In 1759, Tommaso Traetta and Carlo Frugoni began an artistic search for a new operatic idiom which combined French elements from the tragédie-lyrique such as choruses, ballet, and spectacle, with brilliant Italianate music. The opera Antigona, an opera seria in three acts, is one of Traetta's masterpieces in his new idiom. The libretto was written by Marco Coltellini, a friend and colleague of Calzabigi in Vienna, the writer who helped Gluck develop some of his operatic reforms in the latter half of the eighteenth century. The works of Traetta do not resemble the reformist operas of Gluck. Rather they seek to combine elements from the tragédie-lyrique with the opera seria traditions of Pietro Metastasio. Some of the ideas that led to the development of this new style were expounded in the treatise Saggio sopra l'opera in musica by Francesco Algarotti, and published in 1755. There are many unusual features to the opera, most prominent of which are the openings to the acts. Frightening scenic tableaux which combine pantomime with chorus, dance, and dramatic recitative open each act. In Act I, Antigona's brothers are locked in a fight to the death. In Act II the tableau is of a private funeral, and in Act III, Antigona has been condemned, and must ready herself for her death. There are a large number of ensembles for an opera seria, and these are worked into the dramatic action, as are the choruses and dances. The orchestrally accompanied recitatives are noteworthy for their dramatic power, and all of the intense dramatic moments are highlighted by rich instrumentation and expressive harmonies. The premiere of Antigona took place at the Imperial Theater of St. Petersburg on November 11, 1772. It was a brilliant success, and this opera is considered one of Traetta's finest works.
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Description by Rita Laurance