• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 1961

    Old Master And 19th Century Drawings

    24 January 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 155

    Austrian School, late 18th Century

    An opera performance in a baroque theater, possibly Eszterhaza

    Price Realised  

    Austrian School, late 18th Century
    An opera performance in a baroque theater, possibly Eszterhaza
    black chalk, watercolor, bodycolor, on vellum
    23 3/8 x 35 1/8 in. (594 x 892 mm.)

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    This fascinating drawing is an important record for the history of 18th Century opera. Another version of the composition, strikingly similar in staging but radically cropped so as to show only the stage and the orchestra, is in the Theatremuseum, Munich (U. Küster, Theatrum Mundi, Die Welt als Bühne, exhib. cat., Munich, Haus der Kunst, 2003, no. 126).

    The location has traditionally been identified as the opera house at Prince Eszterhazy's summer palace in Esterhaza, built in 1768. The scene has further been identified as either Hadyn's Lo Speziale, which inaugurated the house in 1768, or the finale of the second act to Haydn's opera L'incontro improviso, which was given its première on 29 August 1775, with the composer at the harpsichord. H.C. Robbins Landon has however quite conclusively disproved this thesis, noting that Prince Eszterhazy's musicians did not wear red livery until 1776, that the costumes listed in the Eszterhazy archives are different to those shown, and that L'incontro improviso does not include an ensemble scene for the nine singers indicated in the drawing (H.C. Robbins Landon, Haydn: Chronicle and Works, II, Hadyn at Eszterhaza 1766-1790, London, 1978, p. 28). Further, Dr János Malina, President of the International Opera Foundation at Eszterhaza, has kindly pointed out that both the stage and the hall are larger than the Prince's opera house. Robbins Landon suggests that the scene may instead be taken from one of Gluck's 'Turkish' operas performed in Vienna such as Le Cadi dupré (1761) or La rencontre imprévue (1764).
    We are grateful to Michael Hardy, H.C. Landon, Dr. Susanne de Ponte of the Theatermuseum, Munich, and Dr. János Malina of the International Opera Foundation, Eszterhaza, for their kind help in preparing this note.