This preview has been provided by Carolina Pro Musica.

Peter I (later called “the Great”) ruled Russia for thirty-six years beginning in 1689. Determined to open up his secluded country, he sought relationships with Western Europe even traveling incognito to major European cities. On his return, he hired builders from the West to help layout his new city of St. Petersburg. More interested in shipbuilding and military weaponry, he decided his armies needed Western musicians which were imported mostly from Germany. It was after his time that Western music made serious inroads at the Russian court.  (Daniel Heartz: Music in European Capitals).

Peter’s successors included his second wife Catherine I, then a grandson and finally a niece, Anna, who ruled 1730-40. Anna requested a troupe of actors and musicians to be part of her Moscow coronation.  The performers, which regularly performed in Dresden and Warsaw, were from Italy.  Anna started the first music school in the year of her death, 1740.  Anna was succeeded by Elizabeth Petrovna, youngest child of Peter I.  Raised by a French governess, she spoke fluent French and favored French theatrical troupes. In 1750 an opera buffa troupe lead by Giovanni Baptista Locatelli brought comedies to Russian audiences.  Elizabeth hand-picked the bride for her successor nephew Peter III.  Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst would be renamed Catherine upon her conversion to the Orthodox relation. She would be known as Catherine II and later “the Great”.

It is no surprise that Catherine would continue the use of Italian artists including architects, painters and musicians. Through her envoys invitations were offered to some of the greatest musicians starting with Baldassare Galuppi from St. Mark’s in Venice, followed by Tommaso Traetta, the marvelous opera composer Giovanni Paisiello, Giuseppe Sarti, and Domenico Cimerosa. Most of these had three year contracts but many stayed much longer.

Carolina Pro Musica’s concert features vocal works from the hundreds of operas by composers who worked for Catherine. Included will be an aria from Paisiello’s Barber of Seville, premiered in St. Petersburg in 1782. That opera had a great influence on Mozart and Rossini. The only non-Italian composer featured on the program is Dmitry Bortniansky, a child singer in the Imperial Chapel who went to Italy with Galuppi and returned to work in the court chapel and for Catherine’s son Grand Duke Paul. Flute sonatas, keyboard works dedicated to the imperial family and a short military march round out the program.

Carolina Pro Musica
Karen Hite Jacob, harpsichord
Rebecca Miller Saunders, soprano
Holly Wright Maurer, viol, flauto traverso
Edward Ferrell, flauto traverso, recorder