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Vivaldi Edition: Griselda

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Vivaldi, Griselda, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Verónica Cangemi, Simone Kermes, Ensemble Matheus, Jean-Christophe Spinosi (released on October 31, 2006)
Hooray, musicology! The Vivaldi Edition, the quixotic project conceived by musicologist Alberto Basso to record the music by Vivaldi found in manuscripts in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Turin, continues with this new release from Naïve. After Tito Manlio, Orlando furioso, Orlando finto pazzo, Juditha triomphans, La verità in cimento, L'Olimpiade, and a score of discs of selected arias and instrumental pieces, the Ensemble Matheus brings us this recording of Griselda (RV 718), premiered in 1735 at the Teatro San Samuele in Venice. After many years of difficulty with the major theaters of Venice, Vivaldi took great pains with his first opera at S. Samuele, even asking the young Carlo Goldoni to revise the libretto by Apostolo Zeno, which had already been set by many other composers.

The story is a popular one, told memorably by Dioneo as the tenth tale on the tenth day of Boccaccio's Decameron. Familiar with the Florentine's book, Geoffrey Chaucer made a version in English, the Clerk's Tale in his Canterbury Tales. Later, Charles Perrault got his hands on the story and made a rhymed conte called Griselidis (in English translation). The title character is a sweet and pure girl from a poor family, who gets married to a wealthy man. The husband decides to test his wife's faith and patient love in a particularly cruel way, pretending to kill the children she bears because of his dissatisfaction but really just sending them away with trusted servants. She bears it all patiently, even accepting to be sent away herself, back to her father and wearing only a smock.

Vivaldi Edition:
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Tito Manlio (2006)

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Arie d'opera, with Sandrine Piau (2005)

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Orlando finto pazzo (2004)

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La verità in cimento (2003)

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L'Olimpiade (2003)

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Juditha Triumphans (2001)
She even agrees to come back to her husband's house as a servant, when he announces that he is going to marry another young woman. When she still keeps true to her word to obey whatever her husband tells her, he finally relents and reveals that his "bride" is her now 12-year-old daughter. And they live happily ever after. Well, not exactly, I would imagine. Recognizing the unflattering nature of the story's original husband, the opera libretto modifies the story to make him somewhat more sympathetic. Here he is Gualtiero, King of Thessaly, and Griselda is a shepherdess he has married, who is not accepted as queen by the people. So, Gualtiero's tests of Griselda are motivated by something other than cruelty, in an effort to win his wife acceptance.

The singing on this recording is exceptionally fine, particularly from the women. Quebécois contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux (Griselda) channels the unusual voice of Anna Girò, Vivaldi's protegée (or mistress, as detractors often accused). La Girò was said to have a voice that was not all that extraordinary, but her acting was by report extremely dramatic. Appropriately, Griselda's Act I aria Brami le mie catene reflects her tendencies, with loud outbursts alternating with sudden stops. Lemieux, whose voice is quite extraordinary, almost spits with rage in the Act II accompanied recitative Va' pur, sazia l'ingorda, as Griselda resolves not to give in to Ottone's advances even though he is threatening to kill her young son.

As Costanza, Griselda's long-lost daughter and supposed bride of Gualtiero, Argentinian soprano Verónica Cangemi makes some gorgeous sounds in Ritorna a lusingarmi (Act I). Her Agitata a due venti, the Act II aria that is probably the most familiar piece in the opera, is a stunning rendition of this very difficult aria, with appropriately blustery instrumental sounds from the Ensemble Matheus. At this breakneck tempo, Cangemi's agility is more impressive than a larger voice like, say, Sumi Jo, but one does wish for a little more power to come roaring out of her occasionally. The lilting A section of Costanza's Act III aria Ombre vane, ingiusti orrori is a tender moment of chamber music sound.

Vivaldi Operas at Ionarts:


Orlando furioso
Leipzig-born soprano Simone Kermes brings a very pure, somewhat small voice to the role of Ottone, a suitor to Griselda, who refuses his love. In Vede orgogliosa l'onda (Act I), she adds soaring flights in the return of the A section of this luscious slow aria. There are impressive embellishments in Scocca dardi l'altero tuo ciglia in the second act, and she skillfully negotiates the numerous daring register shifts in the Act III tour de force Dopo un'orrida procella. Kermes and all the singers are perhaps driven hard by the animated conducting of Jean-Christophe Spinosi, but no performance gives the impression of being uncomfortable.

Tenor Stefano Ferrari (Gualtiero) has a resonant voice with good high notes, and he gets almost all of the fioriture, although with occasional imprecision, for example, in Se ria procella sorge dall'onde (Act I). Iestyn Davies (Corrado) has a blessedly unshrill sound for a countertenor, one of the most convincingly feminine countertenor voices I have heard. Listen for the blockbuster aria Alle minacce di fiera belva, near the end of Act I, where the horns sound great and the strings make percussive sounds (col legno?) in this fast and rhythmic aria. He also shines in the Act II La rondinella amante. His colleague, Philippe Jaroussky, has a more typical countertenor sound, a little nasal and hooty, but with admirable agility. All in all, this recording is warmly recommended.

Naïve OP 30419


jfl said...

Hmmm... I was about to be reviewing this baby myself. I'll admit that more often than not I use Vivaldi Operas as 'luxury background music', but Griselda stands out among many good releases in this edition. HIP bands can sometimes fall victim to their own success and pull and push and highlight too much and go wilder than they should have ever gone (crossing the border from exciting to over-the-top) -- a problem that hinders my appreciation for the Orlando Furioso recording to really set in. I have all but TITO in this series and if one were only to pick one Vivaldi Opera to have (not unreasonable, lest you have as low a threshold for more and more music as I do), "La verità in cimento" would be my recommendation... just ahead of Griselda.


[I don't want to hear anything about the *coincidence* that the only issue I don't have happens not to have a babe on the cover... it's really just coincidence! Really.]

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