When Opera Was “Verboten”: 17th-century Christmas Oratorios in Dresden and Vienna

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 6:00–7:30 P.M.


In the seventeenth century, opera was not to be performed during Advent and Lent, neither in Protestant Saxony nor in Catholic Austria, but the courts in Dresden and Vienna worked around this prohibition. In 1664, Elector John George II of Saxony commissioned his court composer Heinrich Schütz to set the Nativity story in the “Italian dramatic recitative style.” Schütz, who had written the first German opera Dafne (now lost), responded with his joyful Weihnachtshistorie or Historia der Geburt Jesu. Around the same time, in Austria, the celebrated opera composer Giovanni Battista Pederzuoli, Kapellmeister of Dowager Empress Eleonora, rescued the Viennese court from operatic fasting with his delightful Trialogo nel Natale del Signore, an allegorical celebration of Christmas.

Harpsichordist Mario Aschauer, joined by a solo singer, will give us a fascinating glimpse into a Baroque world that combines religious piety and opera fever. We will get a foretaste of these two works—musical forerunners of the great oratorios and passions of later composers such as Bach and Handel—which will be performed in their entirety in December by Harmonia Stellarum Houston, led by Mario Aschauer. Mario Aschauer is associate professor of music and director of the Center for Early Music Research and Performance at Sam Houston State University and teaches harpsichord at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music.


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