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Santa Fe Preview: 'Griselda'

available at Amazon
Vivaldi, Griselda, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Verónica Cangemi, Simone Kermes, Ensemble Matheus, Jean-Christophe Spinosi

available at Amazon
A. Scarlatti, Griselda, D. Röschmann, L. Zazzo, V. Cangemi, B. Fink, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, R. Jacobs
Regular readers know of my fondness for the operas of Vivaldi, especially as they have been recorded by Naïve in the excellent Vivaldi Edition. One of those operas, Griselda (OP 30419), receives a rare staging this season at Santa Fe Opera. For lots more background on the opera and its modern rediscovery, see my review of the excellent recording by Ensemble Matheus. For Vivaldi's debut at the Teatro San Samuele in Venice, the composer was assigned a libretto by Apostolo Zeno, completed in 1701, and already set by Scarlatti in 1721 (in Rome with an all-male cast, five castrati and a tenor) and Bononcini in London in 1722. Michele Grimani, the owner of the Teatro S. Samuele, engaged a young playwright named Carlo Goldoni to help Vivaldi revise the libretto in the Ascension fair season, an episode recounted quite colorfully in Goldoni's memoirs. Goldoni's anecdotes often seem too good to be true, but he has a charming way with a tale, and the portrait he paints of Vivaldi as they discuss the libretto is almost too much like one of the type characters in a Goldoni play (breviary in hand, always making the sign of the cross, repeating Latin prayers).
This ecclesiastic, who was an excellent performer on the violin and an indifferent composer, had trained and instructed in singing Miss Giraud [Girò], a young singer, born at Venice, but the daughter of a French hairdresser. She was not pretty, but graceful; her shape was elegant, her eyes and hair were beautiful, and her mouth charming; she had very little voice, but a great deal of action. She was to represent the character of Griselda.
After much futzing around to find the libretto, Vivaldi points out to Goldoni a scene between Gualtiero and Griselda. In Zeno's libretto the scene ended with a sad text for a slow aria, but Anna Girò
is not fond of languishing songs; she wishes something expressive and full of agitation, an expression of the passions by different means, by words interrupted, for example, by sighs, with action and motion; I don't know whether you understand me?" -- "Yes, sir, I understand you perfectly well; besides, I have had the honor of hearing Miss Giraud, and I know that her voice is not very powerful." -- "What, sir, do you mean to insult my student? She is good at everything, she can sing anything." -- "Yes, sir, you are right; give me the book, and allow me to proceed." -- "No, sir, I cannot part with it, I am in want of it, and am pressed for time."
Other Articles:

Heidi Waleson, The Tests of Patience (Wall Street Journal, July 19)

Eva Dameron, Opera director and East-L.A. painter talk art philosphy, work (New Mexico Daily Lobo, July 18)

James M. Keller, SFO premiere of Vivaldi's 'Griselda' misfires (Santa Fe New Mexican, July 17)

Brian Holt, Everything's Gone Green (Out West Arts, July 17)

Kyle MacMillan, Baroque opera finds a new stage in Colorado and beyond (Denver Post, July 10)
Long story short, Goldoni sits down right there in Vivaldi's study and in the space of fifteen minutes writes out a new aria text, eight lines in two parts, for a fast aria. Vivaldi calls in Girò to show her, and they agree it is perfect: Goldoni goes on to complete the other revisions that Vivaldi requires. As scholar John Walter Hill has surmised, this must be the opening scene of the opera, and Goldoni's hastily written substitute was the striking action aria Brami le mie catene e mi rinfacci?, in which loud outbursts alternate with sudden stops (see video embedded below). In a single stroke, gone is the patient, all-suffering Griselda of Boccaccio's story from the Decameron to be replaced by the fiery character incarnated by Girò. Vivaldi, working in his usual haste, recycled some of the music from his own earlier opera, Atenaide, premiered in 1728.

Taking Girò's place in the title role in Santa Fe will be contralto Meredith Arwady, whose dark, viscous voice we have admired before, while Paul Groves will take the tenor role of Gualtiero (sung originally by Gregorio Balbi). Their daughter, Costanza (created by soprano Margherita Giacomazzi) is sung by Isabel Leonard, while the role of Corrado (created by another soprano, Elisabetta Gasparini) will be sung by countertenor Yuriy Mynenko. The two castrato roles will be sung by countertenor David Daniels (Roberto, created by Gaetano Valletta) and soprano Amanda Majeski (Ottone, created by Lorenzo Saletti). Grant Gershon will conduct, and the staging reunites director Peter Sellars and artist/set designer Gronk.

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