EBN 26 | NIOBE, REGINA DI TEBE
AGOSTINO STEFFANI (1654–1728)
“Niobe, Regina di Tebe”
Dramma per musica in tre atti
Libretto by Luigi Orlandi
Performing edition by Wolfgang Berthold and Thomas Krümpelmann, figured bass completed by Michael Behringer
Niobe (S), Anfione (S), Manto (S), Tiresia (T/Bar), Clearte (A), Creonte (A), Poliferno (Bar), Tiberino (T), Nerea (Mez), Voci di popolo 4 Tr, Tp, 2 Fl, 2 Pif (Ob), Str, Cemb, Theorb, Fg
Full score and performing material available for hire
Libretto. Complete Italian text and German translation by Teresa Russo
The music of the Italian composer Agostino Steffani may be located at a point between timeless modernity and the idiosyncratically original sounds of the Baroque. His contemporaries held him in the highest esteem and few other composers left such an abiding mark on Italian opera in Germany. As a composer he attracted attention with his very personal style, which combines Italian, French and German elements. He wrote his dramma per musica, Niobe, regina de Tebe, in 1688. It was his final opera for the Munich court.
In terms of its content the opera invites us to engage with the tragic tale of the arrogant Queen Niobe of Thebes, a tale translated into music as enchanting as it is shocking. When Thomas Hengelbrock opened the 2008 Schwetzingen Festival with Niobe, he helped to restore the reputation of a work that had first been heard exactly 320 years earlier. For this revival, a modern edition of the score was prepared. A revised edition followed in 2009 and included a number of practical insights based on the production. “In the last ten years or so,” wrote the Frankfurter Rundschau, “Thomas Hengelbrock has excavated all manner of antiquities, but this opera by Steffani is a particular find. Its scoring is extremely colourful in the French fashion and includes a harp, flutes, oboes and regal.”
Steffani reveals great inventiveness and imagination in investing his music with an emotional intensity that is typical of opera, while also drawing on folklike elements in the manner of the Italian canzonetta. One of the work’s high points is the ten-minute aria “Sfere amiche”. With its encircling bass figures and sustained string sonorities, this is the music of the spheres translated to the Age of Baroque. As such, it is unprecedentedly modern.