Salieri Redux

For Mozart’s Archrival, an Italian Renaissance
MILAN – For more than 200 years, Antonio Salieri’s obscure opera “Europa Riconosciuta” (“Europa Revealed”) was forgotten.
Before its return to La Scala this month, the opera had not been performed since the theater’s inauguration in 1778, when castrati sang the leading roles. That was also long before nasty gossip, literary hyperbole and Hollywood myth helped to sink the Italian composer into musical history’s footnotes as Mozart’s murderer, and thrust his operas into oblivion.
“People think he was a bad guy and a poor composer, but that’s not fair,” said Otto Biba, director of the archives at the Society of Friends of Music in Vienna, which Salieri helped found and that houses many of his manuscripts. “For too long,” Mr. Biba said, “people have seen him as uninteresting, and if they take an interest at all, it is negative.”
But La Scala’s decision to restage the opera for the theater’s reopening this month, after a three-year restoration, has turned the site into a kind of rehabilitation center for the 18th-century composer’s reputation. Some of Italy’s greatest opera stars are performing Salieri arias, while critics praise him and Italy swells with national pride.
Suddenly, demand has increased for his recordings and for the clearing of his name. Few names in music have been vilified so unfairly.
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