12mo (141 x 78 mm). “46” (recte 64),  pp. Correction leaf at end containing four arias. Engraved frontispiece, title within type-ornament and double rule border, woodcut title ornament, headpieces, tailpiece and initials. Slight staining, small wax stain in gutters of pp. 44-45, but a fresh copy, in contemporary carta rustica, red-marbled edges.***
only edition of the libretto for an anti-Turkish opera, inspired by the ongoing conflicts between Venice and the Ottoman empire, and based on Racine’s Bajazet. The opera is unconventional in its opening salvo – a shocking onstage execution of a slave (illustrated in the frontispiece), which served to highlight the brutality attributed to the Turkish characters. Ibraim sultano was performed during the Carnival in 1692, with music by Carlo Francesco Pollaroli, in the Grimani family’s Teatro San Giovanni Grisostomo, where Morselli, of whose background little is known, had been the “house” librettist since 1688. Published soon after his death, this was the last of Morselli’s sixteen libretti, which had been set to music by various composers including Vivaldi and Scarlatti. In three acts, with an argument, cast list, and scenario, the play is preceded by the printer/publisher’s dedication to Johann Albert Ferschen, a Hapsburg officer who had fought alongside the Venetians. In it Nicolini makes explicit reference, in flowery language, to the wars and to the entry of Venice into the anti-Turkish league. The Argomento openly pays tribute to Bajazet (first performed in 1672), but Morselli borrowed only Racine’s characters and subject, adding two further characters, including the hero, and changing elements of the plot.
“Although Venetian opera had flirted with exotic, Eastern themes since its beginnings, it is indeed during the 1680s and 1690s that we find the first operas specifically based on Muslim subjects, such as ... Ibraim sultano...” (Bucciarelli, p. 234). This was one of several Turkish-themed Venetian operas, histories, poems and novels to appear in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. While not all portrayed the Turks negatively, the wave of interest in the Ottoman empire reflected the anxiety occasioned by yet another war against the Turks, which had broken out after the latter’s unsuccessful siege of Vienna in 1683. (This sixth Venetian-Ottoman war, known as the Morean War, was the only one that led to Venetian victory, in 1699, but the Peleponnesian territories gained by la Serenissima were lost again in 1718.)
The anonymous engraved frontispiece illustrates the opening of the first scene, which is described as showing “a view of the Seraglio above a canal which comes from the Mar Maggiore [the Black Sea]. A slave has just been thrown from the top of the wall into the sea” (i.e., into the canal). In the foreground of the engraving, exclaiming in surprise at the plumetting body, are the characters Rosana (the Sultana), and the vizier Acmat. Their reaction foreshadows that of the audience: witnessing a death on stage, in the opening scene what’s more, would have been jarring to viewers accustomed to the more sedate contemporary “musical dramas.” Violating both decorum and the rules of dramaturgy, this was a deliberate demonstration of the “Terrore Ottomanico” of this “barbaro drama,” in the words of the printer in his dedication, and its choice as the subject of the illustration reinforces this point.
Three copies located in the online databases (Library of Congress, Berkeley, and Rome Bib. naz. centrale). Allacci, Drammaturgia, 431; Sonneck, Catalogue of Opera Librettos, p. 604. Cf. Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (online), vol. 77; New Grove Dictionary of Opera online; Melania Bucciarelli, “Venice and the East: operatic readings of Tasso’s Armida in early eighteenth-century Venice’, in M. Bucciarelli and B. Joncus, eds., Music as social and cultural practice. Essays in honour of Reinhard Strohm (2007), pp. 232-249. Item #2976