Sunday, October 13, 2019

Barihunk duo in Spontini's rarely perfomed "Fernand Cortez"

Gianluca Margheri as Moralez in Fernand Cortez
Spontini's rarely performed opera Fernand Cortez is being performed at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino with barihunks Gianluca Margheri as Moralez and André Courville as the Mexican High Priest.

Following on from the triumph of Gaspare Spontini's opera Vestale, he was asked to compose a new opera for the Paris Opèra. The request came from Napoleon, whose favorite composer was Spontini.

André Courville as the Mexican High Priest in Fernand Cortez
The choice was for the story of Fernand Cortez, a legendary 16th-century Spanish captain involved in the conquering of Mexico. Well aware of the power of art as a vehicle for propaganda, Napoleon aimed to obtain public support for his military campaign in Spain. The protagonist of the opera, a wise and magnanimous man, whose only desire was to free the Mexican people from the slavery imposed by the superstitious indigenous religion, in fact represented the perfect match for Napoleon, who - like Cortez - wanted to appear as a representative of civil and liberal values.

Fernand Cortez made its debut at the Opèra on November 28, 1809. The sumptuous staging, grandiloquent orchestra, spectacular special effects - such as the charging of real horses on the stage - war-like choirs, barbarous dances and even a sentimental touch provided by the love between Cortez and the young indigenous Amazingly, guaranteed the opera its hoped-for success.

Gianluca Margheri rehearsing Moralez in Fernand Cortez
The glory of Napoleon was greatly exalted, and Fernand Cortez became the symbolic opera of his empire. The popularity of the piece declined with the waning of the French army's fortunes in Spain and Portugal.

The opera was last performed at the Theater Erfurt in 2006. It had its premiere in the United States during the 1887-88 season at the Metropolitan opera with the Wagnerian tenor Albert Niemann and Swedish bass Johannes Elmblad. Remaining performances at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino are on October 16, 20 and 23. Tickets are available online.

A new production of the opera will be performed at the Theater Dortmund from May 21 through June 12, 2020.

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