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Burnacini: A Master of theatre miracles

Burnacini: A Master of theatre miracles

Lobkowicz Palace – Piranesi Room, December 18 – March 16

The Lobkowicz Library presents two engravings of spectacular stage designs by the Imperial architect and theatre engineer Ludovico Ottavio Burnacini (1636–1707).  The representative engravings come from printed librettos for „feste teatrali“ Il pomo d’oro (1668) and La monarchia latina trionfante (1678).

Spotlight talk on this topic led by Petr Slouka will be on Monday, December 18 from 5 pm.

Ludovico Ottavio Burnacini (1636–1707) was born in Mantua. His father Giovanni was one of the first stage architects of the Baroque era, and helped to establish the principles of stage design in Baroque theatre. His son, Ludovico, brought these principles to their culmination. Both father and son were also gifted constructors of sophisticated technical devices for creating illusions, “miracles”, and other effects that were popular on the Baroque stage.

Burnacini went to Vienna with his father and uncle in 1651 and became a chief stage designer to the Imperial Court. The Habsburgs promoted lavish allegorical festivities, which  served as  status symbols of the family. The Empress Eleonora, born Gonzaga (1598–1655), brought from her Italian homeland the custom of celebrating various family anniversaries with theatrical performances. Every year the court introduced numerous serenatas, drammi per musica, feste teatrali, etc., with extraordinary stage settings and ambitious dramatic vocal numbers. Likely the most famous of Burnacini’s early works for the Court are his designs for the festa teatrale entitled Il Pomo d’oro. Pietro Antonio Cesti (1623–1669) composed the music for the piece. Later, Burnacini collaborated with imperial Kapellmeister Antonio Draghi (1634/35–1700) and librettist Nicolò Minato (1627–1698). This team of artists was responsible for most court performances – both secular and ecclesiastical – in the late 18th century.

Apart from stage engineering, Burnacini was also responsible for costume designs and contributed to municipal architecture. The true memorial of Burnacini’s inexhaustible invention is a monumental Holy Trinity Column on The Graben, a street in the heart of Vienna. This sculptural piece, finished in 1694, commemorated the great plague epidemic of 1679–1680.

Il Pomo d’oro

The festa teatrale (theatre festival) entitled Il Pomo d’oro is regarded as the most spectacular opera performance ever staged. The work was prepared in 1666 for the wedding of Emperor Leopold I to Margaret Theresa of Spain. But due to various complications it was not premiered in the theatre “auf der Cortina“ until two years later, on the occasion of the Empress’s 17th birthday. As the work’s duration exceeds eight hours, the piece was performed in two parts on 12 and 14 July 1668.

The plot is based on The Judgment of Paris, a tale from classical mythology. During celebrations for the marriage of Thetis and Peleus, the goddess of discord throws among the guests a golden apple bearing the inscription “For the fairest one”. Three goddesses – Juno, Venus and Pallas – claim the apple. Paris, the Trojan Prince, is charged with judging between them, and decides to award the apple to Venus. At the end of the convoluted story that ensues, Jupiter, king of the gods, settles the dispute by awarding the apple to the woman whose beauty surpasses all – the Empress Margaret Theresa. Burnacini created 24 highly elaborate stage designs for the performance, including many ingenious technical devices. The divine corps descended from the heavens, ships  sank in monstrous waves, the walls and towers of beleaguered towns were ruined on stage before the audience, all supplemented by  troops riding elephants.

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La Monarchia Latina Trionfante

The thorny problem in the early years of Leopold I’s rule was the lack of a male successor to the throne. His first and second wives gave birth to a total of six children, from which only Maria Antonia (1669–1692) reached adulthood. In 1676, Leopold married his third wife, Eleonore Magdalene of Neuburg (1655–1720). Two years later, the eagerly awaited son Joseph was born, later to rule the Holy Roman Empire as Joseph I.
This significant moment was celebrated by a monumental festa musicale composed for the occasion and entitled La Monarchia Latina Trionfante.

The artistic team of Draghi, Minato, and Burnacini created and  staged the work, which premiered  on 8 October 1678 in the  theatre  “auf der Cortina“. The plot of this one-act play is unimportant; its aim was purely to pay homage to the ruling dynasty and its future monarch, the newborn Archduke Joseph. This tribute is expressed by depicting the glorious history of the Holy Roman Empire, crowded with various deities and allegorical figures. The work’s grandiose conception, flamboyant scenery which often included exotic animals, numerous stage machines, as well as the place of its premiere, revived memories of Il Pomo d’oro’s performance ten years earlier.

burnacini_la monarchia

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