Joseph Haydn’s operas for the court of Eszterháza illustrate that representation should be regarded as a relative and not as an absolute phenomenon: After the formal opening of the opera house in Eszterháza with Lo speziale in 1768, the main stage works performed for special occasions (weddings, state visits, etc.) were composed by the court music director. The introduction of a regular season in 1776 coincides – probably not accidentally – with the abolition by Joseph II of the Italian court opera in Vienna (J. Rice); the introduction of the opera seria in 1783 took place ultimately, at the same time as the reintroduction of the Italian opera buffa in Vienna.
If the repertoire before 1783 consisted mainly of opera buffa, this can be explained by the institutional situation in Eszterháza, which, after the assumption of power of Prince Nikolaus “the magnificent”, became the centre of courtly representation, but not of central administration; this remained in Eisenstadt. Therefore, and because of its lonely location at Lake Neusiedler, the palace kept its character as summer residence. The opera buffa was the genre which was normally cultivated in places like this (like, for instance, at the country seat of the Florentine grand duke in Poggio a Caiano). The texts were nonetheless subject to certain requirements; on the Eszterháza stage it was necessary to avoid dialect passages as well as sexual allusions or inappropriate behaviour.
Joseph Haydn und Europa
Opera buffa als spätabsolutistische Repräsentation