The combined forces of conservatoire period orchestras and the best students of vocal departments in Poland, under the baton of a specialist in Baroque music, Jaroslaw Thiel, will take us to the exotic Aztec state, to the time of its conquest by the Spaniards in the 16th century. We will hear the opera Montezuma by Carl Heinrich Graun.
We will get to know the semi-legendary story of the real personages: Montezuma, the last Aztec ruler before the conquest, and Hernán Cortés, the famous conquistador and conqueror of Mexico. According to the account of one of the soldiers and according to a native American story, Montezuma recognised Cortés arriving across the ocean as the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, who once upon a time had sailed east, but had announced his return. In the plot of the opera, the naive ruler of the natives submits to the alleged god, who turns out to be a brutal invader. Montezuma therefore tries to provoke rebellion against the Spaniards, for which he will pay with his life.
While the plot of the opera presents historical events in a rather simplified way, it is still difficult to establish all the facts and, above all, to evaluate the conquest. Already at the time of discovering and conquering the New World, opinions on this subject among contemporary intellectuals, church and political dignitaries were divided. Undoubtedly, the Graun opera, written at the request of Prussian King Frederic II the Great and its libretto written by the monarch himself are an expression of sympathy for the indigenous people of Mesoamerica and the criticism of the Spaniards. Interestingly, the king did not feel equal empathy towards his nearest neighbours: he was one of the initiators and implementers of the first partition of Poland. And Prussia itself, though late, eventually joined the colonisation of the New World
The history of the conquest of Mexico became the inspiration for several operas – from the work of Vivaldi to the work of Lorenzo Ferrer, written in the 21st century. Graun, director of the Royal Berlin Opera, court composer to Frederick II, and at one time his musical theory teacher, was together with Johann Adolf Hassse the most important composer of operas in Germany in the mid-18th century. In Montezuma, the roles of belligerent men (and all the solo parts of this work) were written only for high voices: soprano, mezzo-soprano and alto. In his time, a castrate was playing the role of the Aztec chief (the male soprano was to be Frederic II's favourite voice). Both competing leaders were equally awarded with impressive arias by the composer. He also introduced the figure of a woman, Montezuma's beloved Eupaforice.
Quite rarely performed, Graun's opera was staged eight years ago at the renowned Edinburgh Festival. It is worth getting to know this extraordinary work and see how young artists will cope with this repertoire.