Artistic Director Erin Helyard on what makes Hasse’s Artaserse a great choice for Pinchgut…
Artaserse was not only one of the most popular libretti of the eighteenth century but it was also one of the most broadly influential for a wide range of composers and performers. Written by the great Pietro Metastasio and first set by Vinci in 1730 in Rome and then by Hasse in Venice in the same year, the plot of Artaserse focuses on the conflict between public duty and private desire. The substantial tensions at play – and alleviated only in the final climactic scene – allowed composers and singers to bring their significant gifts into play.
Both Hasse and Vinci’s settings of the stories received an extraordinary amount of revivals in subsequent decades and indeed – and most unusually for the genre of opera seria – it became something of a classic. Certainly Hasse’s spectacular Venetian setting established his international fame. It also launched the career of Farinelli, who created the role of Arbace and performed Hasse’s arias wherever he went for the rest of his performing life. When Hasse had to mount an opera in Dresden in 1740 for the Saxon crown prince Friedrich Christian’s return to Dresden from Venice, what better choice than a revision of his great Venetian success. This time, Hasse turned the work into a star vehicle for his wife, the renowned Faustina Bordoni. He revised his 1730 version and added 12 new arias: five of them are for Faustina in the role of Mandane. Although Hasse’s 1730 Artaserse has been performed and recorded, the Dresden 1740 version (presented here by Pinchgut) has never been revived in modern times, nor recorded. Here I play the part of the composer Hasse, conducting at the keyboard, and Vivica Genaux plays the role of Bordoni, in the role of Mandane!
It has taken me many, many months of work to transcribe the Dresden score into a workable edition. But this is work I adore, as I feel much closer to the composer and librettist and of course fast become an expert in the opera itself. I’m delighted to welcome back to Pinchgut David Hansen in the “Farinelli” role – I knew David as a young student at the Sydney Conservatorium and I’m thrilled to have witnessed (and in also in some small ways been a part of) his phenomenal career. We both share a deep and abiding love of opera seria in this period and together with Vivica Genaux – who is quite simply the greatest advocate of Hasse and one of the most phenomenal virtuosi on the planet – I can’t wait to begin rehearsals on this very special opera from 1740, presented here for the first time after a silence of 278 years!