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Vivaldi returns to the Prague stage.

After almost three centuries Prague welcomed back an honoured guest--the Baroque cavalier known as Argippo. An opera written specifically for the Prague public by the famous Venetian composer Antonio Vivaldi in 1730 was performed at the beginning of May in the Spanish Halt of Prague Castle. Until recently the opera was thought to be lost, but much of the work was found last year by the harpsichordist and musicologist Ondrej Macek. His discovery was recognised by the specialist public at an international conference in Venice and he went on to prepare a new premiere of the reconstructed opera for this year's 330th anniversary of Vivaldi's birth.


Antonio Vivaldi was well-known as an opera composer in Prague in the 1720s and 30s. The impresario of the theatre company here, the Venetian Antonio Denzio, was a friend of Vivaldi's and many of his singers had performed before coming to Prague in the Venetian premieres of Vivaldi's operas under the composer's direction. Vivaldi also acted as an agent for Denzio, sending him the scores of new operas across the Alps and recommending singers. Of the six Vivaldi operas that Denzio staged in the Prague Sporck Theatre, one opera apart from Argippo is also known to have been performed here and nowhere else. This is Alvilda, Regina de'Goti (1731), but it is a pasticcio, i.e. A work consisting of arias of earlier Vivaldi operas, and evidently put together without any input from the composer. The case of Argippo is quite different, for only three arias known from other Vivaldi operas appear in the text of the libretto, which is today in the Prague National Library. Two of the three--"Gelido in ogni vena" and "L'incerto tuo pensiere"--come from the opera Siroe, Re di Persia (Reggio nell'Emilia, 1727). The music for the latter has not survived, but Vivaldi used the first of the two arias in the second version of his Farnace (Pavia, 1731). The third aria is "In bosco romito", which was first sung in L'Atenaide (Florence, 1728). In fact, the use of only three arias taken from earlier operas represents a complete minimum in Vivaldi's practice. The texts of the other sixteen arias are unknown from elsewhere, which shows that Vivaldi did indeed compose his Argippo for Prague. What is more, the most recent research by the leading scholar of Italian opera Reinhard Strohm backs the idea that the celebrated Venetian probably also conducted the premiere of the work himself.


In the search for the music to Argippo (its Prague score has not survived or at least has not yet been found) the key strategy was to follow the subsequent movements of Denzio's opera company. In the Baroque period it was usual for arias from popular operas to travel with their performers right through Europe, and so it was a reasonable assumption that some parts of Argippo might be found in music sources that had a connection with singers who had come from Prague. The next foreign venue where Denzio's company had appeared was Regensburg in Bavaria, where in 1733 the Prague opera performed two titles: Filindo and 11 Condannato Innocente (in both cases pasticcios compiled by the company's impresario). And two of the singers who had appeared in Agrippo three years before--i.e. the tenor and impresario himself Antonio Denzio and the mezzo--soprano Anna Cosimi--took part. The idea of a connection between Prague and Regensburg through the Denzio company turned out to be the major step forward in the search for the lost note material. An anonymous sheaf of arias, seven of them corresponding in texts to arias from the libretto of the Prague Argippo, was found in the Furst Thurn und Taxis Hofbibliothek in Regensburg. Study of the music confirmed that the author could have been none other than Antonion Vivaldi.

More proof that these were arias from Vivaldi's Argippo was provided by analysis of all the known librettos on this theme. The author of the original libretto was Domenico Lali, and by the standards of the 18th century it was musically arranged only rarely. The first opera on the libretto was written in 1713 in Naples by Francesco Mancini under the title II Gran Mogol, and there also exists an Argippo from the pen of Andrea Stefan Fiore (Milan, 1722) and two Venetian versions by Giovanni Porta of 1717 and 1722. As was usual at the time, the libretti differ in the different musical arrangements: only parts of the arias are the same, some appear only in two operas, some only in one. A careful comparison of all the versions led to a crucial finding: the texts of three arias in the anonymous Regensburg manuscript appear only in one other source, and that is the libretto of Antonio Vivaldi's Prague Argippo. These are the arias "Io son rea dell'onor mio" (Zanaida, II/6), "Mi sento nel core" (Silveto, III/1) and "Che farai? Perdonerai!" (Osira, III/8). This rules out the possibility that the arias could have come from one of the other musical arrangements of Argippo. In any case, the score of Porto's Argippo has been preserved in Dresden, and its music has nothing in common with the arias from Regensburg.

It is not unusual for musicologists or artistic directors of various early music groups to announce the discovery and performance of a long lost opera and then, when we actually look at the programme text or recording booklet, what we actually find is that only one act of the original opera has been found (in recent times we might mention Vivaldi's opera Motezuma, for example), or even that the opera has been entirely recomposed on the basis of more or less convincing guesswork. It is true that not even in the case of Argippo has Vivaldi's original music been found in full, but unlike many other cases an exceptionally high percentage of the whole has been discovered. A whole seven of the eight arias of the Prague libretto were identified in the Regensburg libretto, which with the two arias to which we know the music from other Vivaldi scores (,,Gelido in ogni vena" and "In bosco romito") represent a full half of the opera!

To reconstruct the work it remained to find music for nine arias and two choral passages. The method adopted is known as retexting, which was common in the Baroque period and is in fact still employed with success today. The rigorous process of choice was governed by a range of criteria, not just purely musical considerations (can this convincingly support the text of the Prague libretto? Does the music correspond to the emotion of the text? Does the character of the aria fit into the overall musical-dramatic structure of the work?), but above all musical historical criteria. After study of the complete operatic works of Vivaldi kept in photocopies at the Instituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi in Venice, the most promising approach turned out to be analysis of the sources north of the Alps. The most important source was the collection of Vivaldi arias in the Sachsische Landesbibliothek in Dresden. For the most part this is a Vivaldi autograph containing twenty-five arias from his operas of the years 1726-1732, including the two arias from Atenaide and Siroe (subsequently in Farnace), which appear in Argippo too. Much the greater part of the missing music was replaced from this source. For some arias the congruence between the new text and the music is so convincing that it is in fact quite likely that this was how the arias actually sounded in Argippo.

The discovery of the score identified as part of Vivaldi's only Prague opera and the planned production of Argippo attracted a great deal of interest especially from specialists on Vivaldi--here we should mention at least the musicologist Michael Talbot and the director and new editor of the Ryom's Catalogue of Vivaldi's works Frederico M. Sardelli. Ondrej Macek's experience in the field of Italian opera, and the expertise of a team that has already collaborated for many years on the revival of forgotten works of the Baroque epoch with authentic historical staging practice (Zuzana Vrbova--direction and Baroque gestures, soloists Jana Binova Koucka and Pavia Stepnickova and others) guarantee an excellent musical and theatrical experience. Vivaldi's Argippo was performed in the Spanish Hall at Prague Castle on the 3rd of May. In June the opera will be staged in the chateau theatre in Cesky Krumlov and in the autumn the work will be performed for the first time in history in Italy, in Venice.

With kind permission of the magazine Harmonie
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Title Annotation:event
Author:Spacilova, Jana
Publication:Czech Music
Date:Apr 1, 2008
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