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The opera itself is not exactly Zelenka's most endearing as far as libretto is concerned. The music is brilliant, as can be expected from a composer who studied for some time in Vienna with Johann Josef Fux. But opera consists of the combination of text and music and so Zelenka's work is hard to get used to for non-royalists. Bringing such a piece to life in our modern time obviously points to someone having fallen in love with the music and being willing to put up with the danger that the libretto, with its Latin text and references to the Habsburg dynasty, might estrange some audience members. The teaching effect goes completely amiss in our time, since the opera was meant to educate the future subjects of Karl VI about the virtues of the Habsburg dynasty. All one is left to hope for with such a production is that the music will touch on a deep enough level, something that is greatly up to the soloists. It is a daring experiment but in this case, it paid off, although only a few audience members got something out of the libretto. Try this for text, when Wisdom sings:

'Arise, Providence, see to it that our will is done, preserve the royal sceptre to bond the inheritors of the blood of the Wenceslas, for the house of the Habsburgs.'

Zelenka's opera is of music-historical interest in that it is one of the few education dramas to have survived in their entirety, with text and music intact. Somewhat disjointed in plot, it is dominated by allegorical figures like Godliness, Devotion, Fortitude, Faith, Eucharistic Zeal, Dignity, which all stand for the virtues that were, allegedly, dominant in the Habsburg dynasty.

The good thing is that nobody understands the text because it is in Latin. If they did, in today's time people might well question why a Habsburg ruler is being set equal to God, even above the angels, why the chorus of angels instructs good Christians to support a certain ruler or why, for a Christian, the glory of war needs to be praised. In other words, here we have an opera where, exceptionally, only the music counts, and one that can only be fully enjoyed if one does not understand the text.

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Copyright © 9 June 2004 Tess Crebbin and Sissy von Kotzebue, Germany


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