had retained, enlarged and improved the instrumental ensemble and ordered the construction of a magnificent new theatre, which was approaching completion, and...
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