1280x680_Oper_Konzertant_1516 © beyond/Mara Burmester


Pietro Metastasio’s libretto Catone in Utica, which portrays the profound conflict between the future dictator Julius Caesar and the statesman Marcus Porcius Catone the Younger, is, along with Didone abbandonata and Attilio Regolo, one of the few opera texts by Metastasio with a tragico fine, a tragic ending: Catone, an advocate of the Roman republic, has taken refuge in Utica, North Africa. When Cesare captures the town, Catone commits suicide. But ultimately, Cesare does not emerge as the glorious victor either, since in Catone he has lost a political adversary, it is true, but also a highly respected man. Metastasio’s libretto has been adapted for the stage and set to music almost seventy times. The Theater an der Wien has already presented the version by Antonio Vivaldi (1737), and now the original version follows with music by Leonardo Vinci which was premiered in 1728 at the Teatro delle Dame in Rome. Catone’s prolonged death scene did not go down well with the audiences at the time, so Metastasio revised his libretto for the later settings. This negative reaction by no means diminished the composer’s popularity, however: “The Italians,” wrote Charles des Brosses in 1739/40 in his travel letters from Italy, “do not want to see any play again that they saw last year – unless it is one of Vinci’s marvellous operas.”