More than any of his other works, Vivaldi's only surviving oratorio, Juditha triumphans, was single-mindedly focused on promoting the image of the Venetian Republic in a military alliance involving Austria and the Papacy. In synchrony with the launch of several new warships and a major battle for the defense of the Adriatic island of Corfù, Juditha triumphans rested entirely on an analogy. In it Juditha represents Venice, while her nemisis Holofernes represents the Turks (who at the time were menacing the boundaries of Austro-Hungary on land and the Venetian Republic at sea).
The specification of the work's genre as a "sacred military oratorio" was no mistake. Giacomo Cassetti's libretto reaffirmed its aim through its dedication to Johann Mattheus, count of Schulenburg. Schulenburg was the marshal of the forces made available by the coalition to defend Corfù, which one of the Republic's last remaining holdings of its diminishing maritime empire.
What exactly does a "sacred military oratorio" contain? In its overall structure the work is not noticeably different from other oratorios. It has two parts, the first introduced by a sinfonia. It has recitatives and arias, as well as several choruses. Yet one is aware from the first few notes that it is indeed a staunchly militaristic work: the trumpets greet us almost brazenly, the chorus reminds us at intervals that this is a work with the purpose, and it all ends as militantly as it began.
Yet Juditha triumphans is full of tender, affective writing, particularly in the numbers assigned to Abra, a fictional "nurse" who demurely follows the Amazon queen Juditha on her murderous mission. Cassetti derived the tale from the Apocrypha. Many of these more tender moments, such as Abra's aria "Veni, veni, mi sequere fide," are highlighted by an instrumental obbligato. In the architecture of the whole instrumental color plays a significant role in delineating changes of mood and also in symbolizing diverse universal conceptions--the passage of time (theorboes), fidelity (the oboe), rusticity (the recorder), and so forth.
Listener's Guide to Juditha triumphans
Performer's Guide to Juditha triumphans
The CCARH Edition of Judith triumphans
Our edition was drafted in 2008 for use by Venice Baroque. It has subsequently been revised and corrected for use by Philharmonia Baroque. (The demand for performing materials testifies to the popularity of this oratorio.)
The libretto is included in the PDF for Part One.