Presented on stage in 1702 or 1703, the opera Almira by Ruggiero Fedeli (ca. 1655–1722) is to our knowledge one of only two surviving stage works by this composer and one of only a handful of surviving operas that were written for Brunswick around the year 1700. Further, it is a vivid example of the reception of Italian opera in northern Germany.
Born in Venice, Ruggiero Fedeli was the son of Carlo Fedeli (1622–1685), maestro de’ concerti at San Marco. From 1669 he played the bass viol at San Marco and from 1674 he was employed as bass singer there; towards the end of the 1670s he went to Germany, where he can be traced in various places – Bayreuth, Dresden, Berlin, Hanover – until 1701. In 1701 Landgrave Karl of Hesse-Kassel employed him as court Kapellmeister; Fedeli remained in this position until the end of his life, but he can be traced as an active musician also in Berlin, Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, and Bayreuth. He was greatly appreciated as a singer, instrumentalist, and composer. We cannot gauge at present how many of his works were lost, particularly in the field of opera.
Almira is based upon Giulio Pancieri’s (traceable 1669/70–1692) libretto L’Almira, which was performed in 1691 in a setting by Giuseppe Boniventi at the Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo in Venice. [...]
The principal source of the music is a copy of the score transmitted in Lübeck. It was prepared by several scribes and signed “Gottfried Alberti Sc. 1703”. Alberti (?–1748) was privy copyist (Geheimschreiber) and from about 1702 private secretary of Duke Anton Ulrich and thus directly involved in the latter’s voluminous novel Die Römische Octavia. He is most probably the first of the two text scribes of the score. The copy contains numerous mistakes and doubtful readings regarding accidentals, continuo figures and text underlay as well as in some cases the attribution of roles. Questions of orchestration mostly remain open as well.
The score was part of a donation made to the Lübeck municipal library on January 10, 1891 by the Mecklenburg estate owner Adolf Ernst Friedrich Böhl von Faber (born 1838 in Schmachthagen near Waren; date of death unknown), a grandson of Johann Nikolaus Böhl von Faber (1770–1836). How he came into the possession of this manuscript could not be ascertained. [...]
A literary model for Pancieri’s libretto has not been found so far. The plot is probably fictional and comes from the realm of the courtly novel. There is a noticeable abstinence from stage effects, which probably was not necessitated by external factors, as both the Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo in Venice and the Hagenmarkttheater in Brunswick were houses with excellent technical equipment. Apparently what Pancieri had in mind was an intimate drama of jealousy evolving around the question of a sovereign’s true legitimation. Almira answers this question in favor of meritocracy. For a bourgeois audience this must have been a highly gratifying moral stance.
Musically, with its numerous ritornello arias the opera follows a tradition reaching far back into the 17th century. But Fedeli also presents extensive orchestral arias whose complex treatment of the instrumental texture again and again yields expressive and enticing musical solutions. The composer’s melodic inventiveness is highly diversified and striking throughout – Fedeli often employs chromaticism and in the middle sections of the arias frequently chooses particularly rich harmonies. Contrapuntal techniques play a role primarily in the continuo arias, but even here their significance is only secondary.
Fedeli’s Almira led to the preparation of a German-Italian libretto by Friedrich Christian Feustking (ca. 1678–1739), Der in Krohnen erlangte Glücks-Wechsel, oder: Almira, Königin von Castilien, which Handel set as his first opera. Adaptations of the libretto were also set to music three times by Keiser (Hamburg 1704 and 1706, Weißenfels 1704), probably by Telemann (Leipzig 1714), and by Johann(es) Käfer (Baden-Durlach 1717). This makes Almira a prime example of the influence of northern Italian opera on the musical theater of northern and central Germany around the year 1700, and of the transformations that the Italian models underwent in this process.
(translation by Stephanie Wollny)