If nothing else, this new release of Vivaldi's Griselda should teach us to look beyond The Four Seasons, in the direction of the composer's works for the theatre.
Scholars estimate that he wrote at least forty-nine operas, and he has been linked to sixty-seven separate productions.
All the more reason, then, to applaud the Naïve label's Vivaldi series, which aims to record a complete edition of the composer's scores held at the National University Library in Turin (450 in all).
Griselda was first produced at the Teatro San Samuele in Venice in 1735, and is based on a libretto by Apostolo Zeno that was revised by the great Carlo Goldoni. The piece also marked the first commission Vivaldi was given for an opera from the Grimani family, who were proprietors of the two main Venetian theatres. Although he had been writing operas since 1713, this was his first opera for Venice, his native city, and was therefore an important event for him.
Griselda deals with the fate of the title character, who was born a shepherdess but becomes Queen to Gualtiero, King of Thessaly. She is looked down upon by the people, and the King decides to put her to the test in public view, so that they can appreciate her courage and character. In the end, she is beloved by all.
Naïve has assembled a dedicated cast for this recording, led by contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux in the title role. She excels in the part, communicating all the character's virtues, as well as the pain of her situation. I particularly enjoyed her first aria, 'Brami le mie catene', in which she rebuts the advances of the knight, Ottone.
Ottone is a trouser role, sung with great beauty by soprano Simone Kermes, whilst tenor Steffano Ferrari avoids making Gualtiero a stock character by breathing life into his arias (for instance the tricky coloratura of 'Se ria procella sorge dall' onde'). As Costanza, Verónica Cangemi has perhaps the loveliest aria of all, 'Ritorna a lusingarmi', and performs it with elegance and style.
Jean-Christophe Spinosi leads the period-instrument Ensemble Matheus with verve, blowing the cobwebs away from this long-neglected score with such determination as to make it one of the most consistent opera recordings of the year.
See also the most recent release from Naive's Vivaldi Edition, Atenaide.