The “Sing=Spiel” Der edelmüthige Porsenna (Porsenna the High-Minded) was written in 1702 and is Johann Mattheson’s (1681–1764) earliest work for the stage that has survived in its entirety. As early as 1699 the seventeen-year-old had already composed Die Plejades oder Das Sieben=Gestirne (The Pleiades or the Seven-Star Constellation). Of this opera only a single aria has survived, however. Despite the prominent position that Porsenna thus occupies in Mattheson’s oeuvre the work so far has not received much scholarly attention. This is all the more remarkable as Mattheson repeatedly pointed out that he regarded opera – i.e. both their composition and their active reception, including their vocal representation – as his most important “musical university”.
Between the time when he left the Johanneum in 1693 and 1705 Mattheson was fully employed as a singer at the Hamburg Opera, performing most of the tenor roles in the repertoire. Between 1699 and 1711 he wrote six full-length stage pieces, as well as participating in a pasticchio. His compositions for the stage show him throughout as a composer willing to try out any experiment. In Porsenna this experimental streak has a special significance. Mattheson not only makes use of different aria types – more importantly, in both the arias and recitatives he exploits the possibilities of expressive interpretation to their limit. Seen under this aspect as well as regarding musical form, Porsenna is extremely modern, particularly when compared with the operas of Reinhard Keiser, which were written around the same time.
(Hansjörg Drauschke, translation by Stephanie Wollny)