Scipione nelle Spagne, Opera by A. Caldara
Scipione nelle Spagne by Antonio Caldara is not only an entertaining, intense dramatic opera in three acts; it is also a philosophical exploration of honour and virtue in the best Stoic traditions. With a libretto by Apostolo Zeno, the dramma per musica had its premiere at the Hoftheater in Vienna on 4 November 1722. The story was epic, and the music was gripping, so the opera made its way into the catalogue at the time. Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice reaches into the vaults and stages a new production of the Baroque classic Scipione nelle Spagne in Teatro Malibran’s programme this season.
The plot of the opera revolves around a love triangle between the Roman general Scipione, conqueror of Carthage, Luceio, Prince of the Celtiberians, and Sofonisba, daughter of the Carthaginian leader Mago and a lady of incomparable charm. Luceio and Sofonisba were to be married, but Scipione blocks this plan, both by leading the successful Roman campaign against Carthage and by developing strong feelings for the local beauty. When the pair’s long-lasting and sincere love becomes apparent, Scipione generously releases Sofonisba from his prison and ceases his advances, on the one condition that Luceio would be his friend. The oath the young Celtiberian offers to Scipione will prove fateful as the military campaign and political turmoil race towards their bombastic conclusion that will put the main characters’ virtue and honour on the line.
The performance features an element of homecoming: Caldara was born and raised in Venice where he began his musical education and learned several musical instruments. He spent an extended period of his youth in Spain, where Sciopione nelle Spagne is set (the title translates to “Scipio in Spain”), and he found professional fortune in Austria, where the opera had its debut performance. The librettist Zeno was also an acclaimed Venetian poet and scholar. Teatro Malibran thus pays homage to two of the city’s notable sons.