Just as Handel was not merely a composer of oratorio and music to be performed on a ceremonial barge, there is so much more to Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) than The Four Seasons. One of the best preserved of Vivaldi’s fifty or so operatic scores is La Griselda, which was premiered in 1735 at Ascensiontide in Venice.
La Griselda was performed for the first time in the modern era at Buxton Opera House in 1983 since when it hasn’t received further performances in the United Kingdom. Opera Settecento’s performance is the UK premiere of the scholarly edition of La Griselda, produced by G Ricordi & Co of Milan. Although La Griselda (like much opera seria of the 18th-century) has not yet entered the operatic canon, two arias from the opera have become popular concert pieces, thanks to singers such as Cecilia Bartoli and Simone Kermes. These are "Agitata da due venti" from act 2 and "Dopo un'orrida procella" from act 3. The edition Opera Settecento is using was first recorded by the Vivaldi Edition on the Naïve label in 2006.
Although we think of Vivaldi as a Venetian composer, because he was of humble birth and a compositional maverick, he was excluded for thirty years by the patrician impresarios who ran the public theatres in Venice. Grimani, the 18th-century equivalent of Cameron Mackintosh, aware that ticket sales in his group of theatres were falling whereas Vivaldi, now in his fifties, had enjoyed considerable success at theatres in Verona and Vicenza, finally invited him into the fold.
For his debut at the Teatro San Samuele, Vivaldi chose the libretto by Apostelo Zeno about a queen who was bullied for her humble origins. The young, happening poet, Goldoni was employed to bring the libretto up-to-date. Grimani’s hand is also visible in the choice of cast. His theatres were struggling in part because of extortionate fees charged by the celebrity castrati such as Caffarelli and Carestini. In La Griselda Vivaldi put his protegée, Anna Girò, who had a limited contralto range but was a consummate actress, at the heart of his cast and wrote technically-challenging roles for two promising young singers in the roles of Gualtiero and Costanza. Instead of a known soprano castrato, he wrote for Lorenzo Saletti, who clearly found the technical demands of the role too challenging as a hastily-written, much more mundane aria was substituted for Ottone.
In accordance with the critical edition (and the Vivaldi Edition recording) Opera Settecento has reinstated Ottone’s unfeasible arias and, as a result, has cast a female soprano rather than asking one of the new wave of sopranisti to bust a gut in the name of authenticity. Following in Vivaldi’s footsteps we have also engaged young singers with huge potential in the roles of Costanza and Gualtiero, but also with a view to establishing a “performance school” in how to sing unjustly neglected operas of the 18th century.