A patchwork of Metastasio’s ‘Olympiad’

Pietro Metastasio, the 18th century’s great poet, saw many of his works turn into operas and oratorios during his lifetime. However, when he presented his «Olympiad» at the age of 35 in 1733, surely he couldn’t have foreseen that during the course of the century it would be set to music more than 20 times. The work is tied to Greece in a number of ways. Mainly due to its subject matter, the Olympic Games, but also because it was translated by revolutionary Rigas Feraios. Two years ago, the Cultural Olympiad presented Vivaldi’s «Olympiad» (one of 20 versions) at the Volos Center of Musical Theater, with Rigas’s translation as subtitles. The work’s great interest lies in the fact that it sparked various Baroque compositions, and an evening at the Athens Concert Hall on November 12 proves the point. The event features excerpts from eight different «Olympiads,» works composed between 1733 and the end of the 18th century. It includes the first setting to music of Metastasio’s work by Antonio Caldara (Vivaldi was commissioned a year later, similar to Pergolesi) but also works by Paisiello, Jommelli, Traetta, Vivaldi and Pergolesi. The idea behind the upcoming performance belongs to Maria Gyparaki, who was in charge of the research, stage adaption and the selection of the music. The excerpts chosen from the eight «Olympiads» reconstruct the work from beginning to end, while offering an excellent sample of Baroque music. At the Athens Concert Hall the Virtuosi di Praga will perform under the baton of Nikos Tsouchlos. Interpreting the works will be soprano Isabelle Poulenard, mezzo-soprano Claire Brua, tenor Jean Delescluse and bass Gerome Correas. Soloist Markellos Chrysikopoulos will play the harpsichord. «It all started two years ago when I directed Vivaldi’s ‘Olympiad’ in Volos,» said Gyparaki, who divides her life and work between Greece and France. «That is when I began to look for other ‘Olympiads.’ I was pleased and horrified, at the same time, when I discovered more than 20 versions. This output is probably due to Caldara’s highly successful music, but also because Metastasio’s oeuvre is very well constructed.» Enlightenment «Besides the Olympic Games and the characters’ love affairs, Metastasio is putting through the idea of the Enlightenment,» noted Gyparaki. «I could go as far as saying that this is a political opera, given the dominant presence of the monarch, who settles various moral and political matters.» Research on which operas to select was carried out at the Music Department of the National Library in Paris, where Gyparaki, together with Mirella Giardelli, immersed herself in musical scores, choosing arias and recitativi. «I think that in the end, I chose what we would refer to today as each opera’s ‘hits’,» said Gyparaki. The result, though not complete, was presented for the first time in Rhodes last year, followed by a «dress rehearsal» in Prague, where it was recorded. «The production begins with Paisiello’s version and carries on with Vivaldi and Hasse – which in my opinion is the most beautiful version – followed by Traetta and Jommelli, la creme de la creme of 18th century music!» said Gyparaki. «We focus more on the arias rather than the recitativi – which I chose in order to distinguish between the composers’ music and personal style. I would like to point out that both the performance and the album are important, given that besides the Vivaldi and Pergolesi versions which have been recorded in the past, the other ‘Olympiads’ have never been heard before.»