Tommaso Traetta


Italian composer, one of the most important of a reforming tendency and musically one of the most gifted of his generation. From the modern viewpoint his career is tarnished by the fact that he fulfilled his librettists' intentions rather than himself directing the dramatic shape of reform opera, and when his circumstances changed he happily wrote in conventional forms. This should not detract from the achievement of his mid-career.
He was trained in Naples by Porpora and Durante and cut his teeth on Metastasio librettos, coming under the influence of Jommelli. In 1758 he was appointed to the ducal court of Parma, which unusually for Italy had close ties with the French royal family and thus with French culture. With the court poet Frugoni as translator/librettist, Traetta produced Ippolito ed Aricia and I Tindaridi, developed from Rameau operas (Hippolyte et Aricie, Castor et Pollux), even including some of the original music.
These performances won him international fame and led to commissions for the courts of Vienna (Armida, 1761, adapted by Durazzo from Quinault) and Mannheim (Sofonisba, 1762, libretto by Verazi). He was thus composing reform operas in direct rivalry to Jommelli, before Gluck's reform in Vienna had even begun. A year after Gluck's Orfeo Traetta went further with Ifigenia in Tauride (Vienna, 1763), the most successful treatment of this subject until Gluck's of 1779, and was widely performed (e.g. at Eszterháza with additional music by Haydn).
Moving to Venice, he devoted himself to comedies and church music: tragedia in musica was too expensive for public theatres. Traetta moved to St Petersburg in 1768 to work for Catherine II. Written with Coltellini, Antigona (1772) is one of the finest operatic treatments of the gruelling story of Antigone. Traetta worked for years with a soprano, Gabrielli, and specialised in scene-complexes involving solo voice and chorus, with highly coloured instrumentation; the funereal parts of Antigona are masterly. After Russia Traetta tried London but made little impact (Sacchini was an established obstacle); he returned to Venice and died there. Excerpts of Ifigenia and Antigona are in DTB (see Denkmäler).