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date: 11 December 2019


  • Martin Brody


Opera in three acts by Roger Sessions to a libretto by Giuseppe Antonio Borgese; West Berlin, Deutsche Oper, 19 April 1964.

Based on the story of Hernán Cortez’s conquest of the Aztecs and the colonization of Mexico, Montezuma explores themes of cultural juxtaposition, conflict and assimilation, and the ethical ambiguities of military power and state and religious authority. The story is narrated retrospectively by Bernal Diaz (bass), a Spanish conquistador. Bernal comments on Cortez’s (baritone) landing and reception by the Aztecs, who believe that he may be the god Quetzalcoatl, and the development of a love relationship between Cortez and Malinche (soprano), an enslaved Indian princess. Act 2 depicts, in tableau scenes, the meeting of Cortez and Montezuma (tenor) and a ritual sacrifice; there follows a complex ensemble in which the principals ponder Christian and Aztec religious sacrifice, the Aztec harvest ritual and the Spaniards’ gold lust. While Cortez and Montezuma both argue for cooperation and peace, their subordinates Alvarado (tenor) and Coanhutemoc (baritone) sow discontent in their respective ranks. An auto-da-fé ensues at the beginning of Act 3 which closes with the assassination of Montezuma by a militant Aztec crowd....

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