Il Giustino

Antonio Vivaldi, libretto by Nicolo Beregan
Drottningholms Slottsteater
Drottningholms Slottsteater, Sweden

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The Cast of Il Giustino Credit: Markus Gårder
The Cast of Il Giustino Credit: Markus Gårder
The Cast of Il Giustino Credit: Markus Gårder

Vivaldi ranks amongst the greatest Baroque composers. Il Giustino, conducted and directed by George Petrou in 2022, is performed as stylishly and as artificially it would have been at its première in 1724. The music is gorgeous. The score has such verve and urgency, such swagger and bravado; ravishing solo follows ravishing solo. The singing is sublime.

The libretto is a typical 18th century Baroque fantasy. Giustino (Yuriy Mynenko), born into the peasant class, saves Leocasta (Johanna Wallroth), the Byzantium Emperor Anastasio’s sister, from rape and rises to the highest rank of court officials. He leads the army against Vitaliano (Juan Sancho), Tyrant of Asia Minor, who fancies Arianna (Sofie Asplund), the emperor’s wife, which kickstarts the war.

Juan Sancho cuts a villainous figure. Yuriy Mynenko is on the staid and dull side. Amanzio, the two-faced general consumed with envy, lusting for power and glory and intending to usurp the throne, is played up as a comic baddie by Federico Fiorio.

Petrou sets the opera in the period of Swedish King Gustav III and his conceit is to have Gustav, who loved the arts and took an active part in Drottingholm’s Theatre programming, play Anastasio, which Raffaele Pe does with obvious delight.

Drottningholms Slottsteater (Drottingholm Court Theatre) was built in 1766 and still uses the original hand-operated machinery and copies of the old picturesque scenery. The trapdoors, the cloud cars, the wind and thunder apparatus, the moving waves, the ships crossing the sea, operated by pulleys, ropes, wheels and drums, are very visible in this production.

The timbered area under the stage looks like the galley of a ship. (In the 18th century, the scene-shifters were often seamen on leave.) The side flats are driven along slots on the stage. They can be moved in and out at a fantastic speed. The hung flats rise and fall as quickly. The multiple scene changes are done in full view of the audience.

The emphasis in this film, which was broadcast in 2022, is on the singing and experiencing the Drottingholm Theatre itself in action during a performance rather than on the complex stories of unrequited loves. The camera regularly cuts away from the singers to close-ups of Petrou conducting, the orchestra playing, the stagehands working backstage, the singers waiting in the wings and the candle-lit auditorium.

The theatre is designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is the only 18th century theatre which still uses the original machinery and preserves the largest collection of historic stage scenery in the world.

Drottingholm’s Il Giustino can be viewed free on the OperaVision channel.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch

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