Monday, December 24, 2012

Salieri - Overture To 'Les Danaïdes'

The music of Antonio Salieri began to fade in popularity many years before his death. He was an influential composer in 18th century opera. There were no new operas by him after 1804, but he was a sought-after teacher in his later years and taught composers such as  Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt.

Salieri's name once again became known from the dramatization of Mozart's life in the play and movie Amadeus.  The popularity of the play did nothing for Salieri's reputation, which was harmed by the whispered gossip that he caused Mozart's death. That is not true, history has shown that he had nothing to do with it, but the gossip did make for high drama. But the play did create a certain amount of curiosity about Salieri's music, and it is much more available in performance and recordings because of it.

The opera  Les Danaïdes is a French language opera (Salieri wrote operas in three different languages) that was originally supposed to be written by Gluck, one of the innovators of classical era operas, but he suffered a stroke and was unable to compose the opera so he gave it to his young friend Salieri.  The opera is based on a Greek tragedy based on the mythological characters Danaus and Hypermnestra. The Danaïdes (some fifty in number) are the daughters of Danaus. The opera is in five acts, with the usual plot twists and turns of love and betrayal. The end of the opera sees all of the Danaïdes sent to hell, where they see their father chained to a rock with a vulture eating his entrails.  Whatever transpired during the play for all of this to happen must have been pretty crazy, but that's the world of opera.

The opera premiered in 1784 to great success, and was still being performed in the 1820's in France. This was the opera that influenced Berlioz to turn away from the study of medicine to the study of music. < br />