The Kennedy Center

Tommaso Traetta


Tommaso Traetta was a prolific Italian composer best known for his operas.  He was born in Bitonto on March 30, 1727.  He studied in Naples from 1738 to 1748 where he began his career, composing both comic and serious operas with librettos by Goldoni and Metastasio.
The innovative phase of Traetta's career began in 1758 when he became maestro di capella at the Bourbon court of Parma.  Under the intendant, Guillaume Du Tillot, he wrote several operas that anticipated the Viennese reform operas of Gluck and other attempts to unite French drama with modern Italian music.  The first of these was Ippolito ed Aricia, which was influenced by the French composer Rameau.  It contained scenes with chorus and ballet and combined solo and choral singing into elaborate movements whose forms resemble those of Gluck, though Traetta's music is more lyrical.  Traetta created a type of Italian aria with a new degree of sensuous expression that placed him in the vanguard of young opera composers.
The duke allowed him to fulfill commissions for other courts and between 1760 and 1763 he composed operas for Turin, Vienna and Mannheim. In Armida, composed in 1761 in Vienna, not only are many of the recitatives orchestrally accompanied, Traetta connected them to the beginnings of the set pieces as well as to their endings.  His next opera, Sofonisba, composed in Mannheim in 1762, carried these advances further.  This was Traetta's most symphonic opera; he wrote the ballet music and achieved grand scenic effects.  His Ifigenia in Tauride, composed in 1763, intensified the bold advances made in Armida and Sofonisba. The opera was written one year after Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice and was influenced by its predecessor. It became Traetta's best-known serious opera and was frequently revived.
Declining funds for opera at Parma made it expedient for Traetta to accept the post of director of the Conservatorio dell'Ospedaletto at Venice in 1765. In this position he composed sacred music and wrote two comic operas, Le Serve Rivali and Amore in Trappola.
In 1768 Traetta became musical director of the opera at the court of Catherine II of Russia.  It was there in 1772 that he produced a major new work, Antigona, which is considered to be his masterpiece and the culmination of opera seria.  Although the libretto by Coltellini has some mediocre plotting and dialog, it is mitigated by the force of Traetta's music.  He leaped beyond the most adventurous aspects of his earlier tragedies with the repeated use of a few easily identified motifs, a technique later used by Benda and Mozart.
Traetta went to Venice in ill-health during the summer of 1775. His last two completed works were comic operas for the Venetian carnivals of 1778 and 1779. By then he was already suffering from his final illness. When he died on April 6, 1779, he was a celebrated man and was buried with honors near the Ospedaletto.
Tommaso Traetta