Vivaldi: Griselda

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WORKS: Griselda
PERFORMER: Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Veronica Cangemi, Simone Kermes, Philippe Jaroussky, Stefano Ferrari, Iestyn Davies; Ensemble Matheus/Jean-Chrisophe Spinosi


Only in the 21st century have Vivaldi’s operatic credentials at last begun to receive their just recognition. While the record label Naïve deserves much of the credit, one should not forget the work of earlier specialists, among them Raffaello Monterosso (La Fida Ninfa), Vittorio Negri (Tito Manlio) and Eric Cross, whose edition of Griselda was given a concert performance on London’s South Bank in the late 1970s. When confronted by works like Orlando furioso, Il Farnace, Tito Manlio and Griselda we may, perhaps, be allowed to suspect that contemporary criticism of his operas by Benedetto Marcello, Tartini and perhaps others, too, was motivated more by jealousy than sound judgement. Certainly Vivaldi’s operatic career, spanning a quarter of a century (1713-38), was a mainly successful one, in the course of which he claimed to have written 94 stage works. Of these, some 20 are preserved among the Turin library manuscripts that are providing Naïve with the raison d’ être for its ongoing survey. The legend of Griselda, the humiliated, long-suffering but faithful wife, has attracted writers including Chaucer and Thomas Dekker over the centuries. Boccaccio was a prime source, but to make the story into a successful opera characters had to be added and intrigues introduced. In the early 18th century the Italian poet Apostolo Zeno gave it a Baroque makeover, so creating a libretto which proved to be an especially popular one. By 1735, though, when Vivaldi planned his version of Griselda, tastes and fashions had changed, so the composer approached Carlo Goldoni, then in his late 20s, to provide a new version. The collaboration, both an artistic and commercial success, resulted in one of Vivaldi’s strongest and most cohesive operas. Griselda was first performed in Venice’s San Samuele theatre. Compared with the early operas, Griselda’s instrumentation is restrained, being mainly confined to strings with sparing use of pairs of horns and trumpets. To a greater degree than in previous productions, we find stronger characterisation present above all in the many fine passages of recitative, and notably in an extended string accompagnato in Act II where Griselda weighs up the relative merits of love and duty. Jean-Chrisophe Spinosi’s intuitive and vital direction achieves rewarding results. His instrumentalists are first-rate and the choice of cast well nigh impeccable. Marie-Nicole Lemieux gives a fine account of the contralto title role which Vivaldi created for his close associate Anna Girò; their relationship over a decade and more caused many a raised eyebrow and even a whiff of scandal. Further outstanding contributions come from Veroinca Cangemi (Costanza), whose ravishing and technically exacting ‘Agita da due venti’ (Act II) is one of the opera’s highlights. Another is reached in the bravura simile aria ‘Scocca dardi l’altero tuo ciglio’ (Act II), sung with powerful virtuosity and commendable accuracy by Simone Kermes (Ottone). Nicholas Anderson


Disc of the Month, October 2006