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The Sunday Opera: Antonio Vivaldi's Long Forgotten "Atenaide"

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In front of the actual Wall of Teodosio stand Marizano, Pulcheria, Teodosio, Atenaide, Varane, and Probo.

An opera that was hidden away in a library in Turin for 278 years is the featured work on this week’s Sunday Opera (5/1 3:00 p.m.). “Atenaide,” is based on the true story, although simplified and somewhat altered, of the wife of Theodosius the Younger who was one of the Emperors of Constantinople. It had its world premiere at Florence’s Teatro della Pergola in 1728 and would be “lost” shortly afterwards, only to be “found” some 270 years later in a vast collection of Vivaldi manuscripts in the National Library in Turin and restaged at Pergola in 2005.

Most choristers know Vivaldi from one piece, his twelve movement Gloria (RV 589) which has been a perennial favorite for generations, but Vivaldi’s overall output over his 63-year lifespan is incredible. He wrote over 40 cantatas, 8 large vocal works, over 550 concertos, sinfonias, and sonatas. He also claimed to have written over 90 operas, but only around 50 have been identified, and of those, only around 20 have survived wholly or in part. He was also given to reviving some of his operas under different titles or reconstructing existing scores into “new” works. With that said, however, 1728’s “Atenaide” has survived, mostly intact, and that 2005 recording is what will be featured this week.

Atenaide (using the assumed name of Eudossa) has fled Athens with her father Leontino to escape the amorous advances of Varane and is now in Constantinople where she is about to marry the Eastern Roman Emperor, Teodosio. Varane appears and with the help of Teodosio’s disgruntled attendant, Probo, makes Teodosio believe that Atenaide actually loves him when Probo gives a ring meant for Teodosio to Varane. Varane is then prodded by Probo to abduct Atenaide, but he is thwarted by Marziano, the beloved of Pulcheria, Teodosio’s sister. It seems that Probo is causing trouble because he too loves Pulcheria, but she does not return his affections. If you’re in need of one, there is a happy ending for those who deserve it here.

The cast is headed by Sandrine Piau as Atenaide and Vivica Genaux as Teodosio. Paul Agnew is Leontino, Romina Basso is Varane, Guillemette Laurens is Pulcheria, Nathalie Stutzmann is Marziano, and Stefano Ferrari is Probo. Federico Maria Sardelli conducts Mondo Antiquo.

We have yet another unknown work by an extremely well-known composer this week that is well performed and will certainly offer a pleasant afternoon’s listening.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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