I am not generally a major fan of baroque opera -- call me a Philistine! -- but I've been hooked by the spate of releases from the French label, Naïve, which, when it is finished, will present in 100 CD sets all of Vivaldi's works found in his music library at his death. And this includes all 49 of his operas! I was intrigued by this one because it tells the tale of 'patient Griselda' whose story comes down to us from folklore as retold in Bocaccio's Decameron and, more familiarly, in the 'Clerk's Tale' from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. It's the story of a wife who displays incredible patience in the face of the many cruel tests of her loyalty that her husband puts her through. No need to retell that story here -- except to say that Vivaldi and his librettist Apostolo Zeno (with some revision by Carlo Goldoni) soften the villainy of the husband, Gualtiero.
The music Vivaldi provides is really more a showcase for some incredible singing and abundantly satisfying music. And that is in this performance in abundance. There is some almost superhuman coloratura on display here, and there is not a single weak performance. Outstanding in the title role is the rising Canadian mezzo (although she's listed in the booklet as a contralto), Marie-Nicole Lemieux. I've been quite impressed by her recordings, mostly on Canadian labels, with the exception of the one that featured music by Brahms. Lemieux is definitely more suited to baroque music and here she is simply sensational. Her 'Brami le mie catene' in Act I is a real showpiece with sudden starts and stops, dramatic outbursts alternating with meltingly beautiful cantilena. Just as fine is her Act II scena, 'No, non tanto crudeltà'. Argentinian soprano Verónica Cangemi as Griselda's long-lost daughter Constanza is equally superb. Her second act aria, 'Agitata a due venti', is simply stunning. Simone Kermes is excellent as Griselda's rejected suitor, Ottone, and is especially notable for her management of the awkward register shifts in her Act III showpiece, 'Dopo un'orrida procella'. Tenor Stefano Ferrari is excellent as the husband, Gualtiero, although some of the incredibly difficult fioriture in his opening aria, 'Se ria procella', almost gets away from him. Countertenor Iestyn Davies delivers Corrado's Act II 'La rondinella amante' beautifully.
All of this would less effective if it weren't for the really superb orchestra, Ensemble Matheus, under conductor Jean-Christophe Spinosi's alert and sensitive guidance. The sound of the original-instruments orchestra is suitably dulcet or dramatic as required. All in all this is one of the best baroque opera recordings I've ever heard. I recommend it unhesitatingly, even for those who think they don't like baroque opera.