L´Olimpiade 1280x680 © Jean-Baptiste Millot

Content / Background

In one of Pietro Metastasio’s most famous libretti a fateful deception overshadows the Olympic ideal and the hoped-for triumph: the Cretan prince Lycidas asks his Athenian friend Megacles to compete in the Olympic Games under his name. When Megacles learns that the winner will be given the hand of Aristaea, the king’s daughter, in marriage he finds himself in a moral dilemma because she is the woman he has long been in love with. But out of loyalty to his friend, Megacles takes part in the games and wins. Aristaea’s confusion following his victory is complete: she thinks she can now lead a happy life with Megacles until he confesses that he won the games for his friend and she must now marry Lycidas. But Lycidas also has a lover, the Cretan lady Argene who, disguised as a shepherdess called Licori, is also involved… In the end the conflicts arising from love, friendship and even a long-lost son are all happily resolved. The original couples reunite and can live happily ever after with their partners of choice. Pietro Metastasio, poet to the court of Emperor Charles VI in Vienna from 1730 and buried in the Michaelerkirche there, was indisputably the most famous librettist of his age. He created the story about the real value of victory and defeat for his colleague, court composer Antonio Caldara, in 1733. The turbulent libretto was sent to Antonio Vivaldi – director of music and composer in residence at the Teatro Sant’Angelo in his home city of Venice from 1726 – that same year. Adapted by Bartolomeo Vitturi and with new music by Vivaldi, L’Olimpiade was first performed on 17 February 1734 at the Teatro Sant’Angelo at the end of the carnival season. At that time, however, the star of the man who was once Europe’s most famous musician was waning: contemporaries judged the music of L’Olimpiade to be outdated – and the 1730s did indeed bring a new style of music. For us today that is irrelevant inasmuch as L’Olimpiade is a musically rousing Vivaldi and a gripping evocation of the shimmering atmosphere between the altar and the arena.