Notes and Editorial Reviews
This opera shares a plot with Scarlatti's work of the same name, and I advise readers to see my review of that opera for a complete summary (type Q6988 in Search Reviews). In brief, the people of Thessaly object to King Gualtiero's wife, Griselda, a lowly shepherdess, so he throws her out and torments her. She remains steadfast. Their long-lost child, Constanza, who has been under the watchful eye of Corrado (and his younger brother, Roberto, whom she loves), shows up, and confusion ensues when the king says he wants to marry her. In addition, one of Gualtiero's courtiers, Ottone, a slimeball, is hot for Griselda. All ends happily when Griselda's love and fidelity are so strong that the king relents
and/or when the audience attempts to punch some sense into Grisleda and gives her name to a dating service.
This performance is sublime. Jean-Christophe Spinosi leads a dramatically taut reading, with his period-instrument Ensemble Matheus underpinning the vocal theatrics with snap and a huge range of dynamics all its own. Often Vivaldi writes for obbligato instruments to accompany the voice; here Spinosi allows embellishments for the players as well as the singers, and each aria becomes an event in itself. His handling of the recitatives--with the assistance of a cast that truly seems to care for the plot--is natural and always focused on the pace of speech. This performance makes sense of what could be just a string of showpiece arias. Everyone is stylistically in sync with everyone else, and we are brought into this surreal situation emotionally despite its outlandishness.
Spinosi has cast soloists who sound nothing like one another--a perfect situation for listening at home to so many high voices. Marie-Nicole Lemieux has a simply beautiful voice, its darkish timbre ideal for Griselda's humility, sadness, and when needed, vitriol against Ottone. As Ottone, Simone Kermes' unique soprano stands out in any crowd, and her virtuosity (one aria takes her just short of three octaves) and glistening high notes bring us a loathsome character--but one who, early on, when expressing his love for Griselda, is altogether believable. Veronica Cangemi's lovely soprano is marvelously used throughout as Constanza (she sings the same part in the Scarlatti opera), and in addition to having the opera's one hit, the staggeringly difficult "Agitata de due venti", she sings the role of the innocent girl without ever cloying.
Philippe Jaroussky's countertenor Roberto is well formed and beautifully sung; he can caress a vocal line with great tenderness. Stefano Ferrari, a tenor new to me, has a nice grain to his voice and he sings King Gualtiero tellingly. His asides, in which he bemoans how badly he's treating his wife, are subtly delivered and his singing as pure singing is astonishing: just listen to the bizarre sextuplets in his opening aria. Rounding out the perfect cast is another countertenor, Iestyn Davies, as Corrado, whose robust sound is very unlike Jaroussky's. The sound, booklet notes, and translations are first rate. In case I haven't made this clear enough: Go out and buy this; it's a feast for the ears. [11/28/2006]
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
"The latest addition to Naïve’s series of Vivaldi operas is a particularly fine one, said Nicholas Anderson in BBC Music Magazine. When Vivaldi began work on his Griselda in 1735, he commissioned Carlo Goldoni to rework an earlier libretto that adapted the familiar tale for an 18th-century audience. Together, they came up with “one of Vivaldi’s strongest and most cohesive operas,” sung here by a near-perfect cast. ..This tale has dramatic high and low points, perfect for Vivaldi because “no composer relished contrast more,” said Stephen Pettitt in the London Sunday Times. The arias here are sometimes wildly joyful, sometimes wrenchingly mournful, but uniformly beautiful. “As in his other Vivaldi recordings, Spinosi directs as if dancing on hot coals,” said Richard Wigmore in the London Daily Telegraph. The Ensemble Matheus responds accordingly, as do his singers." - The Week Magazine
"Written for one of the composer's vocally limited but theatrically adept proteges, this opera isn't just another Vivaldian recycling of arias and plots, but is earnest about telling a story. There are also ample vocal athletics in this cast, a cross-section of Europe's best early-music singers." - The Philadelphia Inquirer
Works on This Recording
Griselda, RV 718 by Antonio Vivaldi
Iestyn Davies (Countertenor),
Stefano Ferrari (Tenor),
Simone Kermes (Soprano),
Philippe Jaroussky (Countertenor),
Veronica Cangemi (Soprano),
Marie-Nicole Lemieux (Alto)
Written: 1735; Venice, Italy
Date of Recording: 11/2005
Venue: Marin Room, Surcouf Hall, Brest, France
Length: 154 Minutes 44 Secs.
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