Agostino Steffani (1654–1728)
Niobe, Regina di Tebe
Dramma per musica in tre atti (1688)
Libretto by Luigi Orlandi
Stage direction Lukas Hemleb
Stage design Raimund Bauer
Costumes Andrea Schmidt-Futterer
Direction Thomas Hengelbrock
Niobe Maria Bengtsson
Anfione Jacek Laszczkowski
Manto Ana Maria Labin
Tiresias Tobias Scharfenberger
Clearte Pascal Bertin
Creonte Peter Kennel
Poliferno Matjaz Robavs
Tiberino Lothar Odinius
Nerea Delphine Galou
Balthasar Neumann Ensemble
Schwetzingen Festival 2008
Niobe, Regina di Tebe, composed in 1688, was Steffani’s last opera for the court of Munich and, at the same time, his most important. Already the libretto sets the stage for the enormous impact of the tragedy of the Niobids. It tells the story of the queen of Thebes who, punished by the gods for her arrogance with the death of her children, turns into stone out of sorrow. Amphion, her husband, riven by grief, takes his own life – and the city, thus liberated from its tyrants, regains its freedom.
Although Steffani was firmly rooted in the musical language of his native country, through the assimilation of French stylistic elements he found his way to a very individual manner of composition that also draws attention to itself in a particularly large and colorful orchestral scoring. Thus, Amphion (Anfione), the mythical inventor of the lyre and harmony, is introduced at his entry on the stage with an instrumental display such as Italian opera had not seen in a very long time. The aria alludes to the harmony of the spheres from Plato’s Politeiea, and Steffani succeeds in depicting this image of the harmony of the world through the use of all the musical means at his disposal.
Niobe’s and Anfione’s death scenes are distinguished by a hardly to be surpassed realism: every emotion between anguish and despair is expressed in the most differentiated manner.
Not only because of the death of both main characters on the open stage does Steffani’s Niobe number among the most extraordinary operas of the seventeenth century. The work limits itself to only a few but, for all that, equally weighted roles. As a result of this, a particularly individual character drawing, in the manner of an intimate play, becomes possible, making this a work of tremendous interest for the modern opera stage.
Lukas Hemleb, who already enjoyed a great success with Thomas Hengelbrock and the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble in 2005 in Schwetzingen with Alessandro Scarlatti’s Telemaco, undertook the stage direction.
An edition of this work has been issued in the Edition Balthasar Neumann (EBN 26).
“In the past ten years, Thomas Hengelbrock has newly edited all kinds of antiquities, but with this Steffani opera he made a particularly special catch. It was robustly and tantalizingly revived by the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble with the distinctive physical aspects typical of Hengelbrock.”
“German polyphony, Venetian operatic tradition, and elements taken over from Lully find themselves here in an early European synthesis in which buffoonish prattle arias, rousing dances, harmonically bold turns of phrase and dissonances, excessive chromaticism, celestially beautiful songs, agitated continuo accompaniment, and French instrumental colors have their place.”
“With the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble, we today have an orchestra of experts that one could only have dreamt of back then.”