A Historical Note on Il Trespolo Tutore
by Samuel Dwinell
January of 1679 saw the premiere of Alessandro Stradella’s Il Trespolo tutore in the Teatro Falcone in Genoa, a city well suited to the plot of this opera; as Stradella himself noted, the Genoese had a penchant for ‘comic things’. By the time he wrote Trespolo, the recent genre of Italian comic opera was becoming well established, and Stradella had already written comic prologues and intermezzos for the Teatro Tordinona. However, with this opera, Stradella invented the operatic buffo bass (something which would become a defining characteristic of later comic opera), and placed him in the title role as Trespolo, the foolish guardian.
The libretto is Giovanni Cosimo Villifranchi’s reworking of a popular comic play by Giovanni Battista Ricciardi. With just the same emphasis on intrigue, misunderstandings, and farce as Villifranchi’s adaptation, Ricciardi’s play contains a light comedy, often bordering on slap-stick in a language which resembles the everyday, colloquial Italian suitable to the narrative. Yet more serious moments punctuate the opera’s comedy in a way so indicative of Stradella’s expert handling of text, music, and plot.
If the colourful nature of the plot tends in places towards the absurd, it is positively mundane in comparison with Stradella’s extraordinary life, particularly as he lived it in the 1670s. He indulged himself in the carefree life of the leisured classes, spending his time as he pleased and frequently moving around Italy. But while on a sojourn in Rome in 1677, he incurred the wrath of Cardinal Alderan Cibo, and was forced to flee to Venice. Here, in his new position of musical pedagogue to the mistress of Alvise Contarini, a powerful nobleman, he became more amorous towards his pupil than his aristocratic employer found appropriate. Much to the anger of the Contarini family, the couple fled to Turin as fugitives pursued by a 40-strong band of men headed by Alvise Contarini himself hoping to capture the girl and to kill Stradella. Thankfully for us, their efforts were unsuccessful, but Contraini did not give up. He sent two more would-be assassins to the composer’s hiding place, but again the attempts on his life led only to more cunning on Stradella’s part. Unlike any self-respecting action-movie hero, he fled Turin without the girl and ended up in Genoa, just in time to oversee the production of his new opera, Il Trespolo tutore.