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L'Opera Seria Florian Leopold Gassmann

Detail of an etching of Florian Leopold Gassmann

Remember the beinning of the Oscar-winning film Amadeus, which gives us composer Antonio Salieri as a suspect in the death of Mozart? It shows us Salieri as an old man, flashing back to his childhood in Italy. Then, the flashback takes us immediately to Vienna, where Salieri had become court composer to Emperor Joseph II.

Well, in real life, it didn't happen so immediately. Salieri was actually "discovered" in Italy, as an unknown teenager, by one Florian Leopold Gassmann, who preceded Salieri at the Imperial Court. Gassmann brought Salieri to Vienna, and saw to his education. Then, when Gassmann fell from a carriage and was killed, Salieri got his job. (And no, there's no evidence that Salieri was involved in Gassmann's premature demise!)

So, while Gassmann is relatively unknown today, he was a big deal back in the 18th century. And as today's opera demonstrates, he wasn't afraid to bite the hand that was feeding him. His comedy, L'Opera Seria, is actually a pointed sendup of the way traditional, 18th-century operas were composed, produced and performed.

It tells the story of the creation and premiere of a fictional opera called Oranzeb, and along the way Gassmann takes pot-shots at just about everyone involved in the process, from the insecure composer, to the airhead librettist, to the bankrupt impresario and the three star sopranos, whose names are -- in translation -- Simpering, Out-of-Tune, and Purple-Face.

If you love opera despite it's flaws -- "warts-and-all" -- this one's for you. It's genuinely hilarious. The production comes to us from the beautiful Champs-Elysees Theatre, in Paris.

Next week, it's an encore of one of the true standouts from recent NPR World of Opera seasons, when Denyce Graves and Samuel Ramey start in a spectacular production of Saint-Saens's Samson and Delila, from Houston Grand Opera.

Web Resources

  • Review of the Paris Production of L'Opera Seria

  • Champs-Elysees Theatre

  • More about Florian Leopold Gassmann