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The oratorio Juditha triumphans marks the climax of Vivaldi’s vocal production. The great beauty of its arias and choral parts, the compact dramatic quality of its recitatives and the richness of instrumentation all single it out as one of the most intense and fascinating examples of the genre. It contributes to securing for Vivaldi so admired for his Concerti and “Seasons”- his rightful place as one of the greatest composers of Baroque vocal music.


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Antonio Vivaldi

1. Concerto en Ré majeur per la Solennità di San Lorenzo, RV 562 :
Andante – Allegro 5’55
2. Concerto en Ré majeur Op. 3, nº 9, RV 230 : Larghetto 2’31


Juditha Triumphans Devicta Holofernis Barbarie
(Venise, 1716)
Sacrum militare oratorium, RV 644
Livret de Iacopo Cassetti d’après le Livre de Judith


3. Chœur des soldats assyriens : Arma, cædes, vindictæ, furores 4’01
4. Récitatif (Holopherne) : Felix en fausta dies 0’45
5. Aria (Holopherne) : Nil arma, nil bella 3’22
6. Récitatif (Vagaus, Holopherne) : Mi Dux, Domine mi 0’29
7. Aria (Vagaus) : Matrona inimica 4’32
8. Récitatif (Holopherne, Vagaus) : Huc accedat Matrona 1’07
9. Aria (Judith) : Quo cum Patriæ 3’47
10. Récitatif (Abra) : Ne timeas non 0’17
11. Aria (Abra) : Vultus tui vago splendori 3’07
12. Récitatif (Abra, Judith) : Vide, humilis prostrata 0’32
13. Aria (Vagaus) & Chœur des soldats assyriens : O quam vaga, venusta 1’30
14. Récitatif (Vagaus) : Quem vides prope 0’26
15. Aria (Vagaus) : Quamvis ferro, et ense gravis 3’25
16. Récitatif (Holopherne, Judith) : Quid cerno! Oculi mei 1’43
17. Aria (Judith) : Quanto magis generosa 7’26
18. Récitatif (Holopherne, Judith) : Magna, o fœmina petis 1’00
19. Aria (Holopherne) : Sede, o cara, dilecta speciosa 3’14
20. Récitatif (Judith, Holopherne) : Tu Judex es 1’17
21. Aria (Judith) : Agitata infido flatu 3’47
22. Récitatif (Holopherne) : In tentorio supernæ 0’34
23. Aria (Vagaus) & Chœur des serviteurs : O servi volate 4’04
24. Récitatif (Vagaus, Abra) : Tu quoque hebraica ancilla 0’48
25. Aria (Judith) : Veni, veni, me sequere fida 6’27
26. Récitatif (Abra) : Venio, Juditha, venio 0’14
27. Aria (Abra) : Fulgeat sol frontis decoræ 4’56
28. Récitatif (Abra) : In Urbe interim pia 0’32
29. Chœur des femmes de Béthulie : Mundi Rector de Cælo 3’56


1. Récitatif (Ozias) : Summi Regis in mente 1’16
2. Aria (Ozias) : O Sydera, o stellæ 4’18
3. Récitatif (Ozias, Holopherne) : Jam sævientis in hostem 0’58
4. Aria (Holopherne) : Nox obscura tenebrosa 6’14
5. Récitatif (Holopherne, Judith) : Belligeræe meæ sorti 1’13
6. Aria (Judith) : Transit ætas, volant anni 4’21
7. Récitatif (Holopherne, Judith) : Hæc in crastinum serva 0’41
8. Aria (Holopherne) : Noli, o cara, te adorantis 5’25
9. Récitatif (Judith, Holopherne) : Tibi dona salutis 0’23
10. Chœur des soldats ivres : Plena nectare non mero 1’15
11. Récitatif (Holopherne) : Tormenta mentis tuæ 0’26
12. Aria (Judith) : Vivat in pace 3’59
13. Récitatif (Judith) : Sic in Pace inter hostes 0’40
14. Aria (Vagaus) : Umbræ caræ 5’14
15. Récitatif (Vagaus, Judith, Abra) : Quae fortunata es tu 1’41
16. Aria (Abra) : Non ita reducem 3’36
17. Récitatif (Abra) : Jam pergo, postes claudo 0’14
18. Recitativo accompagnato (Judith) : Summe Astrorum Creator 1’15
19. Aria (Judith) : In somno profundo 4’29
20. Recitativo accompagnato (Judith) : Impii, indigni Tiranni 0’47
21. Récitatif (Judith, Abra) : Abra, Abra accipe munus 0’41
22. Aria (Abra) : Si fulgida per te 3’12
23. Récitatif (Vagaus) : Jam non procul ab axe 1’15
24. Aria (Vagaus) : Armatæ face 3’03
25. Récitatif (Ozias) : Quam insolita luce 1’16
26. Aria (Ozias) : Gaude felix Bethulia lætare 3’28
27. Recitativo accompagnato (Ozias) : Ita decreto æterno 1’12
28. Chœur des Judéens : Salve invicta Juditha formosa 1’56


Marianne Beate Kielland : Judith (mezzo-soprano)
Rachel Redmond : Vagaus (soprano)
Marina de Liso : Holopherne (mezzo-soprano)
Lucía Martín-Cartón : Abra (soprano)
Kristin Mulders : Ozias (mezzo-soprano)

La Capella Reial de Catalunya
Rocío de Frutos, Elionor Martínez, Brenda Sara sopranos I
Manon Chauvin, Anaïs Oliveras, Carmina Sánchez sopranos II
Clémence Faber, Eulàlia Fantova, Maria Chiara Gallo mezzo-sopranos
Lila Hajosi, Dina König, Beatriz Oleaga contraltos

Préparation de l’ensemble vocal : Lluís Vilamajó

Le Concert des Nations
Manfredo Kraemer concertino & viole d’amour
Guy Ferber, René Maze trompettes
Pedro Estevan timbales
Paolo Grazzi, Alessandro Pique hautbois
Pierre Hamon, Sébastien Marq flûtes à bec
Lorenzo Coppola salmoé & clarinette
Joan Calabuig clarinette
Elisabet Bataller, Isabel Serrano, Ricart Renart violons I
Mauro Lopes, Alba Roca, Kathleen Leidig, Santi Aubert violons II
Angelo Bartoletti, Giovanni de Rosa altos
Jordi Savall, Philippe Pierlot, Sergi Casademunt, Imke David,
Lorenz Duftschmid viole all’inglese
Balázs Máté, Antoine Ladrette violoncelles
Andrew Ackerman contrebasse
Xavier Puertas contrebasse & violone
Rolf Lislevand théorbe, guitare & mandoline
Matthias Spaeter, Albane Imbs, Giovanni Bellini théorbes
Guido Morini orgue
Marco Vitale clavecin

Direction : Jordi Savall


Vivaldi’s Juditha triumphans

In 1714, the Republic of Venice was for the seventh time at war with the Turks; and, as the irony of chance would have it, the years of conflict (1714-1718) anticipated those of the First World War two centuries later. At first, the conflict did not favour the Venetians, who had already been defeated in the Peloponnese and in the Aegean, and had suffered a siege on the island of Corfu: more troops would have to be deployed.

But at the beginning of the summer of 1716, Venice managed to change the situation by securing the intervention of the Hapsburg Empire. On 5th August, the daring and brilliant Prince Eugene of Savoy succeeded in overcoming the Ottoman army at Petrovaradin (today one of the two municipalities constituting the city of Novi Sad, Serbia). Finally, a few weeks later, the Venetians were able to rebuff the attack on Corfu, resulting in a severe defeat for the Turks.

To celebrate the event, Vivaldi composed one of his most important religious works, Juditha triumphans, a “sacred military oratorio” which reminded Venetians of their war against the Ottoman Empire, in particular the terrible siege of the island of Corfu, which was of vital strategic importance for the Serenissima in the Adriatic. Judith, of course, represented the Adriatic and, therefore, Venice, while Holofernes represented the Ottoman sultan.

Shortly before that, on 24th May, and after some hesitation on the part of the governors of the Ospedale della Pietà, Vivaldi was successfully reinstated as the institution’s maestro de’ concerti, and he resolved to combine his patriotic fervour and the decision to embark on a new chapter in his career in composing a major work. A few months later, the Inquisition approved the text entrusted to the librettist Giacomo Cassetti, who was active on the mainland part of Venice. Cassetti, who may have come originally from the Venetian hinterland and shared his name with a contemporary Venetian sculptor, had already composed two librettos for oratorios in Italian performed at Monselice and Padua in the first decade of the 18th century. From 1716 to 1717 he was active in Venice, where he devoted his energies to writing oratorios in Latin for Vivaldi, as well as for Carlo Francesco and Antonio Pollarolo.

Although famous for his fondness for instrumental colour and variety, Vivaldi was rarely able to indulge that preference in his operas, which at best permitted only one or two arias endowed with new instrumentation. However, when his new oratorio was performed at the Ospedale della Pietà, in November, 1716, all the institution’s considerable resources were deployed celebrate the great victory against the Turks; two trumpets and timpani (for the military fanfare of the opening chorus), two recorders (to evoke the nocturnal breezes outside Holofernes’ tent in Umbrae carae, aurae adoratae), two oboes (with the solo oboe for Holofernes’s declarations of love in Noli, o cara te adorantis), a soprano chalumeau, a distant precursor of the clarinet (to symbolise the cooing of a turtledove in Veni, veni, me sequere fida), a pair of clarinets (to evoke the sensuality of the chorus of Assyrian soldiers Plena nectare non mero), a quartet of theorbos (to depict the servants rushing to prepare the banquet in O servi volate) a mandolin (whose fragile sound reflects the transitory illusion of life in Transit aetas), a viola d’amore, (to express Judith’s mellow plea in Quanto magis generosa), a full consort of viole all’inglese, the name given to viole da gamba in Venice, (to accompany Judith’s prayer Summe Astrorum Creator before committing the fateful act), as well as a solo organ, harpsichord and the usual string instruments. Many of these instruments were very rarely used in Italy and the fact that they were played by girls and young women rather than professional musicians merely added to their fascination. The presence of trumpets and timpani, which were rarely used in the church music of Vivaldi and other Venetian composers, has its justification in the martial nature of the libretto.

No less important than their military action in the Aegean was the effort that would nowadays be called “propaganda” in the Venetian territory, where music always played a formidable role.

For example: in the 1690s, when the Morean War was raging and the Turks had laid siege to Vienna, the Venetian opera houses experienced a renaissance of heroic, patriotic and military subjects full of rejoicing, in a bid to exorcise fear of the Turks (for example, Nicolò Beregani’s libretto Giustino (1683), set in a besieged Constantinople, and Antonio Arcoleo’s Clearco in Negroponte (1685), set on an island in the Aegean).

In 1716, Antonio Vivaldi and the librettist Giacomo Cassetti also contributed to the war effort. The story of the biblical heroine Giuditta, who seduced and beheaded the Assyrian general Holofernes on finding him in a drunken stupor after a banquet, thereby liberating the Israelite city of Bethulia, had long been a classic of the oratorio repertory, especially when it came to celebrating heroic and warlike virtues – subjects used before Vivaldi by the great composers Marc’Antonio Ziani (1686) and Alessandro Scarlatti (1695 and 1700), and after Vivaldi, when Metastasio’s libretto La Betulia liberata enjoyed enormous success thanks notably to the compositions of Jommelli and Mozart.

Structurally, Vivaldi’s Juditha is very well conceived. Each of its two parts consists of fourteen independent numbers (arias and choruses) and the entr’actes “for refreshments comes, most opportunely – as Michael Talbot writes – just after Vagaus orders his servants to prepare the banquet.” The choruses are longer and more numerous than those of an opera, and in line with recent research we have chosen to use only female voices, given that the Ospedale was a female institution. It was also for this reason that Vivaldi wrote the five vocal parts for female singers with similar vocal ranges, except in the case of Vagaus and Abra, which are written for higher voices. We have chosen singers with highly contrasting colour and texture in order to clearly define the different characters.

The Book of Judith relates how Nebuchadnezzar sent an army led by Holofernes on a punitive expedition against Judea, which had refused to pay a tax levied to finance a war against the Medes. Judith, a young widow from Bethulia, devises a plan to save her city. Accompanied by her maid Abra, she goes to the Assyrian camp and she informs Holofernes that, as the Judeans have sinned, God will soon abandon them, and he has only to be patient. Holofernes not only believes her, but he succumbs to her charms. After a feast in honour of Judith, Holofernes falls into a drunken slumber and Judith seizes the opportunity to behead him with his own sword. By the time Vagaus raises the alarm, Judith and Abra have already escaped. The Judeans fight back and rout their demoralised enemy. Finally, Judith gets the better of Holofernes, Abra is given her freedom and Achior converts to Judaism.

In this oratorio the librettist Giacomo Cassetti adopts a more modern approach than was usual. Here the narrator (historicus) is absent, affording much greater realism and immediacy of action, but at the same time resulting in an inevitable simplification of the story, in which the action progresses exclusively, as in opera, through the words and actions of the characters.

Since Vivaldi’s score does not contain the usual sinfonia, we have chosen his Concerto RV 562, of which the key, mode and no doubt date of composition coincide most closely with the subject of the oratorio.

As the Vivaldi specialist Michael Talbot, the great Vivaldi specialist rightly points out,

“Perhaps the most unusual as well as the most intriguing aspect– especially for modern audiences – of Juditha triumphans lies in the ambiguity of the two characters Holofernes and Vagaus. In the biblical story they are portrayed as wicked (by definition, as they are the enemies of the People of the Book), and Cassetti attempts to depict them in the same light, although he hardly goes beyond making Holofernes guilty of a little military bravado before going on to suggest the character’s unsophisticated nature, while Vagaus is the perfect aide-de-camp – cheerful, courteous and obedient… To judge by the level of his inspiration in composing their arias, Vivaldi seems to have identified with them, much as Mozart did with Don Giovanni. As a result, whatever we are supposed to think, Holofernes’s brutal murder and Vagaus’s bitter pain at his death leave us feeling sadness rather than satisfaction at their lot. Our reason tells us that the oratorio should be ‘read’ as a story that ends well, but our emotions tell us just the opposite.”

The oratorio Juditha triumphans marks the climax of Vivaldi’s vocal production. The great beauty of its arias and choral parts, the compact dramatic quality of its recitatives and the richness of instrumentation all single it out as one of the most intense and fascinating examples of the genre. It contributes to securing for Vivaldi so admired for his Concerti and “Seasons”- his rightful place as one of the greatest composers of Baroque vocal music.

Bellaterra, 6 July 2019

Translated by Jacqueline Minett