A Song of Other Times. The Transformation of Ossian in Calzabigi’s and Morandi’s Comala (1774/1780)

Magnus Tessing Schneider


The opera libretto Comala (1774) by Ranieri Calzabigi has traditionally been regarded as one of the poet’s lesser creations. It has sometimes been dismissed as being too closely based on Melchiorre Cesarotti’s influential Italian translation from 1763 of the eponymous dramatic poem, which James Macpherson included in his 1762 collection of the songs of Ossian, adapted or translated from Gaelic oral poems. In the present article, however, the author argues that Calzabigi’s Comala was not only an independent adaptation but also a highly original attempt to translate the peculiar poetic and cultural features of the Ossianic world – its savagery, sublimity, melancholy, and psychological obscurity – into theatrical terms. In this experimental musical drama, Calzabigi depicts the mysterious death of the overstrung heroine as the culmination of a process of withdrawing physically from the other characters and ultimately from the stage itself, as a metaphor for her gradual withdrawal from life and reality. The article ends with a discussion of Pietro Morandi’s setting of the libretto, performed in Senigallia in 1780, in which Calzabigi’s dramatic choices are translated into music. Adhering closely to the principles of Gluck’s and Calzabigi’s Viennese operas, Morandi’s Comala is the first example of a »reform opera« written specifically for Italy.

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