Marianne Beate Kielland © Lena Lahti

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Antonio Vivaldi wrote over fifty operas, but only four oratorios of which only one survives: Juditha triumphans devicta Holofernis barbarieJudith triumphant over the barbarians of Holofernes. This work about a woman of strength was an official commission to mark the victory of the Republic of Venice over the Turks during the siege of Corfu. It was first performed at Vivaldi's place of work, the Ospedale della Pieta, a girls' orphanage where Vivaldi taught music and whose residents were known all over Europe as exceptional musicians. Consequently, all the parts were sung by women at the time. The story is an allegory of victorious Venice: When the Assyrian general Holofernes lays siege to the Israeli town of Bethulia and the situation grows increasingly desperate, the young Jewish widow Judith goes to see Holofernes. Her beauty arouses his desire, and she tempts him with the prospect of a night with her. However, during the evening meal she gets him drunk. Once he has fallen asleep she cuts off his head with his own sword and takes it to her townsfolk as a trophy: Bethulia is free.