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Like other works of literature, dramas and operas sometimes form pairs, groups or sets. The trilogies of ancient Greek drama--performed with a concluding satyr-play--were the first examples of this tradition. In the 17th and 18th centuries the phenomenon was frequent in the European repertories, in opera as well as in spoken drama. Usually two or more `matching' works were created and performed together in the same season, or spread over a short span of years. Also sequels or `spin-offs' might be produced in later seasons to match an earlier single work that had met with success. There were, furthermore, artificial pairs (the coupling of two originally independent works), split dramas (a single work performed over two or even three occasions), series and mini-series, rings and cycles. Of all these varieties, paired (or `twinned') dramas are perhaps the most striking.
What is the use of investigating such formal aspects of the repertories? Dramatic pairs are brought about by certain practical circumstances of theatrical life, but they may also reflect and thus reveal the cultural or political biases of their users. They function almost like amplifiers of underlying cultural messages by duplicating, contrasting, paralleling or balancing them. Often the meaning of an isolated drama that is opaque to us may become apparent when it is reflected in a sibling or twin of the same dramatic `family'. And sometimes there was a cumulative effect of reciprocal interpretation when a pair was repeated or matched by a later one of similar content or form: pairs could breed further pairs.
Hamburg, Vienna and Venice
An example of a special kind is Hamburg's `double opera' Der gluckliche Grosz-Vezier Cara Mustapha/ Der ungluckliche Cara Mustapha (`The happy grand vizier Cara Mustapha'/`The unhappy Cara Mustapha'). This was performed in 1686 for the reopening of the Hamburg opera-house which had been derelict for a while.(1) It narrated the `Rise and Fall' of the Turkish vizier who had besieged Vienna in 1683, but had been beaten off by combined Christian armies. (We may distinguish this `double opera' from an ordinary `opera pair' by the fact that its plot is actually continuous throughout the two performances.) Besides the bipartite form, the opera indulges in straightforward ethnic dualism (East/ West) with its contemporary plot about the rescue of the Empire from the Ottomans.
In fact the Cara Mustapha pair was a sequel to another `double opera', given in Hamburg in 1678 with the equally explicit title Der gluckseelig-steigende Sejanus/Der unglucklig-fallende Sejanus (`The happily rising Sejanus'/`The unhappily falling Sejanus'). This, in turn, had been a revival, with new music, of La prosperita di Elio Sejano/La caduta di Elio Sejano by Niccolo Minato and Antonio Sartorio, given in Venice in the carnival of 1667.(2) In the Sejanus opera a tyrannical emperor is ousted by Roman aristocrats. The political message of the plot is a `republican' criticism of the depravity of the empire--a Venetian civic rhetoric that, surprisingly or not, seems to have appealed to foreign monarchs who visited the carnival. Hamburg, where the opera was staged in 1678, regarded itself as a republic like Venice. Since, however, Hamburg's constitutional liberty was guaranteed by the Holy Roman Empire itself (Reichsfreiheit), its ruling elite officially supported the idea of imperial power. Cara Mustapha and Aelius Sejanus were presented in Hamburg as two variants of the same sort of tyranny, one threatening the empire from without, the other from within. It is remarkable that the first Sejanus opera was revived in many other cities, whereas the second, narrating his fall, was apparently revived only in Hamburg.(3)
`Double' dramas such as these were, of course, based on a dualistic ideology: good and evil were two dramaturgical pillars that could be erected on either side of the Hellespont, the straits of Gibraltar, or of religious and class barriers. But when the fortunes of an evil or alien protagonist were distributed over two plays, the sympathies of the audience were likely to be disappointed at the end of the first: even if the opera pair ended in a lieto fine, the first night's performance had to conclude with the apparent or preliminary triumph of evil.(4) It is this dramaturgical inconvenience, rather than any philosophical restraint, that seems to be the reason why double operas on political themes such as `Rise and Fall' were uncommon. Other sorts of dualities, however, such as woman and man, love and war, nature and court, shepherd and prince, man and god, are highly typical of the theatre of that period. They were employed to articulate world views of an essentially homogenous kind, appealing to the sense of balance that the theatre as instrumentum regni was meant to convey.
That dualities and symmetries appear everywhere in Baroque drama and opera, in the detailed structures of plays as well as in the outlines of the repertory, also demonstrates how a popular philosophy was translated into ceremonial and dramaturgical practice. Bounded by the calendars of Church and State, oscillating between feast and labour, the repertorial practice in itself provided all sorts of opportunities for duplication, pairing or twinning. The courtly calendar offered many dynastic festivities into which opera performances could be fitted. The Habsburg dynasty, opera-mad like few others, regularly celebrated the birthdays of emperor and empress, and often also their name-days, with operas or other musical plays. It is no surprise that the Habsburgs made the first significant bid for opera pairs on the basis of gender.
On 17 January 1688 the festa musicale Il marito ama piu (`The husband loves more') was given before the court at Bratislava to mark the birthday of the empress, Eleonore Magdalena Theresia, by command of the emperor, Leopold I, who also composed some of the music. Reciprocating the birthday present, Eleonore ordered the festa musicale La moglie ama meglio (`The wife loves better') to be performed on 10 June in Vienna for Leopold's birthday. Members of …