L’olimpiade by Josef Myslivecek @ Grand Theatre de Luxembourg


L’olimpiade is a dramma written by the Roman poet Pietro Metastasio (born in Rome 1698, died in Vienna 1782, his real name was Pietro Antonio Domenico Bonaventura Trapassi). Metastasio – artistical heir of Apostolo Zeno – wrote not more than 30 libretti, but they were set to music over 800 times by several composers. He was maybe the most significant poet of his time especially due to the beauty of the verses. With Metastasio, the recitativi were not mere words used tie together one da capo aria after the other, but he was able to create a dramaturgical coherence, made more credible by the verisimilitude of historical context and the psychological profile of the characters. The libretto of L’olimpiade, set to music among others by Caldara, Galuppi, Leo, Traetta, Jommelli, Piccinni, Manfredini, Sacchini, and the better known Vivaldi and Hasse, was used by Josef Myslivecek to celebrate the name-day of King Charles III of Spain and performed for the first time at the Teatro San Carlo of Napoli 4th November 1778. Myslivecek was an accomplished composer, appreciated by Mozart father and son, writing opera’s for Prague, Bologna, Bergamo, Milan, Pavia, and several opera’s for Naples. His style is Mozart-like. Remarkably dramatic are some of the recitativi, for e.g. E mi lasci cosi, which precedes the duet which closes act I Nei giorni tuoi felici. Or the recitatives which interrupt Megacle’s Misero me che veggo.

The plot, as conceived by Metastasio, is quite intricate and involves a series of scene changes: Deep end of dark and narrow forested valley, overshadowed by large trees from above …. (Scene 1), Vast countryside at the foot of a mountain, …rustic bridge over the river Alpheus, …view of the city of Olympia in the distance, interrupted by a few plants that adorn the plain …(scene 4),  ruin of an ancient hippodrome, largely covered with ivy, ….(act III, scene I), Exteriour of the great temple of Zeus, from which one descends by a long and magnificent staircase …All around forest of wild olive trees, ….. etc etc. In Ursel Herrmann’s set, no vast countryside, no river Alphaeus, no hippodrome, no great temple or forest are seen. Instead we see a marbled, black-and-grey shaded labyrinth-like pattern on the floor, flames, light, mist, games with perspective, a moving tree (the forest, one shall assume). Although it served its purpose, it did not help to support the dramatic progression of Metastasio’s libretto, very skillfully set to music by Myslivecek.


L’olimpiade featured, during its creation in Naples, the castrato Luigi Marchesi, one of the most famous singers of his time, as Megacle. Judging by the score, one can get a pretty good idea of what the singer must have been capable of. When such a forgotten opera is revived, one does not expect the most famous of our time. But in Luxembourg’s Grande Theatre, L’olimpiade is a like a dress too wide for some of the singers. Starting with Raffaella Milanesi as Megacle. She has colorless high notes and a dull middle and low register. Her “coloratura” is a chaining of unconnected screams. She acts dramatically (not to say a little histerically). This is a realy pity, as Myslivecek has composed beautiful music for Megacle, starting with the highly florid entrance aria “Superbo di me stesso” and his hugely dramatic Misero me che veggo, an aria with several mood swings, key changes, interspersed with accompagnato recitative, sudden stops etc. Raffaella Milanesi gives her best and is moving occasionally, especially in the more noble parts of the role (Cara non dubitare), but altogether a role too big for her.

What she seems to have in common with the other singers is a discrete pronunciation during recitatives but an incomprehensible Italian when they sing.

Clistene (Johannes Chum) has a pleasant clear tenor voice but his coloratura hurt one’s ears. Lisida (Tehila Nini Goldstein) has a warm voice which suits well her soothing aria Mentre dormi amor fomenti. Sophie Harmsen as Argene is able to put more weight on the words characterizing her emotions very well. The small role of Aminta is well sung by Krystian Adam. Siam navi all’onde algenti is sung with high notes which he mixes with head voice and average coloratura. Helena Kaupova is well suited for the role of Alcandro, which is decently sung.

The only exception to the alternating quality of the singers was Simona Saturova. We had the pleasure of hearing Miss Saturova in Mozart’s Idomeneo as Ilia and a recent Traviata, both in Brussels. If one can turn a blind eye to a lack of depth for Ilia, this was a gap for Traviata and for Aristea. However, this was entirely compensated by Saturova’s uniformity of the singing line, the smoothness from the highest to the lowest note, the pure legato and the precision of the coloratura di grazia, not to mention a far better, though not entirely impeccable, pronunciation. Worth listening are her first act aria Tu di saper procura and the already mentioned duet with Megacle in act I.

The director gives the right colours to the atmospheres requested by the libretto and follows the singers with the right tempi, but the Orchestre Collegium 1704 plays sloppily at times. The choir, composed only of 4 singers, sang very well.

Musical direction-Vaclav Luks, Production-Ursel Herrmann, Set design Hartmut Schörghofer, Costumes-Margit Koppendorfer, Light-Prmsyl Janda, Aristea-Simona Saturova, Clistene-Johannes Chum, Megacle-Raffaella Milanesi, Lisidas-Tehila Nini Goldstein, Argene-Sophie Harmsen, Aminta-Krystian Adam, Alcandro-Helena Kaupova, Orchestre Collegium 1704. Co-produced with theatres Prague, Caen, Dijon.

PS: The whole opera can be heard on youtube

From our correspondents in Luxembourg 4/6/13

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