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Friday
Feb022018

Hasse...who?

If you find yourself wondering who this Hasse fellow is, you're not alone. Despite experiencing immense popularity during his lifetime, his operas have almost completely vanished from public view.  

Johann Adolph Hasse (1699-1783) was born near Hamburg, and began his career as a singer in that city. In 1721 he left for Italy where his training and career as a composer developed and flourished. An early success was his serenata Antonio e Cleopatra presented in Naples and featuring the then-new singer Farinelli. Soon after, the opera Artaserse to a libretto by Metastasio was presented in Venice during Carnival of 1725 and helped secure his fame. The opera’s celebrated arias performed by Farinelli were hit tunes of their day and furthered Hasse’s fame throughout Europe.

Other operas and success followed for Hasse, and he played a pivotal part in the development of opera seria and 18th-century sacred music.  Notable for his close friendship and collaboration with the influential Italian poet and librettist Metastasio, along with his marriage to the highly regarded soprano Faustina Bordoni, Hasse entered into the Saxon Royal service as Kapellmeister in 1733 (one of the best-paid positions of the time), launching a nearly 30-year long stretch of prolific activity that propelled Dresden Opera to its peak of popularity. Highlights from his many operas composed between 1730-1771 include: Didone abbandonata, Cleofide, Siroe, La Clemenza di Tito, all set to librettos by Metastasio. Among Hasse’s many sacred cantatas, I pellegrini al sepolcro di Nostre Signore from 1742 was popular throughout German and Italian lands.

A victim of changing aesthetics of the period, Hasse’s career also was altered by the Seven Years War in Europe (1756-1763) bringing about the dissolution of the court in Dresden. In 1768 he composed the intermezzo tragico Piramo e Tisbe, to a libretto by Marco Coltellini for a performance in an unidentified country estate outside of Vienna. He revised his opera in 1770 for performance in the city at the Laxenburg Palace Theater. Johann Adolf Hasse spent his last years with his wife in Venice, where he died in 1782. His grave remained unmarked until 1820.