Antonio Vivaldi (born Venice, 4 March 1678; died Vienna, 27 or 28 July 1741)
First Performance: Venice (Teatro Sant' Angelo), 17 February 1734.
First Performance in UK: Buxton (Opera House), 11 July 2012.
First Performance in Scotland: N/A.
Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.
The rediscovery of Vivaldi's operatic output, following the widespread acceptance of Handel as an operatic genius, has been an important event of the past couple of decades. Most of them still await performance of any kind in Britain, even in concert. The Buxton Festival gave an enjoyable production of La Griselda in 1983, so it is perhaps a surprise that it has taken three decades to explore further. Still, there can't be many operas in which the Olympic Games take an important place in the story, even when, as in this case, we are dealing with the original Greek version. An unusual aspect of the plot arises with the fundamental dishonesty of the central characters in attempting to corrupt the outcome of the Games. Still, Vivaldi provides page after page of glorious music from the exciting overture onwards - a real treasure.
Metastasio's libretto was first set by Caldara in Vienna in 1733, and a multitude of composers did their own versions all over Europe from then until Cimarosa's was given in Lisbon in 1798.
Licida, prince of Crete (contralto)
Megacle, his friend, an Athenian athlete (soprano)
Aristea, princess of Sicyon (contralto)
Argene, disguised as Licori, a shepherdess (mezzo-soprano)
Aminta, Licida's servant (soprano)
Clistene, King of Sicyon, Aristea's father (baritone)
Alcandro, Clistene's confidant (bass)
Some years earlier, Clistene became the father of twins, a boy Filindo, and a girl Aristea. He hears a prediction of the Delphic Oracle that he will one day be killed by Filindo, so orders his adviser, Alcandro, to cast the child into the sea. Years go by. Megacle loves Aristea, but her father, Clistene, finds him intolerable as a suitor. Licida in turn loves Argene, but is also rejected by her father. Licida and Megacle are inseparable friends, since Licida had earlier saved Megacle's life. The latter feels the need to repay what he sees as a debt of honour.
The action takes place near Olympia, where the Games are about to take place. Clistene, in charge of the Games, has decided that his daughter, Aristea, will be married to the champion. Licida, forgetting his love for Argene, has fallen for Aristea, and summons his friend Megacle to impersonate him and run in the Games. Megacle accepts this order, unaware that the princess he loves will thus go to his friend. Aminta, Licida's servant, is unhappy that such a fraudulent plan should be put into operation by his master. Argene meets Aristea, and aware of her own misery at being abandoned by Licida, encourages Aristea to have Megacle compete. Licida now tells Megacle the nature of the prize he is competing for, and Megacle is horrified to realise the true facts. He is then met by Aristea, who assumes, to her delight, that he is there to compete for her hand.
When Argene and Aristea hear that the victor is Licida they are both appalled. As Aristea is led off to the temple, Argene decides on vengeance against Licida. Bur Aminta tries to persuade her that Licida does still love her. Megacle announces that he, Licida, must return to Crete to ask his father's consent. Aristea is delighted by Megacle's victory, without understanding the point of the name change. When he explains this she faints. Megacle now leaves, so when Aristea recovers it is Licida she is able to confront, and they are joined in their argument by Argene, who threatens to expose Licida as a cheat. Word now comes first that Megacle has drowned himself, and second that Licida's fraud is now public knowledge. Licida becomes insane.
Megacle has been saved from drowning by a fisherman, and Aminta now prevents a further attempt at suicide. He is just reunited with Aristea when Alcandro brings further news. Licida, still insane, has attempted to assassinate Clistene. Megacle is still devoted to his old friend, and Aristea, out of love for him, decides to plead with her father to show mercy. Argene realises she still loves Licida and is appalled when Aminta tells her that Aristea's pleas have been rejected, that Megacle is now under arrest and Licida condemned to death. Argene decides she will join him in death. At the Temple of Jupiter preparations for the execution are under way. Licida asks to say farewell to Megacle. Clistene nows sees Licida closely for the first time, and is strangely disturbed. As Licida kneels and the High Priest raises the axe, Argene bursts in, demanding to die in place of her husband. (as she calls him). She presents the necklace that Licida had given her. Clistene recognises this as the one worn by his son years before when Alcandro had killed the child. The counsellor now begs forgiveness, since, unable to carry out the order, he had passed the child to Aminta, who explains that the boy had then been adopted by the King of Crete, whose own son had recently died. Even after he is acknowledged as Clistene's son, Licida is only reprieved when it is accepted that Clistene's authority expired with the end of the Games. Licida is reprieved by the people.
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