Le cinesi

Christoph Willibald Gluck

2 November 2017 · 8:00 pm


Componimento drammatico in one act.  Music composed by Christoph Willibald Gluck. Libretto written by Pietro Metastasio.

Premiere: September 24, 1754, Schlosshof.

Score Edition: Alkor Edition Kassel GmbH

La ruta de la seda

This piece of the German composer starts a series of activities in the program ‘La ruta de la seda en música’, a collaboration project between Les Arts and the Agència Valenciana de Turisme (AVT). The concert can be seen, on 24th November at 7:00 pm, in free streaming at Opera Vision's platform (www.operavision.eu).




Running time: 1 h 10 min

Fabio Biondi

Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana

Silvia Tro Santafé

Désirée Rancatore

Ann Hallenberg

Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani

One act. The story takes place in an imaginary city in China. Lisinga, a young girl from a well-to-do family, is drinking tea with her friends Sivene and Tangia, trying to find a way to end their boredom. Silango, Lisinga’s brother, has just returned from a trip to Europe and wants to see his beloved Sivene. He listens to them from behind the door, but the girls catch him doing this and are shocked at his behaviour since, according to old Chinese customs, it is forbidden for men to enter a woman’s room. The three Chinese girls decide to hide the young man until he can leave their room without being seen. Meanwhile, it occurs to them that they could entertain themselves by playacting scenes inspired by old western tradition. Lisinga, who is the first to play, acts out a tragic scene playing Andromache during the Trojan war, who is mourning the death of her husband Hector. Sivene is next and she chooses a pastoral theme playing the nymph Licori, who laughs at the feelings of the shepherd Tirsi, played by Silango. Finally, it is Tangia’s turn, who decides to play a conceited young girl who has just returned from Europe, which is clearly a parody of Silango. When they finish playacting, the characters join together in a ballet, bringing the opera to an end.

Oranges from China: from Vienna to Valencia via Aranjuez

The Azione teatrale Le Cinesi, Componimento che introduce ad un Ballo Cinese, composed by the Viennese musician Christoph Willibald Gluck and set to the text by the imperial poet Pietro Metastasio, comes to Valencia. The opera has undergone a curious pilgrimage in three stages, which actually began at the carnival of Vienna in 1735, where it was first performed at the royal apartments by the archduchesses Maria Theresa (who would soon become Empress Maria Theresa of Austria) and her sister Maria Anna, accompanied by a lady of the court.

The work was originally an educational and purely feminine performance, the dramatic basis of which being exoticism turned around: using the distant Orient as an example to elegantly and discreetly reflect the cultural coincidences that existed between the Austrian court and the exotic Chinese court, at a time when there was an authentic passion for aesthetic interpretation of the Orient. And so, the tedious and idle life of the three female protagonists, who are strictly kept out of the company of men and are curious to know how women live in other lands, reflects life in the court of Vienna, where the archduchesses had to observe life at a distance from even their closest subjects.

The text describes an ordinary day in a Chinese harem. Its abundant pictorial stage directions and annotations in the form of curious oil lamps and attractive curtains formed with the light of the words and the ink of the verses, makes it especially effective for an azione teatrale when not performed on a stage. In Le Cinesi, Metastasio gives a lesson on the different forms of theatre. The journey through the different dramatic styles -pastoral, comedy and tragedy- proposed by the three women and submitted for value judgement, is a way to express both a written text and song, while outlining the structural nature of theatre.

In conclusion, Le Cinesi is none other than a primitive -and more or less veiled- recognition of an artist’s place in society, and of their worth and function at royal venues.

Here, it should be pointed out that Gluck was not the musician entrusted with composing the music for the first performance. It was Antonio Caldara, one of the most outstanding musicians of the Italian Baroque period who was established in the Austro-Hungarian court. But it is also important to point out that during the Golden Age of opera the idea “prima la parola e poi la musica” prevailed, and the custom was that as many composers as possible composed music for the same poem, unlike today’s procedure.

Some years later, in 1749, it was the court of the Bourbons of Spain that marked the second stage of the pilgrimage of The Chinese Women by Metastasio. This pause along the journey was to be permanently marked by the change suggested by Carlo Broschi (Farinelli), the most remarkable castrato singer of his time. He was entrusted with the royal celebrations and music of the court of the kings of Spain, Ferdinand VI and Bárbara de Braganza. Farinelli and Metastasio would have discussed this work at length and, due to the determination of the castrato singer, the poet agreed to introduce a fourth character into the delightful metatheatrical plot: the tenor Silango.

The new character fits perfectly into the initial storyline, although a slight change was involved which actually proved to be most significant: Silango is a kind of stage director for the entertainment of the ladies, and he is essentially the alter ego of Farinelli, as director of the musical events and entertainment of the Bourbons. But this is not all, the tenor Silango is also the alter ego of Metastasio who, in his day, was the creator of fantasies and celebrations for the court of Vienna.

And so Le Cinesi was finally performed at the royal residence in Aranjuez on 30th May 1751, with four characters: the three original female characters from 1735 and the tenor who had been added by Farinelli. The music, however, was still not by Gluck but by Nicolò Conforto, the musician of the court of Madrid.

But it was not long before Gluck, now in his forties, appeared on the scene. Barely two years later, he had composed music for this text, updating it for Spain. On 24th September 1754 the work set to Gluck’s music was first performed in Vienna, and even more importantly, it was performed in the presence of who had been the opera’s first protagonist, the empress of Austria-Hungary, Maria Theresa.

And so, on their journey from Vienna via Aranjuez, these sweet oranges from China -which were planted by Metastasio, neglected by Farinelli and nurtured by the delightful energy of Gluck- have come to Valencia. It is a lesson of theatre within theatre in which dramatic genres are presented and judged, with no clear winner in the end. It is an ideal setting conceived for the entertainment of princesses shut away in their ivory towers, so wrapped up in their silks and expensive fabrics, just like the Chinese girls of the harem, dreaming of and longing for the privilege of freedom, which was denied in general to all women in both worlds.