Vivaldi: Atenaide

WORKS: Atenaide
PERFORMER: Sandrine Piau, Vivica Genaux, Paul Agnew, Guillemette Laurens, Romina Basso, Nathalie Stutzmann, Stefano Ferrari; Modo Antiquo/Federico Maria Sardelli
L’Atenaide was commissioned, with a text by Zeno, to open the 1729 Carnival season at Florence’s


Teatro della Pergola. To say that I had never previously heard a note of its music would be untrue since there are several felicitous examples here of self-borrowing and reworking, as well as much outstandingly beautiful music that was new to my ears. Nevertheless, L’Atenaide seems not to have been well received when first performed, with criticism being aimed particularly at Vivaldi’s protégée and frequent companion, the mezzo Anna Girò, who took the role of Pulcheria.

Zeno’s historically-based but complicated libretto is concerned with the Eastern empress Athenais who converted to Christianity and, more specifically, with events in the reign of Theodosius II in which his sister Pulcheria features prominently. To a dominant four-part string texture Vivaldi introduces in one instance a pair of recorders as Marziano reflects tenderly upon his love for Pulcheria. Conductor Federico Maria Sardelli further adds a pair of oboes and a bassoon to the ripienos of several of the arias. He has assembled a strong cast of soloists for L’Atenaide from among which Sandrine Piau in the title role – though in fact she is identified throughout by her assumed name Eudossa – and Paul Agnew as Leontino, her father, stand out for their accomplished techniques and ability to observe detail in Vivaldi’s often demanding vocal writing.


Like several of Vivaldi’s operas the surviving material lacks an introductory sinfonia. Sardelli has remedied this by choosing one of the composer’s undesignated sinfonias, RV 131. All in all a stimulating and accomplished achievement. Nicholas Anderson