Antonio Vivaldi claimed to have written 94 operas but only about 50 have been identified and only 16 of those are complete. They were influential and popular during his lifetime but to an audience 300 years later the poetry and stories often appear stilted and artificial, almost alien, and in spite of the music they were mostly neglected. But recent revivals have been well received and there is much reward in accepting the operas on their own terms.
The highlights we have for you this week are from L'Olympiade, an opera Vivaldi wrote in 1734 to a libretto by Pietro Metastasio. An interesting sidebar is that it was the second musical adapatation of Metastasio's libretto, and there would go on to be fifty more adaptations of that same libretto, beginning with Pergolesi in 1735. Why this libretto was so fascinating to composers is a question for another day.
The plot is complicated. At the Olympics in ancient Greece two great friends are entering the overall contest for best athlete. Both are in love with women they are forbidden from meeting. The father of one of the women is in charge of the games, and he is offering his daugther's hand to the winner, which means in effect that they are competing for the same woman, who one already loves, and the other is about to fall for. There is an assassination attempt late in the opera, and the two men turn out to be brothers and it all gets sorted out at the end.
This recording features a strong cast conducted by Ferenc Szekeres with the Hungarian Chamber Choir and the Hungarian State Concert Orchestra.