Vivaldi Opera Revisited After Almost 300 Years

Opera originally ran for only six performances in 1714.

A newly resurrected opera by Antonio Vivaldi has just hit the stage after a mere 300 years.

The opera, Orlando Finto Pazzo, was performed by Britain's Tête à Tête opera on Friday at London's Battersea Arts Centre.

"It is totally awesome to think when I open my mouth nobody has heard this for almost 300 years," tenor Keel Watson told London newspaper the Guardian.

Orlando was first staged in 1714 and ran for only six performances before closing. Vivaldi himself staged the opera while he was musical director of Teatro Sant Angelo in Venice, Italy.

The plot is a fantasy of fairies, love and magic potions that calls to mind some of Shakespeare's comedies.

Tête à Tête's director, Bill Bankes-Jones, and conductor Orlando Jopling spent several months in Italy finding and translating the score, which had been scattered in cities including Turin, Elba and Venice. While the libretto was found in a printed version, the only copy of the score was in Vivaldi's own handwriting.

"It was a very strange experience," Bankes-Jones told the Guardian.

Poring over Vivaldi's own copy offered them insight into the composer.

"It had wine and food stains, and you could see his writing faltering where he was getting tired and stressed," Bankes-Jones said. "An aria for one of his women singers, which he rewrote twice, has scrawled on top of it: 'If you don't like this I'm never going to write any music again.' "

Upon getting approval of the Instituto di Antonio Vivaldi, Tête à Tête discovered another production of Orlando was in the works in Prague, Czech Republic, set to premiere in October. The Tête à Tête production features only extracts and one complete act.

Vivaldi first made his debut as an operatic composer in 1713 with Ottone in villa and died before his opera L'oracolo in Messenia was performed in 1741. By the 1730s Vivaldi's baroque style had grown out of fashion. His huge — 27 volume — collection of manuscripts was rediscovered in the 1920s and is now housed in the National Library of Turin.