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Fernand Cortez

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Written  1809
Composer  Gaspare Spontini
First performance  28 November 1809
Language  French
Fernand Cortez
Librettist  Victor-Joseph Étienne de Jouy
Similar  Olimpie, La vestale, Agnes von Hohenstaufen, Œdipe à Colone, Le siège de Corinthe

Gaspare spontini fernand cortez ou la conqu te du mexique 1809 1817

Fernand Cortez, ou La conquête du Mexique (Hernán Cortés, or The Conquest of Mexico) is an opéra in three acts by Gaspare Spontini with a French libretto by Etienne de Jouy and Joseph-Alphonse d’Esmenard. It was first performed on 28 November 1809 by the Académie Impériale de Musique (Paris Opera) at the Salle Montansier.


Gaspare spontini fernando cortez rai torino 11 01 1974

Background and performance history

The opera was originally intended as political propaganda to support the Emperor Napoleon's invasion of Spain in 1808. Cortez symbolises Napoleon while the bloodthirsty Aztec priests are meant to represent the Spanish Inquisition. The emperor himself is said to have suggested the theme of the opera to Spontini and the premiere was held in his presence. The popularity of the piece declined with the waning of the French army's fortunes in Spain.

The 1809 premiere was famous for its spectacular effects, including the appearance of 17 live horses on stage. Critics complained about the adventurous harmony and the loudness of the music. The richness of the staging, extensive use of dance and the treatment of an historical subject make Spontini's work the precursor of French Grand Opera. It was greatly admired by Hector Berlioz.

Spontini substantially revised the opera for a revival in Paris on 28 May 1817. Two further revisions were made for performances in Berlin in 1824 and 1832.


This is based on the original version of 1809.

Act 1

The opera is based on the story of the Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, and his invasion of Aztec Mexico. At the beginning of the opera, Cortez persuades his mutinous troops not to embark for home. His brother, Alvaro, is a prisoner of the Aztecs and Cortez is also in love with the Aztec princess, Amazily. Amazily's brother, Télasco, arrives and tells the Spaniards to leave Mexico. Cortez responds by setting fire to his own ships.

Act 2

The Spaniards advance on the Aztec temple with Télasco their prisoner. They succeed in freeing Alvaro. Télasco accuses his sister Amazily of being a traitor and the Aztecs threaten to behead her if Alvaro is not returned to them. Amazily decides to sacrifice herself and hands herself over to the Aztecs. Cortez orders his men to attack the temple.

Act 3

In the temple, the priests prepare to sacrifice Alvaro when Amazily arrives. An oracle from the god announces that he wants the blood of his enemies. News arrives that the Aztec emperor Montezuma has been captured by the Spaniards. The high priest decides to go ahead with the sacrifice of Amazily. The Spaniards arrive just in time to save her. Amazily and Cortez are united in marriage.


  • Fernand Cortez (1817 version) Soloists, Slovak National Philharmonic Choir, Slovak National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jean-Paul Penin (Accord, 1999)
  • References

    Fernand Cortez Wikipedia

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