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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Graun: Montezuma

06/02/2013 1:00 pm
06/02/2013 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera Host Keith Brown writes:

This is one of the most singular operas of the entire eighteenth century. Carl Heinrich Graun (1703-59) was primarily a composer of operas at the court of King Frederick the Great of Prussia. The king himself provided the Italian language libretto for Montezuma (1755). It was the most politically radical operatic text of its time. Frederick was completely in sympathy with the conquered Aztecs and their hapless leader. The king shows an unashamedly anti-Christian bias.

Montezuma appears never to have been performed anywhere outside of Berlin, yet the opera made its mark on musical posterity. Its score was published way back in 1904, long before the modern revival of interest in baroque music. Montezuma even had a few revival performances in the twentieth century. Excerpts from it were set forth on a Decca LP circa 1968. The 1992 CD recording issued by Capriccio was its world premiere of the entire opera on disc. (Well, one aria has been edited out.)

Unlike his contemporary J. S. Bach, Graun was a musical progressive. His music for Montezuma prefigures many aspects of the "reform operas" of Gluck. Capriccio has given us Graun's masterpiece the best possible recorded treatment. Johannes Goritzki directs the Deutsche Kammerakademie, an excellent chamber orchestra, but not a period instrument ensemble. The instrumentalists are joined by the Kammerchor Cantica Nova and vocal soloists. Capriccio reissued Montezuma in 2011 on two compact discs. That reissue is what you'll be listening to today. You last heard the first issue of the CD's on Sunday, September 25, 2005 and prior to that on Sunday, February 12, 1995.