As Samuel Máynez Champión (Mexico, 1963) points out, the work by Antonio Solís y Rivadeneyra (1610-1686), “Historia de la conquista de México, población y progresos de la América septentrional”,(History of the conquest of Mexico, population and progress of North America.), known as “Nueva España” was translated into Tuscan in 1699, in a Florentine edition by Filippo Corsini (1647-1706), which reads:
“Storia della conquista del Messico, popolazione e dei progressi nell’America
Settentrionale, conosciuta sotto il nome di Nuova Spagna. Scritta in Castigliano da
D. Antonio de Solis. Segretario di Sua Maestá Cattolica e suo Primo Istoriografo dell’Inde,
e tradotta in Toscano da un Accademico della Crusca.”
In 1704, Andrea Poletti published another translation of Solís y Rivadeneyra’s work in Venice, where it was reedited up to four times in the 18th century, and became the reference above the works of López de Gómara, Bernal Díaz del Castillo and Antonio de Herrera (Máynez, 2014). This may be due in great measure to the highly attractive prose of Solís, a playwright and skilled with the pen.
The figure of Moctezuma was ideal to meet the canons of the Baroque, particularly the Venetian, where the seas and the news of adventure were essential. The costumes, textures, colors and pre-Hispanic motifs enriched the scenic resources. Baroque music, through the genre of opera esotica, found in ancient Tenochtitlan an endless theme.
The Venetian composer, Antonio Vivaldi, had composed in 1719 the opera Teuzzone located in China, and in 1730 the opera Argippo set in the Mogul empire. In 1733 Vivaldi went even further, premiering his opera Moctezuma at the Teatro Sant’Angelo in Venice. The script is attributed to Girolamo Giusti (1703-?), who was clearly inspired by the work of Solis and Rivadeneyra.
Venice was in competition with Rome as a cultural capital. The goods arriving at the port provided all kinds of props for the shows, which were also an important part of the economic circuit in the port. The costumes for the premiere of Moctezuma followed the dominant fashions of the French rococo, influenced by the Marquise de Pompadour. (Espíndola, 2020). For the time it is noted “the taste for exoticism, the passion for travel, the fashion for chinoiserie, the spread of transvestism” (Cocciolo and Sala, Storia Illustrata 128). The script is written in the “metastasio” style, named after Pietro Metastasio, which emphasizes heroic elements without seeking historical realism or true facts.
For some reason the opera remained lost until 2002, when it was discovered in Kiev by two Harvard researchers, Christoph Wolff (1940) and Patricia Kennedy Grimsted (1934), in the reserved archives of the Kiev Conservatory library. These were Hitler’s so-called “cultural treasures”, a collection of 55,000 pages of music, including works by the Bach family, Galuppi, Sarti, Teleman, Haendel, Graun, as well as epistles by Goethe and Schiller. The German government, with an agreement with the Ukrainian government, and a financial donation, recovered the collection and moved it to Berlin. The discovery has been attributed since then to the German musicologist Steffen Vos (1969), (Espíndola, 2020). The opera was found to have been mutilated in a third part, so some musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries have taken on the task of making up for missing scenes.
In 1974, the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier had written his novel “Concierto barroco”, built on the mystery of the lost Vivaldian opera, which came back to sound after 272 years, in 2005. After a legal dispute over the rights to the work, it was re-released with great expectation at the Doelen in Rotterdam, in a concert version, conducted by Federico Maria Sardelli and the Modo Antiquo ensemble. At that time, it was generally accepted that Vivaldi’s work was the first link in an operatic tradition based in ancient Mexico, which is made clear in the first part of this article. The event was attended by Gabriel Pareyón and myself, since at that time we were both studying composition in the Netherlands. A few weeks later, Dr. Pareyón published the text “The world premiere of Vivaldi’s Moctezuma” in the magazine “Pauta”, in which he notes “as far as I could see, only two composers from Mexico attended”.
To this date, more than 40 operas and orchestral works have been written on this theme by composers from France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, the Czech Republic, England, Austria, Mexico, the United States and Argentina. In addition to the contributions of Banister, Purcell, Pasquini and Vivaldi followed, among others, those of Rameau, Graun, de Majo, Vento, Myslivecek, Paisiello, Sacchini, Anfossi, Starzer, Zingarelli, Giordani, Muguer, Portogallo in the 18th century; by Paganini, Spontini, Bishop, von Seyfried, Ricci, Pirola, Treves, Malipiero, Barrus, Blessner, Aniceto Ortega (Mex), Ricalde Moguel (Mex) in the 19th century; Stewart, Gleason, Troyer, Colburn, Hadley, Flachebba (unfinished), Loomis, Milhaud, Kaplan, Sessions, Cabiati, Werner-Henze, Lucía Alvarez (Mex), Barker, Balada, Malgoire, Rihm in the 20th century; and Ferrero, Lang, Meissner (Mex), Vivaldi-Máynez (Mex) and Sebalj in the 21st century.
In Mexico, the work of Dr. Samuel Máynez Champión stands out, who premiered in Mexico City, during the summer of 2009, an intervention based on Vivaldian music. Máynez left aside Giusti’s script and elaborated his own based on Miguel León Portilla’s “La visión de los vencidos”, a work that became a thesis to obtain a doctorate degree in Mesoamerican Studies from UNAM. In this new opera, Máynez offers a historical vision where the texts that are spoken and sung were adapted to Nahuatl, Mayan and Spanish.
From the Mexico of our days, to explore the theme of the Conquest, one of the most lacerating events of modern history, continues to be a sensitive task. Through the polemic that oscillates between art and science, the fragility on which we have built a Mexican identity, built on what could be called “the irreconcilable mythology of the West”, becomes evident.