The Wedding of Margarita & Leopold

Sep 25, 2019 | blog, The Empress, The Empress: Margarita Teresa | 0 comments

The Wedding of Margarita & Leopold

The marriage of the teenaged princess Margarita Teresa of Spain to her uncle, Emperor Leopold I, entailed a long-awaited, well-planned series of festivities. Like the union itself, the celebration of their wedding was designed to demonstrate and perpetuate the sovereignty of the Habsburg family. 


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Even by Habsburg standards, the wedding and the related revelries were extravagant. Young Margarita began the journey from Madrid to Vienna on April 28, 1666. She was 15 years old. The long voyage included stops in Dénia, Liguria, Milan, Venice, and Trento. In each of these cities, the arrival of the young Princess and her Spanish retinue was greeted with lavish celebrations. The Infanta was officially handed over to Leopold I’s entourage on October 8, 1666 at Roveredo, a quiet town in what is now Switzerland. 

Margarita Teresa, with her new handlers, departed Roveredo and continued toward Vienna, making more pomp-filled stops at Tyrol, Carinthia, and Styria. Ultimately, the company arrived in Schottwien, a small Austrian city surrounded on all sides by steep, jagged limestone cliffs, just twelve miles from Vienna. It was here, seven months after setting off from Madrid, that Margarita first met her betrothed, 26-year-old Emperor Leopold I on the 25th of November, 1666. 

10 days later, the Emperor accompanied Margarita into the gates of Vienna for the occasion of her solemn entry into the city. A week after that, their wedding ceremony was held. A lavish pyrotechnical display marked the occasion, with cannons and fireworks bursting above Vienna’s Imperial Palace Gardens. An engraving of the spectacle shows blazing hearts surrounding the initials L and M (Leopold and Margarita) as well as fireworks spelling out A.E.I.O.U., an acronym for the phrase “Alles Erdreich Ist Österreich Untertan” (Austria Is to Govern the World). 

An even more elaborate illustration of the event made by Melchior Kisel  published in the 21-volume history of the German-speaking world Theatrum Europaeum, shows a panoramic view, including a reenactment of Hercules battling the Centaurs and a phoenix rising from the flames.

A year after the wedding, the second major event, a grand equestrian ballet, was held in the courtyard of the Hofburg Palace. First popularized in France, equestrian ballets were a unique blend of opera, stagecraft, and displays of cutting-edge military technology. In the Holy Roman Empire, the style of horsemanship synthesized the rigorous French dressage style of horse training with the Spanish Riding School, which has its origins in Middle Eastern styles of riding. The Spanish Riding School in Vienna is still in operation and tourists continue to flock to see the incredible feats of agility of the Lipizzaner Stallions. The ballet Leopold commissioned for the occasion of his wedding was a four-hour long extravaganza, featuring choruses and an orchestra of over 100 musicians playing specially-composed music by Johann Schmelzer. The spectacle involved over 1,000 performers on horseback and on foot. They were divided into four companies symbolizing the elements, with each faction led by the four top-ranking military commanders in the Holy Roman Empire. The plot of the ballet was a mish-mash of Roman mythology, Italian operatic conventions, and enormous, complex theatrical machines. The pièce de résistance came at the very end, when squadrons of cavaliers headed by the Emperor himself led their horses in a complex series of geometrical figures and patterns.  

The third and final elaborate event planned to honor the nuptials of Margarita and Leopold was the premiere performance of Antonio Cesti’s Il pomo d’oro. For the occasion, Leopold commissioned the building of an enormous open-air theater that could hold 5,000 people. (For reference, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the second-largest opera theater in North America, seats 3,563.) 

Now, if you thought the 4-hour long equestrian ballet sounded excessive, hold onto your hat. 

Il pomo d’oro or “The Golden Apple” has five acts plus an extensive prologue. The opera proved so taxing on the 48-member cast that the performance had to be divided into two nights: the first night was the Prologue and Acts 1 and 2, with Acts 3-5 on the following night. A sonata by Johann Schmelzer preceded each act. Every act contained big chorus numbers and a ballet, (also with music by Schmelzer.) The mind-bending sixty-six scenes demanded no fewer than twenty-three scene changes, most featuring complex baroque stage machinery. 

The Newberry Consort will present excerpts from the third act of this titanic baroque opera with a top-notch group of locally and internationally-acclaimed instrumentalists and singers.

Additionally, the ensemble will perform a comic version of the Orfeo myth intermezzo penned by Emperor Leopold himself. Instrumental interludes by Johann Schmelzer, a favorite court composer, complete the program.

Lush projections by Shawn Keener will lend a striking visual component to the performances.

Don’t miss your once-in-a-lifetime chance to hear this amazing music live – order your tickets today!

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