Poor Antonio Salieri. Born on August 18, 1750, the prolific composer’s fate in posterity has not been a kind one. Despite composing a plethora of operas that were quite popular at the time of his death, his legacy has unfortunately been linked to a legend that is far from true.
You know the story: the composer was the rival of Mozart and was the one major cause behind the great genius’ untimely death. The truth is that this story was mainly brought about by a number of geniuses of the 19th and 20th century (Pushkin and Peter Schaffer).
But the truth is that he was well-known opera composer of his time, putting together quite the catalog. Ultimately only a few of his operas have come to us. Here is a look at the Salieri operas that are worth a look.
Though the opera is nowhere near as popular as the other adaptations of the famous poem made by Handel or Rossini, this work was a hallmark of Salieri’s love for Gluck as the older composer’s influence is everywhere in this music.
The opera was highly reminiscent of the style of Jean-Baptiste Lully and was beloved by Hector Berlioz. The work was originally written with Gluck in mind, but the task was turned over to Salieri when the older composer was unable to take it on. The opera is known for its musical simplicity and its challenging soprano role, earning it a chance on recent recordings. It was a massive success in its day, earning Salieri two commissions from Paris Opera.
This opera sees Salieri playing it less conservatively, the composer showcasing murder on stage and using extended finales for both parts, a practice not observed in opera seria at the time. Of course, the biggest perk of the opera is the wide-ranging voices it requires, including two sopranos that can move up to a high F sharp, which is one of the reasons that the opera garnered some interest from such sopranos as Diana Damrau.
Salieri’s adaptation of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” will unfortunately never become a repertory staple even though it was one of the earliest adaptations of the play. That said, the opera does contain a lot of elegant touches from the composer who plays with structure and harmony throughout. It has had a rather solid discography over the years.