Next October Irish National Opera will present the first ever Irish performance of any of the operas written by one of the world’s best-loved composers, Antonio Vivaldi.
Tom Creed’s new production of Vivaldi’s Griselda opens at the Town Hall Theatre in Galway on Saturday 12 October.
Creed’s approach to Griselda takes as its starting point the fact that our contemporary world is more like 18th-century Venice than we imagine, with our every move being watched and recorded. His new production will be full of Venetian intrigue, and at the same time draw on contemporary reference points — including House of Cards and The Crown — to bring these parallels to vivid life on stage.
Vivaldi, who was born in Venice in 1678 and died in Vienna in 1741, was nicknamed il Prete Rosso (the Red Priest) because of the colour of his hair. He was a musically prolific composer, virtuoso violinist and teacher who famously wrote compositions for an all-female music ensemble at the Ospedale della Pietà, a charitable home for orphans and abandoned girls which had been founded in Venice in the 14th century. Although he wrote over 500 concertos, his music largely faded from view in the 19th century. Academic interest in his work was stimulated by the discovery in 1926 of 14 volumes of music which included 140 instrumental pieces, 29 cantatas and 12 operas. The revival of interest in performing his music began in earnest in 1939, when the Italian composer Alfredo Casella organised a Vivaldi Week in Siena. The first recording of his most famous work, The Four Seasons, followed in 1942, and by the end of the century it had been recorded more than a hundred times.
– Tom Creed, director.
Although opera featured in the 1939 festival, the dissemination of the composer’s stage works — of which there are more than forty — had to wait until the period performance movement got into full swing. The first modern performance of Griselda took place under John Eliot Gardiner 1978, not on stage but only in a concert performance. The first British staging followed in 1983, and the first recording, from performances in Montpellier in 1992, appeared in 1995.
Conductor Peter Whelan says, “We are very excited to present the first Vivaldi opera to be performed in Ireland. Griselda is one of Vivaldi’s greatest masterpieces: feel-good music that bursts with Italianate primary colours. In showstopper arias, such as Agitata da due venti and Dopo un’orrida procella, Vivaldi demands that the voice be every bit as agile and virtuosic as the solo violin in his Four Seasons. But it is the touching, heart-on-sleeve pathos of some of the slow arias which will most surprise listeners new to this music.”
INO’s artistic director, Fergus Sheil, says, “I adore Vivaldi’s music and can never understand why his operas are not more widely known. I enjoy the rhythmic spring, the lyrical lines, the sudden shifts of tone and the musical textures that are 100% Italian in flavour. If I’m honest, I also love the over-the-top gymnastics that Vivaldi dishes out to his singers. I take my hat off to anyone who signs up for this fiendish music. As an audience member I can’t wait to sit back and marvel at the show. One of the joys of programming opera is that, as well as offering our audiences great repertoire that they know and love, we can also introduce people to completely new experiences.”
INO’s new production, featuring the Irish Baroque Orchestra and conducted by INO Artistic Partner Peter Whelan, will be performed in Galway, Letterkenny, Sligo, Navan, Kilkenny, Limerick and Dún Laoghaire.
Before that, on Friday 12, Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 April, INO’s The Deadly World of Opera will be performed at venues around Dublin, as part of MusicTown. This is a witty and informative deconstruction of how opera works. It’s aimed at opera newbies and will be performed by real, live opera singers. Admission is free, but booking is essential.
All images courtesy INO