Johann Georg Weikert: Scene from the pastoral ballet *Le Triomphe de l'Amour*, 1765, oil on canvas

‘We must have spectacle.’

Opera at the Imperial Court


From Italy a new art form arrived at the Habsburg court: the opera. With grandiose festivities and lavishly staged opera performances the Viennese Court did all it could to trump other European courts to demonstrate its claim to supremacy. This pomp culminated in the festivities held over the space of two years to mark the marriage of Leopold I to Margarita Teresa of Spain.

Although political and financial difficulties eventually forced the dynasty to rein in their extravagance, they continued to hold celebrations: ‘We must have spectacle; without this one cannot remain here in such a large residence’, decreed Maria Theresa on 9 June 1759 to her ‘General-Spectaklendirektor’, Conte Giacomo Durazzo.

The Habsburgs not only commissioned performances – they also made music themselves: Leopold I composed and played several instruments. Maria Theresa and her children also made music and took roles in dramatic performances.

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