Ópera y Teatro musical

Una cosa rara

Irina Kriajeva
jueves, 3 de junio de 2004
--- ---

Vicente Martín y Soler (Valencia, 2-V-1754; St. Petersburg, 11-II-1806) is one of the great classics of Spanish dramatic music. Born in Valencia, Martín y Soler rose to fame during his stay in Naples and other Italian cities, and finally at the Viennese court. From Vienna he travelled to St. Petersburg, where he would spend the longest period of his life.

Known as “Martini, lo Spagnuolo”, he made an outstanding contribution to the development of eighteenth-century opera. The composer’s best known and most noteworthy works were written and premièred in Vienna during the second half of the 1780’s in collaboration with the great librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, the Valencian composer’s personal friend. Some of Martín y Soler’s operas such as Il burbero di buon cuore (1786), Una cosa rara (1786) and L’arbore di Diana (1787), were even more popular than Mozart’s. And Mozart himself quoted the melody from the end of Act I of  Una cosa rara in Don Giovanni, confirming the work’s extraordinary popularity.

Of all his operas, Una cosa rara raised special interest for various reasons. It was a work that synthesised the most important characteristics of the opera buffa style of that period. In addition, Martín y Soler constructed a rich, but at the same time clear and diaphanous texture. Likewise, he demonstrated his mastery of orchestration, endowed with brilliant contrasts and delicate expressions. On the other hand, Una cosa rara was situated within the social and cultural context of its time, hence its success with audiences in different European cities including Vienna, Venice, London, St Petersburg, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, etc., who recognized and applauded the work’s values. His melodies were sung as domestic music and various transcriptions for different instrumental ensembles were made as confirmed in the surviving primary sources, demonstrating their wide popularity. For this reason his output was significant in its time and forms an important part of the history of European music.

The composer

Few documents relating to the early years of Martín y Soler’s musical career have been conserved. He was trained in the cathedral of his native city and in 1776 he found himself in Madrid, where he began serving the Prince of Asturias and was given the title “Maestro di cappella al servizio di S. M. R. il Principe d’Asturias”. Martín y Soler continued in this post until 1788, when he arrived in St Petersburg to serve at the court of Catherine II. In 1777 he was able to première his zarzuela La madrileña o el Tutor burlado at the Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso. Upon his arrival in Italy he was possibly a pupil of Giovanni Battista Martini (1706-1784), Mozart’s teacher, in Bolonia.

In November 1777 Martín y Soler was already in Naples, and in collaboration with the French choreographer Charles Le Picq –with whom he would continue to work in Russia– created the ballet La sposa persiana, which was premièred on 20 January 1778 at the San Carlo Theatre. The King of Naples, Fernando I, the brother of the Prince of Asturias, was Martín y Soler’s patron in that city, especially following the première of his Sinfonía, which took place on 21 July 1778. The work was composed for artillery and an instrumental ensemble in which the king himself participated as a soloist, firing a canon ball during the final cadence. The next day he was commissioned to write an opera seria, a commission which he fulfilled composing the opera Ifigenia in Aulide with a libretto by Luigi Serlio1.  Later he wrote three ballets: Griselda, La bella Arsene and I ratti Sabini, also choreographed by Le Picq. During this period Martín y Soler assimilated the canons of opera seria, to which the works Ipermestra, with a libretto by Metastasio, and Andrómaca by Zeno, pertain, both of which were premièred in 1780.

In 1782 the composer’s first encounter with the great Prince Pavel of Russia took place, after the latter’s arrival in Naples with his wife. Martín y Soler wrote the opera Partenope with a text by Metastasio for this occasion. That same year, he made his first attempt at composing a comic opera with L’amour geloso, which was premièred at the Teatro del Fondo. In the autumn of 1782 he arrived in Venice, where the work In amor ci vuol destrezza was premièred at the San Samuel Theatre. The same work was presented with a different title –L’accorta cameriera– in Turin in autumn, 1783, during the governor of Milan, Archduke Ferdinand’s visit, who was also the brother of the Emperor Joseph II. The court of Palma commissioned him for La vedova spiritosa, premièred during Shrovetide, 1785. Life and work in Venice was very important to the evolution of Vicente Martín y Soler’s career, given both cities’ operatic associations. We know that Count Durazzo, the Viennese ambassador in Venice frequently made recommendations to the Emperor Joseph II2,  a great lover of Italian opera.

At the end of 1785 Martín y Soler arrived in Vienna, where he would be an immediate success. Joseph II possibly heard Martín y Soler’s operas during his trip to Italy from December 1783 to March 1784, and perhaps invited him to Vienna. But there are other hypotheses, such as his contact with Joseph II’s brothers (Ferdinand of Naples and Ferdinand of Palma, aficionados of Martín y Soler’s operas), or with the Duke of Durazzo, and finally, with Isabella, Marchioness of Llano, the wife of the Spanish ambassador in Vienna. As confirmed by various sources, she sponsored Martín y Soler during his stay in Vienna.

The three years Martín y Soler spent in Vienna were years of great splendour for Italian opera, patronised by the Emperor Joseph II. In Vienna, Martín y Soler met Lorenzo Da Ponte, who was beginning his career as a librettist at the time and enjoyed the Emperor’s support. In his Memoirs, Da Ponte described this period in detail, in particular the period in which he met Martín y Soler and Mozart, and his simultaneous collaboration with both of them. Following the failure of his first libretto for Salieri in 1784, it wasn’t easy for Da Ponte to find a composer who wanted to work with him, as he wrote: “Salieri at that time would have rather cut off his fingers than have touched another verse of mine: Paisiello was gone to Italy, and I was not then acquainted with Mozart. I was in this predicament when Vicenzo Martini arrived in Vienna. This young composer, though a Spaniard by birth, had an exquisite taste for the Italian music… He was ambitious to write an opera for the theatre of Vienna, and in spite of the unhappy fate of my first essay, he was advised by his friends to have recourse to me for the words. I took time to reflect, not knowing much of him, and asked the advice of the emperor, who was glad of the opportunity, and urged me to embrace it”3.

The first product of this collaboration was the opera Il burbero di buon cuore, premièred on 4 January 1786. According to Da Ponte, the Emperor was very satisfied with the result and immediately asked the Spanish composer for another work. From this point onwards, Martín y Soler became one of the Emperor’s favourite composers. It isn’t surprising that shortly afterwards –on 17 November 1786– his opera Una cosa rara was staged, bringing him acknowledgments from all over Europe. Martín y Soler and Da Pontes’ third opera was commissioned for the Emperor’s niece’s wedding. L’arbore di Diana was performed nearly one year later, on 1 October 1787, and it became one of the most popular works to be premièred in the Burgtheater from 1783 to 1792.

In 1788, by invitation from the Russian court, Martín y Soler travelled to St Petersburg, where he lived until his death in 1806. Clearly, his spectacular success in Vienna was the reason behind the Empress Catherine II’s invitation. During the second half of the eighteenth century the Russian court made a great effort to introduce the Russian public to European, and especially Italian, opera. The Empress spared nothing in inviting some of the most eminent composers, artists, singers, painters and choreographers to Russia for the costly opera and ballet productions. Among them were Baldassare Galuppi, Giovanni Paisiello (his well-known Il barbero di Seviglia was written to be premièred in St Petersburg), Giuseppe Sarti and Domenico Cimarosa. At the end of the 1780’s, the Spanish composer Vicente Martín y Soler would join this list. The mere enumeration of these composers, and the analysis of the repertories of the most important theatres in St Petersburg –the Hermitage, the Grand Kameniy Theatre and the Derevianiy– which included Austrian, French and Italian opera and ballet, as well as the impressive decorations entrusted to the noted theatrical painter Pietro Gonzaga at the end of the eighteenth century, are an indication of St Petersburg’s importance as a European musical centre.

From 1 October 1790 to 28 September 1794 Martín y Soler held the post of orchestral conductor at the court of Catherine II, substituting the Italian G. Sarti in this post. The contract signed by both the directors of the Imperial Theatres, P. Saimonov and A. Chrapovitsky, and Martín y Soler has been conserved. According to the contract, Martín y Soler: “had to compose the music to the Italian and Russian operas, cantatas and choruses for the court, as well as the music for festive music concerts; arrange opera translations, adapting them to be performed by Russian vocalists; conduct all the rehearsals; be the sole conductor of any music which was played or sung; and teach music at the drama school. The composer signed this document with an expiry date of 28 September 1794, indicating that he was completely satisfied with it4.

However, at the time of the contract’s expiry, Martín y Soler has already been in Russia for two years, which leads one to the hypothesis that there was another contract which is now lost. During this period he wrote three operas with Russian librettos: Gore bogatyr Kosométovich (1789, with a libretto by Catherine the Great), Melomanía (1790, with a libretto by A. Chrapovitsky), and Fedul et sus enfants (1791, with a libretto by Catherine the Great). The Russian court encouraged foreign composers to work on Russian themes and texts. In regard to Catherine the Great’s authorship, as revealed in the memoirs of her secretary, A. Chrapovitsky, she only chose the theme and later exerted the general control over the textual production, which she then entrusted to her secretary.

The first opera was a satire ridiculing the Swedish Emperor Gustavus III, who had initiated a military campaign against Russia in 1788. According to Chrapovitsky, the work was a huge success with the nobility. One of the opera’s newest features was the presence of folkloric elements from Russian song, especially in the overture, which includes three popular melodies. Undoubtedly, at the time Martín y Soler had already met Ivan Pratch, a compiler of Russian popular songs, who also taught at the drama school and in 1790 published his Anthology of Russian Popular Songs. Apparently it was Ivan Pratch who introduced Martín y Soler to these folkloric materials, which the composer used in his Russian operas.

The second opera in his Russian trilogy, Melomanía, was a parody of the opera by the French composer S. Champein Mélomanie, which was produced without the Empress’s participation. It is an ironical opera ridiculing the Russian craze for everything Italian in music. Martín y Soler traces a cantabile style, and yet again resorts to the genre of the Spanish seguidilla. The Russian trilogy concludes with one-act opera Fedul et ses enfants, which according to Catherine the Great herself, consisted of “a kind of game”. Of the opera’s ten numbers, only seven were written by Martín y Soler. The remaining three choruses were composed by the Russian composer Pashkevich.

The Imperial Theatres’ archive bears witness to the fact that different works by the composer were very popular in Russia, especially the operas composed in Vienna such as Una cosa rara and L’arbore di Diana which were staged at the Hermitage Imperial Theatre at the Court and for the St Petersburg audiences in Russian. The large number of performances and their elevated takings demonstrates their popularity. Among the most outstanding performers were Elizaveta Uranova (Sandunova), a unique mezzo-soprano (with a three-octave tessitura), who was one of Martín Soler’s most distinguished pupils at the drama school.

Following the dissolution of the Italian Company at the Russian court, the composer devoted the 1790’s to the composition of ballets since there was no sense in continuing to produce operas. Curiously, during this period Martín y Soler once again began working with the French choreographer Charles Le Picq who, from 2 January 1786 worked in St Petersburg as prima ballerina and choreographer to the court. A pupil of Noverre and a recognised ballet revolutionary, Le Picq expanded his ideas about the total artwork. Martín y Soler wrote three ballets: Didon abandonée, in five acts, dedicated to Yusupov and premièred in September 1792 at the Hermitage Theatre; the ballet comedy L’Oracle, in one act and premièred at the end of 1793; Amour et Psyché, in five acts, with sets by the painter P. Gonzaga, also premièred at the Hermitage Theatre on 23 September 1793.

Upon the contract’s expiry in Autumn 1794, Vicente Martín y Soler travelled to London, where he remained for close to a year and a half and once again teamed up with Da Ponte, who was working there as an Italian opera librettist. Previously, this duo had composed two works: La scuola dei maritati, performed on 27 January 1795; and L’isola del piacere, premièred on 26 May 1795.

Upon his return to Russia at the beginning of 1796, Martín y Soler held the position of maestro di cappella at the Smolny Institute. He conducted concerts by the musicians of the Imperial Theatre School, as well as taught singing to members of the aristocratic families of St Petersburg. From 1796 to 1800 he worked on the Italian comic opera La festa del villagio, premièred on 15 January 1798 and two ballets: Tancréde, premièred on January 1799 at the Hermitage Theatre, and Le retour de Poliorcéte, performed in January 1800 at the Kamenny Theatre. The same year Martín y Soler composed the cantata for the consecration of the chapel of the Order of Malta, performed on 17 June 1800.

In periodicals of the period there are references to Martín y Soler as a composer of instrumental music, though only two concertos for clarinet have survived. It has to be said that Martín y Soler’s most popular operatic arias were published in different journals and collections held in the archives of Russian aristocratic families. Martín y Soler died in St Petersburg on 30 January 1806 and was buried in the Catholic part of the Smolensky cemetery in that city.

The work

Una cosa rara is Martín y Soler and Da Pontes’ best-known opera. The only sources of information about the history of its production and first performances in Vienna are two essays by the librettist himself5  and his Memoirs. According to Da Ponte, following the première of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (1 May 1786), for which he had written the libretto, he proposed that the “bravo spagnuolo” continue his collaboration and, as always, for political reasons, chose the Spanish theme from Vélez de Guevara’s work La luna de la sierra, which, in his opinion, could strengthen contacts and relations between the Emperor and the wife of the Spanish Ambassador in Vienna, who patronised Martín y Soler, and Da Ponte himself. The text of the libretto was written in 30 days and the composer took another month or so to write the music. After the distribution of the roles (Nancy Storace as Lilla, Stefano Mandini6  as Lubino, Dorotea Bussani as Ghita, Francesco Benucci as Tita, Luisa Laschi-Mombelli as Queen Isabel, Vicenzo Calvesi as Prince Juan, Michael Kelly as Corrado and Johann Hoffman as the Chief Magistrate), it was clear the singers weren’t content with their roles, —something which often occurred— taking their complaints to the composers. It was only after the Emperor himself intervened that an end was put to the discussion.

Da Ponte narrates the day of the première: “Came the evening of the first performance. The theatre was crowded with an audience for the most part hostile and disposed to hiss. But, from the rising of the curtain, everyone praised such grace, such sweetness, such melody in the music, and there with such novelty and interest in the words, that the audience was caught up in an ecstasy of pleasure. On an attentive silence never before lent to any Italian opera there followed a frenzy of applause, cries of delight, howls of enthusiasm. The claque of the cabal fell to pieces on the spot and there was an accord of hand clapping and lively acclamation.

At the end of the first act the ladies in the boxes began inquiring who the poet was. These had heard my competence so roundly damned by Casti and his admirers that it did not occur to them that I might be the author…

And the second act began.

It was as much of a success as the first (perhaps even more so). One of the duets especially appeared to electrify with a sort of heavenly beauty. Joseph was the first with voice and hands to call the encore, thus abrogating a rule he had made himself a few days before, that none of the so-called “concerted” passages should be repeated…

The Germans, naturally so kind and hospitable, had hitherto taken little notice of me, thanks to the ridicule of my enemies and the praises, seasoned with “buts”, lavished on me by Casti. They now sought to make ample amends for the wrong done me, by their courtesies, blandishments, and gracious welcome. The ladies in particular, who could see nothing but the Cosa rara and dress only in the style of the Cosa rara, believes that Martini and I were in truth two “rare things” ourselves. We might have had more amorous adventures than had all the knights of the Round Table in twenty years. We were the lions of the hour to the exclusion of all others. That opera had worked the miracle of revealing graces, beauties, rarities that had not been detected in us before, and that were not to be found in other men. Sugary love letters, presents accompanied by enigmatic verses, invitations to drives, banquets, dinners, jaunts in the country, fishing parties, and all the rest! The Spaniard was much amused at all this and profited of it in every way. As for myself, I laughed, made certain sound reflections on human nature, and turned my mind to writing some other Cosa rara if that should be possible; all the more since Caesar, after giving me conspicuous sings of his favor, advised me without delay to write another opera for “that excellent Spaniard"7 ...

Besides Da Ponte’s Memoirs, other documents from the period —periodicals, memoirs and diaries kept by influential figures— confirm the work’s exceptional success, pointing out its many merits. Thus, in 1787 Skizze von Wien wrote: “Una Cosa rara… was the opera that drove the whole city crazy and some 300-400 people were left without tickets for its performances due to a lack of seats. Wherever one goes, to private households or in gentle company one hears the duets, trios or the finale sung or played on keyboard instruments”8.  Among the music’s many merits, the special lyric quality of the arias, cavatinas and ensemble pieces was of note, especially in the second-act duet “Pace, caro mio sposo”. Thus, Prince Karl Zinzendorf, the most influential figure in the Austrian court entered in his diary: “The duet between Madini and Lilla from Act II is fascinating” (20 November 1786). A few days later he wrote: “The beautiful duet between Madini and Storace was repeated; it is very voluptuous. I was very agitated when I left” (4 December)9.

The audience also reacted strongly to the Spanish colour of the work, which was set in Spain at the end of the fifteenth century, and the typical costumes, which, according to Da Ponte, the Ambassador’s wife had helped to obtain, and of course the music. The clearest example of the use of Spanish motives can be found at the end of Act II, in which the two main characters, Lilla and Ghita, sing a Spanish seguidilla with mandolin accompaniment. Clearly, in Martín y Soler’s case this use of Spanish motives was not only a tribute to the universally accepted trend (recall the many interpretations of the Don Juan theme from Gluck to Mozart) but the materialisation of his own Spanish culture. Martín y Soler would use the seguidilla again in his Russian opera Melomanía.

Another testimony to the wide popularity of Una cosa rara is the fact that its first edition was published only one month after its première by the Viennese publisher Artaria, who also published the transcription for voice and piano which included 17 chosen numbers and the overture. The fact that the edition only contained lyric numbers and not those with an opera buffa or seria character is perhaps due to the audience’s taste and preferences, and their valuing of the lyric quality to Martín y Soler’s music above all other features.

During the next five years Una cosa rara was sung in Dresden, Prague, Milan, Venice, St Petersburg, London, Madrid, Barcelona and Paris. During this period it was translated into various languages, in particular into German with the title Cosa rara, der seltne Fall oder Schonheit und Tugend, into Russian with the title Redkaya vesh and into French with the title Les Acordées de Village.

The première of Una cosa rara in Russia, performed by the Italian company of the court, took place on 19 October 1788 at the Hermitage court theatre, shortly after Martín y Soler’s arrival. At the end of the eighteenth century both this work and L’arbore di Diana constantly formed part of theatrical repertories in St Petersburg and Moscow. In 1789 it was translated into Russian and, a short time later, became one of Russia’s favourite operas. The Russian version of the libretto was written by a well-known theatre personality, the actor Dmitrevsky, who made some cuts and changes to it, especially in Act II. This version, fairly different from that performed in Vienna, was performed in Russia until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Among the opera’s performers was the famous Russian singer Elizaveta Sandunova, who sang the role of Ghita. On one occasion Sandunova was unable to perform, causing the whole opera to become a failure. The journal Aglaya reported this and published the following verses:

Something is missing in Una cosa rara!
Is it the work itself or the singer Sandunova?
That’s it! And there won’t be another like her,
for many years to come”10.

Testament to the work’s popularity are also the repertory lists of the Archive Imperial Theatres’ Management, which not only documents a considerable number of performances of this opera, but its elevated takings: 500-600 roubles per performance, compared to an average taking in the order of 200-300 roubles11.  Of special interest is the fact that the work was not only performed in St Petersburg and Moscow but also in the Russian provinces. For example, the Ucranian Bulletin contains an article relating to the performance of Una cosa rara in the Ukrainian province of Jarkov: “We usually go to the theatre with great pleasure to repeat all the arias of this incomparable work by memory, over and over again! None of its charm has disappeared; in my opinion, Una cosa rara has been performed excellently here too… in short, I am increasingly more content with this work! Such celestial music! It is further proof that the new, the fashionable, is not always fine, and the old is not always bad. The old Una cosa rara will beautify opera theatres for several more centuries… that is if they don’t disappear one day due to a plague”12.

Throughout the first two decades of the nineteenth century the perception of the work altered. Contemporary critics thought that Una cosa rara had lost its value in comparison to works composed in the new romantic style. At the beginning of the nineteenth century many archaic elements were seen in this work: its light texture, simple harmony, the frequent repetition of cadences, etc. However, critics pointed out that “Una cosa rara deserved attention and would always be heard with pleasure”13.


Act I: Queen Isabella, her son Prince Giovanni and Corrado the squire go hunting and the queen kills a wild animal. Her entourage and the townsfolk rejoice and praise the Queen. The trio have barely regrouped when Lilla, a highlander, appears, after escaping from her home, where her brother Tita had locked her up. Tita wants her to marry the Governor, but Lilla loves the shepherd Lubino. Lilla asks the Queen for her assistance and the latter assures her that she will help and confides her to Corrado. But the Queen is unaware that both the Prince and Corrado are overcome by Lilla’s beauty and that her son is envious of Corrado. The Prince declares his love but Lilla rejects him. Alone, the Prince expresses his admiration for Lilla’s beauty. Later, another pair of lovers Ghita and Lilla’s brother Tita, enters quarrelling. The Governor appears and puts an end to this argument, reminding them of their double wedding. Suddenly Lubino appears in search of his beloved Lilla. Suspecting that he has been cheated on, he threatens to kill Tita and heads off to Tita’s house in search of Lilla. At the same time the Governor calls for his men to detain Lubino. After discovering that Lilla is not at home, Lubino returns with the veil she left on the balcony after escaping. Lubino attacks Tita but the Governor’s men take him away. Ghita begs Tita to forget the idea of Lilla and the Governors’ wedding and attempts to move him to pity. Tita agrees and shows his fondness for Ghita.

After meeting Ghita at the Queen’s residence, Lilla accuses her of being an accomplice to Tita and the Governor. The Queen interrupts the fight and, calling for reconciliation, sends Ghita off in search of Tita and the Governor. Lilla ponders her love when Corrado appears and tells her of his paternal feelings. At this moment the Prince appears offering her presents and making promises. Once again she steadfastly rejects him. Lubino’s voice can be heard accusing the traitors and demanding justice from the Queen. Lilla is frightened that Lubino has seen her with the Prince and goes into hiding. Lubino kneels down before the Queen and the Prince. Ghita and Tita enter, the latter admitting he was wrong and accepting Lilla and Lubinos’ wedding. A happy Lilla enters, but Lubino fears he has been tricked. Corrado, Lilla’s guardian, appears and assures everyone of her honesty. Finally the Queen announces the weddings of the two couples: Lilla and Lubino and Ghita and Tita. All celebrate the happy event.

Act II: Lubino and Tita go to the city to buy presents for their wives. Ghita gives Lilla the chain, a present from the Prince, and advises her to accept the Prince’s advances. Corrado awaits news from Ghita and when she arrives she explains that at his age he is his own enemy in love. Left alone Ghita scoffs at Corrado and laughs at men who try to buy love. The entourage and the peasants praise the Queen and alone, she expresses her admiration for their virtue. Nightfalls, Lilla and Ghita await their husbands impatiently. In the darkness they confuse them with Corrado and the Prince, who disguise their voices as those of Lubino and Tita. But suddenly Lubino and Tita appear. They question their wives with distrust and listen to their amorous words. Left alone, the Prince becomes desperate because of his unrequited love for Lilla. Despite the two women’s assertions, Lubino and Tita still have their doubts and try to uncover their deceit. Lilla and Ghita enter, inviting their husbands to lunch. Tita’s questions anger Ghita, while Lilla tries to calm a worried Lubino. As soon as they begin eating and make up, the sound of the guitar and a voice singing a serenade are heard outside and a stone is thrown at the balcony. Tita and Lubino put on their capes and swords and go outside, followed by Lilla and Ghita. Amid the chaos they draw their swords but at the same time the Prince discloses himself. The highlanders apologise. Lilla and Lubino make up again. But at that moment Tita discovers the chain and a bag containing money and shows them to Lubino. Lubino doesn’t know whether to believe Lilla or not. Then he recalls the tragedy of Tirsis and Dorila. Finally Lubino and Tita decide to demand justice from the Queen, who is preparing another hunt with her entourage. They show her the bag, which is brimming with gold. The Prince asks Corrado not to betray him and Corrado takes all the blame. The Queen removes him from her service, taking away his title and expelling him from Spain. Lilla and Ghita are grateful to the Queen; they sing and dance seguidillas. The Queen and her entourage go back to their hunt and the two couples express their joy.

Editorial criteria

This edition has been based on four manuscripts, three conserved in Russia, with the text of the libretto in Russian, and one in Madrid, with an Italian text. Two of the Russian manuscripts are held at the Central Music Library of the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg and the third at the Glinka State Museum of Musical Culture in Moscow. Manuscripts two and three are identical.

1. Redkaya vetsh/Una cosa rara. Full score in two volumes, copied in 1789. The manuscript contains an appendix, written by another hand, consisting of four arias –one (“Or se pericolo” sung by the Chief Magistrate) from Act I, and three (“Osserva questo crine” sung by Corrado, “Ah, perché formar” sung by the Queen, “Consola le pene”, sung by Lilla) from Act II. Central Music Library of the Mariinsky Theatre. Call number 4036.

2. Redkaya vetsh. Full score in two volumes, copied in 1789. Central Music Library of the Mariinsky Theatre. Call number 4058.

3. Redkaya vetsh. Dramma giocoso in two acts. Full score. Manuscript. Glinka State Museum of Musical Culture. Call number F187 9.

4. Una cosa rara/a sia/Belleza, ed Onestá/Musica/Del Sig: Vinzenzo Martín. Madrid, Biblioteca Histórica Municipal. Mús. 306-2. 307.

In addition, during the editorial process other main sources have also been taken into account14:  those held at the Nationalbibliothek in Vienna, whose manuscript is identical to the original from which copies were made for other theatres, given that today neither the autograph manuscript nor the working manuscript that was used for the work’s première are thought to exist15.  Two published editions have also been consulted: the first is the complete score published by G. Allroggen, which uses the original manuscript Una Cosa rara ossia Bellezza ed Onestá. G. Henle Verlag Munchen, 1990; the second, the transcription for voice and piano published by Simrock in Bonn in 1814.

It must be pointed out that the music and the work’s structure differ between the sources, something fairly frequent in Italian opera from that period, logically posing textual problems and leading to the coexistence of various similar versions of the same work.

Table of correspondences between the main sources

Manuscript held at the Central Music Library of the Mariinsky  Theatre (St Petersburg) 4036Manuscript held at the Glinka State Museum of Music Culture F 1879

Manuscript held at the Natioalbibliothek, Vienna. 17.794


This edition


Atto primo


[1] Introduzione

Coro, Salva, salva

Recitativo ac. Allegr

Coro Se di lugubri


Coro, Salva, salva

Recitativo ac. Allegr

Coro Se di lugubri

No 1 Introduzione

Coro, Salva, salva

Recitativo ac. Allegr

Coro Se di lugubri

No 1 Introduzione

Coro, Salva, salva

Recitativo ac. Allegr

Coro Se di lugubri

[2] Terzetto Perché mai nel sen

Terzetto Perché mai nel sen

No 2 Terzetto Perché mai nel senNo 2Terzetto Perché mai nel sen

[3] Cavatina Ah pietade


Cavatina Ah pietade


No 3 Cavatina Ah pietade

Recitativo ac. E chi potrebbe

No 3 Cavatina Ah pietade

Recitativo ac. E chi potrebbe

[4] Cavatina Calma l'affano

Coro Suoni pur di grati

Cavatina Calma l'affano

 Coro Suoni pur di grati

No 4 Cavatina Calma l'affano

Coro Suoni pur di grati

No 4 Cavatina Calma l'affano

Coro Suoni pur di grati

[5] Aria Piú biancaAria Piú biancaNo 5 Aria Piú biancaNo 5 Aria Piú bianca
[6] Duetto Un bricconeDuetto Un bricconeNo 6 Duetto Un bricconeNo 6 Duetto Un briccone
[7] Cavatina Lilla miaCavatina Lilla miaNo 7  Cavatina Lilla miaNo 7 Cavatina Lilla mia
[8] Aria (appendix) Or se pericolo[8] Aria  Or se pericoloNo 8 Aria Or se pericolo

[9] Rec. ac. Dov'é dunque

Aria Vo' dall' infami

Aria Purché tu m'ami

Rec. ac. Dov'é dunque

Aria Vo' dall' infami

Aria Purché tu m'ami

No 9 Rec. ac. Dov'é dunque

No 10 Aria Vo' dall' infami

No 11 Aria Purché tu m'ami

No 9 Rec. ac. Dov'é dunque

Aria Vo' dall' infami

No 10 Aria Purché tu m'ami

[10] Aria (another in D major) Tachado

 Aria (another in D major)

No 12 Aria In quegli anniNo 11 Aria In quegli anni

[12] Terzetto Diró che perfida


Terzetto Diró che perfida

Coro Di campagne

No 13 Terzetto Diró che perfida


No 12 Terzetto Diró che perfida


[13] Cavatina Dolce mi parve Cavatina Dolce mi parveNo 14 Cavatina Dolce mi parveNo 13 Cavatina Dolce mi parve
[14] Finale Traditori, invan sperateFinale Traditori, invan sperateNo 14 Finale Traditori, invan sperateNo 14 Finale Traditori, invan sperate

Atto secondo

[1] Duetto Andiam, caro TitaDuetto Andiam, caro TitaNo 1 Duetto Andiam, caro TitaNo 1 Duetto Andiam, caro Tita
No. 2 Aria Colla flemmaApendice No 1A Aria Colla flemma
[2] Aria (appendix) Osserva questoNo 3 Aria (appendix) Osserva questoNo 2 Aria (appendix) Osserva questo
[3] Aria Cavatevi padroniAria Cavatevi padroniNo 3 Aria Cavatevi padroni
[4] Coro Di campagneNo 4 Coro Di campagneNo 4 Coro Di campagne
[5] Coro da capoNo 5 Coro da capoNo 5 Coro da capo
No 6 Rec. ac. Chi mai diria No 6 Rec. ac. Chi mai diria

[6] Rondo (appendix) Ah perché






No 7 Rondo Ah perché

No. 8 Rec ac. O Ciel! 

No. 9 Aria Seguir

No. 10 Duettino Villanelle

Rondo Ah perché


Appendix No. 6A Rec ac. O Ciel!

Aria Seguir


[7] Sestetto Dammi la cara manoSestetto Dammi la cara manoNo 11 Sestetto Dammi la cara manoNo 7 Sexteto Dammi la cara mano

[8] Rec. ac. Di qual rigido marmo

Aria Perché farla

Rec. ac. Di qual rigido marmo

Aria Perché farla

No 11 Rec. ac. Di qual rigido marmo

Aria Perché farla

No 8 Rec. ac. Di qual rigido marmo

Aria Perché farla

[9] Recitativo ac. Ah mal aya

Aria Qua la cappa

Recitativo ac. Ah mal aya

Aria Qua la cappa

No 12 Recitativo ac. Ah mal aya

Aria Qua la cappa

No 9 Recitativo ac. Ah mal aya

Aria Qua la cappa


[10] Aria (appendix) Consola le pene

Duetto Pace, caro mio sposo

No. 13 Rec. ac. Ah no, mio dolce

Aria Consola le pene

No. 10 Rec. ac. Ah no, mio dolce

Aria Consola le pene

[11] Cavatina Non farmiCavatina Non farmiNo 14 Cavatina Non farmiNo 11 Cavatina Non farmi
[12] Cavatina Ho vistoCavatina Ho vistoNo 15 Cavatina Ho vistoNo 12 Cavatina Ho visto
[13] Settetto Zitto!Settetto ZittoNo 16 Settetto ZittoNo 13 Septetto Zitto

[14] Duetto Pace, caro mio sposo

Aria (another in G major)



Aria (another in G major)

No 17 Duetto Pace, caro mio sposo


No 14 Duetto Pace, caro mio sposo




[15] Finale Su cacciatori





Finale Su cacciatori




No. 18 Aria Costume, genio, amore


Finale Su cacciatori






Appendix No 14A Aria Costume, genio, amore


Finale Su cacciatori


No. 1A Aria Colla flemma
No. 6A Recitativo y aria
O Ciel! Que duro passo
No. 14A Aria Costume, genio, amore
Variant of Number 14 Final (Acto I)


The most complete source of Una cosa rara in the present author’s opinion is the manuscript used for the première in Vienna in 1786, held at the Nationalbibliothek in Vienna: 17.794. However, there is another source held in Vienna analysed by D. E. Link in her research. Link states that for some months after the première, the opera was modified and transformed, especially the structure of Act II. The arias of Act II were reduced: Ghita’s aria in Scene 3 (“Colla flemma”), the Prince’s recitative and aria in Scene 9 (“O ciel”, “Seguir”), and the duettino between Lilla and Ghita in Scene 11 (“Villanelle”). The first two were substituted by Ghita’s arietta (“Cavatevi”) at the end of Scene 6 and by the Prince’s recitative and aria (“Di qual” and “Perche farla”) at the end of Scene 13. Thus, instead of long, virtuosic arias, there are other easier and shorter ones. The second part of the duet between Lilla and Lubino, “Pace, caro mio sposo”, was also abbreviated and the last two sections of the finale to Act II were substituted by the chorus in 3/816.

All these changes, made during the first few months after the première in Vienna and reflected in the working manuscript, can be confirmed by the three Russian manuscripts, which also contain other differences.
The two original arias “Colla flemma” and “O ciel” are also missing in the Russian manuscripts, which instead contain the arias that substituted them, “Cavatevi” and “Di qual”. In regard to the latter, when compared to its variant from the appendix to the Henle Verlag and Simrol editions, it is much longer and includes a final section “Allegretto amoroso”, 2/4, 48 bars) which is not given in these editions. In addition, three accompanied recitatives are also missing in the Russian manuscripts, the Queen’s “E chi potrebbe”  (sung prior to the Cavatina No. 3) from Act I, her “Chi mai diria” (sung prior to the Rondo No. 6) and Lilla’s “Ah no, mio dolce” (sung prior to the No. 13 aria) from Act II. Two arias have also been shortened, Lubino’s “Vo’ dall’ infami” (only the return is present) and Lilla’s cavatina “Dolce mi parve” from Act I (which is missing five bars). Similarly, there are two arias that do not appear in all the sources known to date. Thus, instead of Tita’s aria No. 12 “In quegli anni” from Act I, there is another aria in D Major, and instead of Lubino’s aria No. 18 “Constume, genui amore” from Act II, there is also another aria in G Major. However, in manuscript 4036 both have been crossed out with the cinnamon-coloured pencil used by the composer himself.

It can be supposed that the corrections made in French with a cinnamon-coloured pencil and which can be found throughout the manuscript were made by the composer himself, or that they were certainly made with his approval. In general, these markings establish the order in which the opera’s numbers should follow, even the arias given in the appendix and thus determine the work’s overall structure in regard to performance; in this case the structure coincides with that of the Viennese working manuscript.

It must therefore be stressed that the changes made to the Viennese working manuscript and those made to all the Russian manuscripts were carried out in the composer’s presence. Remember that at the end of the 1780’s and the beginning of the 1790’s, when Una cosa rara was frequently performed in St Petersburg, Martín y Soler served as composer to the court and undoubtedly participated in the process of staging his opera, reflected in the cinnamon-coloured indications. Thus, it can almost certainly be affirmed that the above-mentioned transformation of Act II is the result of composer’s very own work. Thus we have the composer’s second version of his opera, which was possibly his favourite given that he himself chose this version for its St Petersburg première.

The present edition thus presents a synthesis of the composer’s two variants, which we believe to be equivalent. The score is basically based on the version found in the manuscript held at the Mariinsky Theatre (manuscript 4036) but with some changes and corrections originating from the main Viennese version. In order to preserve the structure of the text of the libretto, without making significant reductions and using the typical model of the accompanied recitative-aria found in Italian opera, three accompanied recitatives have been included in the main part of the edition (“E chi potrebbe” in Act I; “Chi mai diria” and “Ah no, mio dolce” in Act II) from the Viennese version. For the same reasons, Lubino’s aria “Vo’ dall’ infami” is presented with its complete variant. Likewise, Lilla’s cavatina “Dolce mi parve” corresponds exactly to manuscript 4036 because the five-bar cut doesn’t effect the structure of the text and reflect instrumental repetitions and variations. Basing our criteria on the cinnamon-coloured markings, which pertain to the composer himself, two unknown arias have been excluded (one sung by Tita in Act I, and the other by Lubino in Act II) and Tita’s aria “In quegli anni” has been included in Act I, preserving its basic structure.

It must be especially noted that the beginning of the finale to Act I in manuscript 4036 of the Mariinsky Theatre contains a different orchestration, in particular the woodwinds, which remain silent for 25 bars, with the exception of the bassoon, in contrast to the Viennese score. Logically, this version –the general source– is represented in the main text. But in this case, where there are significant differences, the two variants of the same fragment of the score are given.

The present edition includes an appendix in which three important and well-known arias have been included from Act II of the Viennese score, as well as the instrumental version of the beginning of the finale to Act I:

1. Ghita’s aria “Colla flemma” from Scene III;

2. The Prince’s recitative and aria “O Ciel!” , “Seguir” from Scene VIII;

3. Lubino’s aria “Costume, genio amore” from Scene XVI;

4.Alternative fragment from the finale to Act I (25 bars).

The decision to exclude the duettino “Villanelle” between Lillo and Ghita from Act II was also made, considering that, in contrast to all the other cases, it is missing from both the St Petersburg version and the Simrok edition.

Since the Russian manuscripts do not include the dry recitatives, these have been taken from the Madrid manuscript, which gives the vocal melody and the bass, as is standard practice.

In regard to the text, the following edition has been used: –Una Cosa Rara/o Sia/Belleza ed Onestá/– Presso Guiseppe Nob. De Kurzbek./Stampatore de S.M.I.R.– with some corrections caused by changes to the musical structure. These refer mainly to Act II, in which the numeration of the scenes has been changed and scenes IV, X and XI have been reduced.

Critical edition of the music

The score has been laid out precisely according to the canons of operatic score writing of the eighteenth century: the first and second violins are situated in the upper part of the page, then come the flutes, oboes and clarinets, horns, trumpets, violas, bassoons, timpani, and the bass line, occupied by violoncellos and double basses. The pitches of the woodwind instruments as given in the manuscript and according to early-music practices, have been retained; for example, the clarinet is pitched in C, while the horns and trumpets use various pitches (C, D, G, etc.)
Some instrumental parts (especially the violas and bassoons) contain abbreviations, for example the sign ://, frequently repeated in the viola part to indicate the duplication of the violoncellos an octave higher. When this sign appears in the oboes or clarinets, there is always an indication as to which instrument is doubled. All the tempo markings, dynamics and articulation respect the indications found in manuscript 4036.

Variants and corrections

This edition is faithful to the manuscript held at the Mariinsky Theatre (4036), the most detailed and accurate of the three Russian manuscripts. This manuscript contains some special features and various differences when compared to the Viennese/Madrid manuscript and Henle Verlag Munchen edition.

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the Directors of the Glinka Museum in Moscow who were kind enough to put the microfilm of Una Cosa Rara at my disposition. It is also a pleasure to thank the Directors of the Central Library of the Mariinksy Theatre and particularly Irina Taburetkina.

(English translation by Yolanda Acker)


Dorothea E. Link. The Da Ponte Operas of Vicente Martín y Soler. Ph. D. Thesis, The University of Toronto. 1991, p. 6.

Ibid, p. 9.

Lorenzo Da Ponte. An Extract from the life of Lorenzo Da Ponte…, (New York, 1819), p. 10.

Arjiv Imperatorskij Teatrov. Vol. II. St. Petersburg, 1892, p. 433.

Lorenzo Da Ponte: Memoirs, translated by Elizabeth Abbott from the Italian; edited and annotated by Arthur Livingston, (Philadelphia; J. B. Lippincott, 1929).

The bass Stefano Mandini not only sang in Martín y Soler’s operas in Vienna but also in St Petersburg. In 1799 he was invited to perform with the Italian company in St Petersburg, where he sang in Martín y Soler’s new Italian opera La festa del villagio. (Arjiv Imperatorskij Teatrov). Vol. III. St Petersburg, 1892.

The Memoirs of Lorenzo Da Ponte, translated by Elizabeth Abott…, pp. 169-172.

O. Michtner: Das alter Burgtheater als Opernbühne: Von der Einführung des deutschen Singspiels (1778) bis zum Tod Kaiser Leopold II (1792), (Vienna, Böhlav in Komm, 1970), p. 405.

Ibid, p. 406.

“Na predstavlenii operi Redkaya vetsh”, (In the performance of the opera Una cosa rara”, Aglaya. St Petersburg, 1810. Vol. 12, p. 73.

Arjiv Imperatorskij Teatrov. Vol. III. St. Petersburg, 1892.

T. Livanova, B. Protopopov: Opernaya kritika v Rossii (Opera criticism in Russia), Moscow, 1966, p. 295.

De Kalve: “O teatre”, Sorevnovatel (“About the theatre”, The Competitor), 1819, Vol. 6, no. 6, p. 336.

None of the researchers and editors of Martín y Soler’s output have taken into account the “Russian manuscripts” of Una cosa rara and other Viennese works by the composer which were performed in St Petersburg for many years and featured the composer’s direct participation. It is thus reasonable to believe they contain hs last will about these works.

Dorothea E. Link. The Da Ponte Operas of Vicente Martín y Soler…, p. 69.

Ibid, p. 71-74.

Para escribir un comentario debes identificarte o registrarte.