His triumph at the Olympic Games casts the champion Megacle into the
deepest distress because he won for his friend using his name – and the
prize, which he knew nothing about, is the hand of the woman he himself
loves. Megacle is caught in a moral conflict, torn between love and
friendship, which almost costs him his life and is not resolved until many
misunderstandings have been overcome. The emotion-laden story, created
by Pietro Metastasio in 1733 to music by Antonio Caldara for the
birthday celebrations of the empress in the park of her summer residence
“Favorita”, was immediately set to music by a great many other composers.
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi wrote his version in Rome in 1735. At the
premiere a disappointed member of the audience is said to have hurled
an orange at his head because Pergolesi’s composition is almost entirely
bereft of the virtuoso passages for outstanding castrato voices that were
expected at the time. What the score does offer is a wealth of inventive
melodies that express touching emotional states and it is today regarded
as one of the forerunners of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s reformed opera.