68th Wexford Festival Opera 22 October - 3 November 2019
Melodramma eroico pastorale in three acts
Libretto by Antonio Maria Lucchini
Sung in Italian with English surtitles
First performance 9 November 1726, Teatro Sant’Angelo, Venice
Famous for being one of the most productive composers in musical history, Antonio Vivaldi wrote 50 or so operas. Dorilla in tempe stands out not least for being reputedly one of Vivaldi’s own favourites, and it’s quite likely that this has something to do, at least in part, with another composer-muse situation. Premiered at the Teatro Sant’Angelo in his native city of Venice in 1726, Dorilla was certainly the first of his operas to feature the young Mantua-born mezzo-soprano Anna Girò, and she would go on to enjoy a close professional – and, some say, personal – relationship with the composer. His ‘indispensable prima donna’ would star seven years later in Montezuma, and continued to perform in many of his operas, retiring from the stage a few years after his death and marrying a widower in Piacenza.
Vivaldi’s affection for Dorilla might also be explained by its own, sheer success. He revisited and revised it a number of times (including for Prague in 1732) and the work returned to Venice for the carnival season of 1734, by now in the form of a pasticcio, as was the practise at the time, incorporating music by Giacomelli, Hasse and Leo. The only surviving score (preserved in the Vivaldi archives in Turin) dates from this revival. The score also shows Vivaldi quoting himself, notably in the opening chorus, which reworks part of ‘Spring’ from his celebrated Four Seasons (published shortly before the original 1726 production). But it is fitting how ‘Dell’aura al sussurrar’ heralds the arrival of spring since one of the themes of the opera is pastoral. The opera tells of the obstacles to the blissful union of Dorilla (a princess) and Elmiro (a shepherd), whose rival Nomio turns out to be the disguised god Apollo. Vivaldi labelled the work, unusually, as a melodramma eroico-pastorale – balancing the pastoral elements, the heroic is represented especially by the hunt that brings Act 2 to a close, complete with the requisite yet still exciting horn accompaniment – and the work’s hybrid nature extends to end-of-act ballets similar to the divertissements in French Baroque opera.
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