For the first time since its premiere more than 200 years ago commemorating the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, Handel's "Musick for the Royal Fireworks" will be performed with Petronio Ruggieri's choreographed pyrotechnics. This time, if all goes well, the performance hall won't burn down.
Wolf Trap is re-creating the 18th-century production for the gala opening of its 1990 summer season, with the Grande Bande orchestra playing both "Fireworks" and Handel's "Water Music" on original 18th-century instruments. Even "The Pavilion," the special machine used in 1749 by Ruggieri, the French royal pyrotechnician, is being reconstructed so that the elaborate fireworks will resemble as closely as possible the original display.
"There were two firsts at that first performance," says Ruggieri company spokesman Petr Spurney. "The machine caught fire, and it was the site of the first recorded traffic jam -- horses and carriages, of course -- because everyone fled at the same time."
The tradition of giant fireworks displays at treaty-signing celebrations began when victorious armies shot off their remaining arsenal, including cannons and rockets, at the end of a war. But eventually fireworks -- often by Ruggieri -- became an extravagant necessity for major European events.
In 1739, the king of France brought Ruggieri from Italy to produce a lavish display for a royal wedding. In 1783, Ruggieri executed perhaps his most famous pyrotechnical creation for the signing of the Treaty of Paris at Versailles.
The most dramatic, however, because of the fire, was the 1749 "Musick" production. Sometime after that first performance, the choreography instructions were lost, so the original could not be re-created -- until now.
The Wolf Trap Gala is Wednesday night at 8:30. Tickets are $14 to $30 and available at TicketCenter or by calling PhoneCharge at 432-0200. For information, call 938-2404.