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Making a Comeback: Vivaldi's 'L'Oracolo in Messenia'

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WOO-1222-Loracolo-300On opening night, at the world premiere of an opera, it's hard to know quite what to expect. What you might not expect is a piece that's 270 years old! Yet that's what we've got this week with the first-ever production of Vivaldi's L'Oracolo in Messenia -- an opera that disappeared from view back in the 1740s.

When he reached his early sixties, Vivaldi had already enjoyed a lengthy and successful career. But he was feeling a bit neglected at home in Italy, where his music had long been familiar. So, hoping for a new start, he agreed on a trip to Vienna, where he hoped a brand new audience was waiting. What happened was tragic. Part of the composer's plan was for the premiere of a new opera -- L'Oracolo in Messenia -- during the carnival season of 1741. But the Habsburg emperor Charles the Fourth died in October 1740 -- and all opera performances were banned for a year while Vienna was in mourning.

And in any event, Vivaldi had only partly completed the opera when he died, as well, in July of 1741. Friends put on a partial production of the opera the next year. After that, nothing was seen of it until the libretto was recently discovered at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

And that's how the acclaimed Baroque ensemble Europa Galante wound up performing the world premiere of an opera by Vivaldi, not long ago, in Krakow. At least it's a new opera that's sort of, partially, by Vivaldi. Though the opera's libretto was found, nearly all of its music is still lost, with only a few fragments surviving. So Fabio Biondi, director of Europa Galante, accepted the challanege of reconstructing the piece, working in a manner called pasticcio opera that was popular back in Vivaldi's time.

In pasticcio opera, a libretto is set using existing musical numbers -- sometimes all by one composer, and sometimes by several -- creating a new work while exploiting proven materials. And that's what Biondi has done for the new edition of L'Oracolo in Messenia, using music by Vivaldi, along with arias by several of his contemporaries, including Geminiano Giacomelli and Johann Hasse. The result is a work in an authentic style, created in a manner to which 18th-century audiences were well accustomed. On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Europa Galante's world premiere production from Krakow's Karol Szymanowski Philharmonic Hall. The stars are mezzo-soprano Laura Polverelli, as a prince returning home to find his father murdered and his homeland a shambles, with tenor Magnus Staveland as the tyrant who caused the calamity, and mezzo-soprano Julia Lezhneva as the oracle who bravely predicts the eventual outcome.