Author: Del Brebner
Antonio Vivaldi’s list of rarely-performed compositions includes an opera entitled Scanderbeg. that was originally performed at the Teatro de la Pergola in Florence, Italy on June 22, 1718. The occasion was the re-opening of the theatre, to this day a pearl among Florentine theatres. For the event Vivaldi had chosen to produce an opera, testimony to Vivaldi’s standing in the music world at that time. That Vivaldi had selected Scanderbeg as the subject of an opera especially composed for that momentous occasion confirms the impact that the Albanian folkhero still had on the civilized world almost 300 years after his heroic life. Only a few of the Vivaldi arias from the opera remain in Turin, Italy along with the libretto which is archived in a library in Bologna.
Another opera entitled Scanderbeg was composed by the 18th century French composer, Francois Francouer. It had been given in command performances before their majesties, King Louis XV and Queen Maria Charlotte Leszcynska of France at Fontainebleau on October 22, 1763. The entire opera has survived including both an original and revised version, librettos and musical scores. The complete works are housed in a library in Paris.*
According to data provided recently to Frosina by Peter Rennie of London’s Anglo-Albanian Association, there was a third opera about Scanderbeg composed by Bernard Germain le Comte de Lacepede (1765-1805), a French naturaliist, politician, and musician. Better known for his later political actrivities as President of the French Senate and of teh Grand Chancelier de la Legion d’honneur, Lacepede was also teh composer of five operas. One of these was Scanderbeg which was commissioned by a committe of the Academie Royale de Musique in 1785. The opera, however, was never performed since Lacepede for some reason has destroyed it.
Scanderbeg, the national hero of Albania and a military and political leader of international importance was born in 1405 in northern Albania to the Kastrioti family of feudal leaders, and as the child, Gjergj Kastrioti, he was taken as a hostage from his father, Gjon Kastrioti, to be raised and educated in Turkey and to serve in the Ottoman army. Under the name of Skënder (meaning Alexander, after Alexander the Great), he gained distinction in fighting in the Balkans and Asia Minor. He was awarded the title of Bey (Lord of the Land), adopting the name Scanderbeg (Albanian: Skënderbeu) which he retained all his life.
In 1443, he led a revolt in Krujë (northern Albania) against the Ottomans and scored repeated victories over them usually against great numerical odds. His successes were due to his knowledge of Turkish military tactics, his own sound tactics and strategy, brilliant leadership, the mountaineous terrain, and the support of the Albanian people. The revolt ultimately failed because of the overwhelming odds ranged against it and because of Scanderbeg’s death in 1468. The revolt’s astonishing achievements have ever since inspired and heartened Albanians everywhere they are located in the world.**
From 1983 until 1986, Van Christo conducted an extensive search that led him to various archival sources in Italy and France where he eventually retrieved copies of both the Vivaldi and Francouer Scanderbeg operas. He will donate them to several libraries including The School for the Arts at Boston University and the Fan Noli Library in Boston.
* Excerpted from “Van Christo Uncovers Two 18th Century Musical Treasures Celebrating Albania’s Geatest Hero” by Del Brebner, DIELLI, March 1, 1986
** Page 200 Historical Dictionary of Albania, Raymond Hutchins, The Scarecrow Press , Inc., Lanham, MD and London, 1996