Teofane was the 23rd opera written by Antonio Lotti. He wote one more staged work, Li quattro elementi, which was described as a carosello teatrale, and never wrote for the theatre again. Teofane was first performed in Dresden on 13th September, 1719, from a libretto written by Stefano Benedetto Pallavicino (1672 - 1742). Lotti had moved to Dresden from Venice in 1717, specifically to write opera for the Saxony court of Augustus the Strong. The opera formed part of the sumptuous wedding celebrations between Crown Prince Friedrich Augustus and the daughter of the late Hapsburg Emperor, Leopold I, Maria Josepha, Archduchess of Austria. There were 3 performances, on 13th, 21st and 27th of September 1719. For the occasion, a new 2000-seat opera house had been built by the architect Pöppelman, and decorated by Alessandro Mauro.
Lotti had brought with him some of the finest Italian singers: his wife, Santa Stella, as well as the castratos Senesino and Matteo Berselli, and the bass Giuseppi Boschi.
The opera requires a cast of eight, and the original performers are shown next to the roles:
Adelberto Soprano Matteo Berselli (castrato)
Emireno Basso Guiseppe Maria Boschi
Gismonda Soprano Margherita Durastanti
Isauro Tenore Francesco Guicciardi
Matilda Contralto Vittoria Tesi “La Moretta”
Ottone Contralto Francesco Bernardi “Senesino” (castrato)
Teofane Soprano Santa Stella Lotti
(Supernatural Beings) Soprano Antonia Maria Coralli
The instrumentation is 2 violins, viola, 2 oboe, flue, 2 trumpets, timpani, mandolin or archlute, bass and keyboard continuo.
The opera has two parts written for castrati, which would now be ‘trouser’ roles for female sopranos or exceptional falsettists. The part of Adelberto requires a soprano top D!
The plot is loosely based around real historical characters: Theophanu (960 - 991), a Byzantine princess, who eventually married Otto II, the Holy Roman Emperor (955 - 983). Ottone (Otto), whose father at this time is still on the throne, is charged with leading the German armies into Italy to wrest it from the control of Saracens, and to stop the Byzantine empire from taking hold. As part of a political settlement, Teofane is betrothed to Ottone. Teofane plans to meet Ottone in Rome, but Ottone is delayed by pirates. Gismonda, an Italian aristocrat, urges her son Adelberto to take the advantage and sieze Rome, which he does. He is further encouraged to pretend to be Ottone, in an attempt to woo Teofane. Teofane is rather confused by this, as she has a portrait of Ottone (Falsa immagine!). Teofane is accompanied by Isauro, a Greek prince whose love for Teofane is unrequited.
Meanwhile, Emireno, long-lost brother to Teofane, is captured by Ottone as a pirate, but refuses to reveal his royal identity, though he hints at it. Matilda, cousin to Ottone, tells Ottone that Adelberto has taken the city, and shamefully admits that she and Adelberto are bethrothed. She begs Ottone to reclaim Rome and punish Adelberto for his disloyalty. Gismonda introduces herself to Teofane as Adelaide, Ottone's mother. She describes her own son, Adelberto, which convinces Teofane to go ahead with the marriage. Adelberto hears of Ottone's approach, just before marrying Teofane, and rushes out to battle, again at his mother's urging. At this point, Teofane realises the decpetion and is extremely peturbed. Adelberto is captured and ends up in prison with Emireno.
In Act 2, Matilda visits Adelberto in prison and reproaches him for his behaviour with Teofane. Gismonda also reproaches him for his failed military campaign. As Matilda leaves, Adelberto wishes that he could be as constant as she is.(Lascia che nel suo viso). Matilda begs Ottone for Adelberto's life, just as he prepares to meet Teofane. Ottone refuses the request, but embraces her in sympathy. Teofane walks in and suspects Ottone of infidelity. Aided by Matilda, Emireno and Adelberto escape from prison, and Adelberto finds a mournful Teofane and seizes her. Gismonda and Matilda unite in joy at Adelberto's escape.
Act 3: Gismonda lords over Ottone, who succumbs to despair. Emireno learns of Teofane's identity, but stays silent. They embrace as Adelberto walks in, who typically misconstrues the situation. Emireno has Adelberto bound in chains, promising Teofane that all will be well. Teofane is distraught. Gismonda tells Ottone of Matilda's part in the prison break; he also learns of Teofane's abduction. Emireno appears and delivers Adelberto to Ottone, Matilda tries, but cannot bring herself to stab her errant lover. Teofane appears, and Emireno's identity is revealed and the misinterpreted affections are clarified. Ottone and Teofane, Matilda and Adelberto are reunited; Gismonda and Adelberto show penitence for their crimes. Each Act finished with an allegorical tableau, featuring Felicity (La Felicità), a Naiad (water nymph), and La Germania, a personification of Germany, respectively. The violinist Jean Baptiste Volumier (1670 - 1728) is acknowledged in the libretto as having composed music for finales. It is not yet clear whether this means the allegorical tableaux.
Handel attended a performance of Teofane in Dresden, and took the the libretto with him as the basis for his opera Ottone. He also used the libretto of Lotti's Giove in Argo for his Jupiter in Argus. (All but two of his opera are based on previously existing libretti.) Three of Lotti's cast, Durastante, Senesino and Boschi, appeared on the opening night of Handel's opera in London, 12th January 1723, each reprising their original roles.