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date: 15 October 2019

Salammbô(i) [Liviyets (‘The Libyan’)]locked

  • Richard Taruskin

Extract

[Liviyets (‘The Libyan’)]

Projected grand opera in four acts by Modest Petrovich Musorgsky to his own libretto after Gustave Flaubert’s novel; concert performance of fragments, Milan (RAI), 10 November 1980.

Three major scenes and three additional numbers were composed between autumn 1863 and spring 1866. The plot, set in Carthage during the Punic Wars, in many ways parallels that of Serov’s opera Yudif’ (‘Judith’, 1863), which may have excited Musorgsky’s interest in it. The title character (dramatic soprano), a Carthaginian priestess, seduces Mathô (baritone), a Libyan warrior (the alternative title character), so as to regain the sacred veil of the Goddess Tanit which Mathô has stolen from the temple. He is captured and tortured to death, while she, defiled by her exploit, dies in horror immediately thereafter.

Musorgsky never wrote the central dramatic scenes; opulent choral pageantry seems to have been his first interest. Two of the extant scenes represent magnificent temple rites: Act 2 scene ii (temple of Tanit, for women’s voices, including the theft of the veil) and Act 3 scene i (sacrifice to Moloch, for men’s voices, in hopes of regaining it). The short score of the somewhat sugary Tanit scene promises lavish obbligatos for harp, piano and glockenspiel. The remaining large number, a declamatory ...

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