Impresario delle Canarie, L’ (‘The Impresario from the Canary Islands’)
- Don Neville
Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, first set by Domenico Sarro (1724, Naples). Versions of the libretto also appear under the titles Dorina e Nibbio, L’impresario, L’impresario dell’isole Canarie and L’impresario e la cantante.
Part 1 Dorina, a prima donna, is impatient with her attendants because she cannot find a ‘modern’ piece, with embellishments on every word, to sing at an embassy function. Nibbio, the impresario from the Canary Islands, calls on Dorina, reassures her that texts are unimportant in opera, and coaxes her to sing for him. Enraptured, he presents her with a cantata of his own, the airing of which occupies the remainder of the interview until Dorina contrives an escape.
Part 2 Dorina is upbraiding the wardrobe assistants when she is again visited by Nibbio to whom she explains the miseries of pleasing an audience; she is also concerned that, in having to show extreme emotion on stage, she may damage her voice. She obliges Nibbio with an excerpt from Cleopatra, and his surprise at finding a scene with no exit aria and no reference to ‘butterflies’ or ‘ships’, leads him to demonstrate an example from one of his own works. Dorina, unimpressed, lists her conditions for a contract: she must always have leading roles, librettos written by friends and, in addition to her fee, ice cream, coffee, chocolate etc. on demand, and at least two presents weekly. Nibbio’s ready acceptance of these demands prompts Dorina to suspect infatuation; this she dismisses, suggesting that negotiations be resumed some other time.
This two-part intermezzo, Metastasio’s only attempt at comedy, was written to be performed between the acts of Didone abbandonata. The satirical content echoes Benedetto Marcello’s Il teatro alla moda, published no more than four years previously, and identifies practices with which Metastasio had to contend. Although clearly aware of the foibles of contemporary serious opera and its performance at this the outset of his career, Metastasio was to achieve certain reforms while working from within the genre itself, not as an overt antagonist. His letters reveal lifelong complaints about the mistreatment of his librettos by composers, singers and theatre directors. There appear to be six settings of L’impresario delle Canarie, all written between 1724 and 1744, the most popular being Leo’s (1741). As this was one of four written for Venice, it seems that the text enjoyed a certain popularity there, possibly because it had particular relevance to that same Venetian opera at which Marcello’s satire had been aimed. Padre Martini’s setting (1744) was one of four comic intermezzos that he wrote for Bologna, presumably for private performance.
For a list of settings see Metastasio [Trapassi], Pietro.