After 256 years, the time had finally come: on 1 September 2021, a sold-out Schlosstheater Schönbrunn witnessed the official première of La Corona at the venue for which it had originally been composed.

It was in 1765 that Empress Maria Theresia commissioned Christoph Willibald Gluck and Pietro Metastasio to create this work for the name day of her husband, Emperor Franz Stephan. The Empress had intended for the première of this Azione teatrale to take place on 4 October 1765 in the Schlosstheater at Schönbrunn. With her extended family circle in attendance, the production was to feature performances by those same four daughters who, just a few months prior, had premièred Gluck’s Il Parnaso confuso in Schönbrunn’s Salon de Bataille (now the Hall of Ceremonies) to great success. However, the Emperor’s sudden death on 18 August 1765—less than two months shy of his name day—rendered all plans for this performance null and void.

Thereafter, La Corona—whose libretto is based on the Caledonian boar hunt—proceeded to slumber until far into the 20th century. This metaphorical drama revolves around the question of which protagonist should receive the honour of finishing off the mortally wounded boar. The characters onstage ultimately fail to reach an agreement, so it is decided that the crown (la corona) should go to the highest-ranking member of the audience—in this case, Emperor Franz Stephan of Lorraine.

© Barbara Palffy

This work hence embodies an operatic tribute of a sort that was quite common during the 18th century. Gluck made virtuosic use of late baroque opera’s traditional sequence of arias, here, providing the four princesses with rewarding opportunities to prove their vocal prowess—which, in light of these coloratura arias’ difficulty, must have been considerable.

Years later, Napoleon would refer to the youngest princess—Maria Carolina, the future Queen of Naples—as Europe’s most dangerous woman, seeing as she had risen to become his most formidable rival. By all accounts, Maria Carolina would seem to have been headstrong and rebellious even as a child—an assessment that is backed up by Maria Theresia’s written correspondence. And in 1765, Metastasio provided this just 13-year-old girl with an aria about aspiring to renown—which, in light of her later deeds, could certainly be characterised as prescient.

The roles in this performance at Schönbrunn on 1 September 2021 were sung by the Department of Vocal Studies and Music Theatre students Ayelén Mose, Elena Sverdiolaité, Indré Pelakauskaité, and Lucija Varsic. The accompanying ENSEMBLE TEATRO BAROCCO played on original instruments under the baton of Christoph Ulrich Meier. The mdw’s partner in this collaborative production, TEATRO BAROCCO with its artistic director and stage director Bernd Roger Bienert, aims to present 18th-century operas with historical costumes and decorations as well as with late-baroque gestures. All of this made a particularly harmonious impression in the atmosphere of the rococo theatre at Schönbrunn Palace—something that can also be said of the evening’s second sensation, the world première of Georg Benda’s melodrama Philon und Theone with Günther Strahlegger and Kira von Zierotin in the title roles. Its world première, which had been planned to take place in Vienna in 1779, likewise failed to occur and was made up for on this evening at the Schlosstheater.

Thanks to the enormously positive critical and audience response elicited by these productions, the mdw’s collaboration with TEATRO BAROCCO is now set to continue—with a planned 2022 production of Haydn’s rarely heard opera Armida.

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