Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Griselda, RV718, Dramma per musica in Three Acts
Libretto by Apostolo Zeno (1668-1750) and Carlo Goldoni
Performing edition by Kevin Mallon.
King of Thessaly – Giles Tomkins (bass)
Griselda, His Wife, the Queen of Thessaly – Marion Newman
Costanza, Daughter of Griselda and Gualtiero, Princess of
Thessaly – Carla Huhtanen (soprano)
Roberto, Prince of Athens – Lynne McMurtry (mezzo)
Corrado, Roberto’s Brother – Jason Nedecky (baritone)
Ottone, Noble Knight of Thessaly – Colin Ainsworth (tenor
Opera in Concert; Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon
CD1: Sinfonia [4:54]; Act I [60:23]
CD2: Act II [64:2]
CD3: Act III [39:28]
rec. Grace Church-on-the-Hill, Toronto, Canada, 4-14 September
2006, in association with Sun Life Financial. DDD.
Booklet with notes and synopsis in English and German. Texts
and translations available only online. NAXOS 8.660211-3 [3
CDs: 65:17 + 64:21 + 39:28]
Vivaldi’s fifty operas
were once something of a no-go area except in live recordings
from the likes of Nuova Era – and even live performances
are rare, as Naxos notes on its website biography of the
composer. They are now receiving welcome and overdue attention
from the record companies. Naxos already boasts a respectable
catalogue of Vivaldi’s music but, apart from an Arthaus DVD
of Orlando Furioso, distributed by Naxos, this is
their first foray into his operas.
On the basis of earlier
recordings with Kevin Mallon at the helm of the Aradia Ensemble,
I had high expectations of this set, even though the competition
is fierce, in the form of the recent highly-recommended recording
under Jean-Christophe Spinosi which “puts as compelling a
case for Vivaldi’s operas as one could very well imagine
being made on CD.” (Naïve/Opus111 OP30419, also 3 CDs – see review).
The plot of Griselda,
based on Boccaccio’s Decameron, will be familiar to
those who have studied Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale for
A level or as part of a degree course. Vivaldi’s librettist
made a few small changes – Walter is elevated to regal status – but
the basic plot remains the same. Walter, who has married
for love ‘below’ himself, resolves to try his wife Griselda’s
patience with a series of ever more cruel tests, from which
she emerges with flying colours and all ends happily. As
Chaucer’s Clerk wryly observes, with an eye on the Wife of
Bath, when he has finished telling the tale, this is not
one to try at home!
The libretto, by Apostolo
Zeno had already been used by Bononcini and Alessandro Scarlatti;
the Harmonia Mundi recording of the latter is, sadly, no
longer available (HMC90 1805.07), one of those recordings
I always meant to buy but left it too late – be warned. For
Vivaldi the libretto was revised by Carlo Goldoni.
The timings for this new
recording are noticeably slower than those on the Spinosi
set (Overture and Act I 65:17 against Spinosi’s 58:58, Act
II 64:21 against 59:28 and Act III 39:28 against 36:18).
With a mid-act CD change, Spinosi could actually have fitted
the whole work onto 2 CDs! He clearly belongs to the modern
Italian school of whiz-bang Baroque interpreters alongside
the likes of Rinaldo Alessandrini.
As I indicated in my recent review of
the Stefano Montanari/Ottavio Dantone recording of Vivaldi’s
complete Op.8 concertos, I am mostly completely bowled over
by the energy of such high-powered performances, but there
are times and moods when I find them hard to take. At those
times I turn away from the new Op. 8 to my ‘safer’ alternative
with Monica Huggett and Nicholas Kraemer and from Alessandrini’s
highly-charged Vivaldi Gloria (recently reissued at
mid-price on Naïve OP30448) to older, more placid versions.
So it is with Griselda: this may be the ‘safer’ alternative
that you may have been looking for – something more akin
to the older school of Italian interpretations of Baroque
music from the likes of Claudio Scimone.
In case I seem to be doing
a disservice to Alessandrini, let me at this point give a
strong recommendation to the recent reissues of his Monteverdi Madrigals
Book V (Naïve OP30445) and of Handel’s Il Trionfo
del Tempo e del Disinganno (Naïve OP30440, 2 CDs) in
the Voix Baroque mid-price series, of both of which I hope
to offer full reviews in due course.
The playing and singing
on this Naxos set are mainly good. Carla Huhtanen’s Ritorna
a lusingarmi (CD1, tr.10) is a real tour de force. Only
comparison with Emma Kirkby’s rendition of Agitata da
due venti reveals that there is a little more than she
finds in the music of Costanza (CD2, tr.4), though she is
the best of the vocalists, with Lynne McMurtry (Roberto)
as runner-up. Roy Goodman’s performance of the Griselda Overture
on that Kirkby disc, too, shows that Mallon is just a little
too unfeeling here. (CDH55279, recently enthusiastically
recommended here on Musicweb – see review).
The other singers are
at least adequate and often better, but Spinosi’s are outstanding.
In general the women sing better than the men. Colin Ainsworth
as Ottone is perhaps the weakest link, at least in part because
this part has been transposed from its soprano original.
Nor is Giles Tomkins at home as a bass Gualtiero, a role
written for a tenor. Tomkins’s diction in the opening Questo,
o Popoli, è il giorno is less than ideal, too. On the
Spinosi recording Ottone and Gualtiero are sung in their
correct registers. There is more to be said for Marion Newman
as a somewhat sub-fusc Griselda – after all, she is the original
In general Mallon’s tempi
are rather slow, to the extent that I actually became bored
with some of the arias – the first time I ever recall being
bored with anything by Vivaldi. This is the price that one
pays for the ‘safe’ interpretation. The playing of the Aradia
Ensemble orchestra is more than reliable throughout.
I suppose that one ought
not to grumble in this price-range at having to go online
to obtain the libretto and translation – EMI do worse with
their mid-price opera reissues, referring the listener to
a website which I have never yet been able to find, and BMG/Sony’s
recent recording of Armida arias even had the effrontery
at full-price to compel listeners to download the texts and
Yet if Hyperion can offer full texts
with their Helios reissues in the
same budget-price range, why cannot
Naxos? And what does one do with an
A4 printout that won’t fit in the
CD case? Worse still, although this
recording was issued as long ago as
January, the promised on-line libretto
was still ‘under preparation’ when
I tried for the umpteenth time on
6 March 2008 [now available Oct08].
I have kept delaying the finalisation
of this review until the libretto
appeared but have now given up. The
synopsis is adequate only – rather
brief and not keyed to the CD tracks.
This means that I cannot
write the kind of detailed review that I normally write and
the fault is Naxos’s. I cannot, for example, comment on the
quality of the diction, except in the few well-known arias
where I have access to the text or where Bononcini’s libretto
is identical (i.e. the Zeno text before the Goldoni revisions);
this libretto is available online.
The recording is generally
good, though not always ideally focused. The notes, by William
Yeoman, are short but to the point; only half of them refer
to the opera, the first half being taken up with unnecessary
general information about Vivaldi including, inevitably,
the Four Seasons.
I’m sure the members of
the various organisations who supported this recording wouldn’t
have minded not being named individually – the list of their
names takes up the whole of page 5 of the booklet, a page
which would surely have been better used for more detailed
notes on the opera.
Some good, some bad, then.
The Naïve recording is the one to go for – and Naïve are
currently in the process of issuing highlights CDs from their
Vivaldi series for those not prepared to go the whole hog.
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