Alessandro Scarlatti's last opera, Griselda, premiered in Rome in 1721. It failed to gain a place in the regular repertoire, mainly due to the changing tastes of opera audiences. As a matter of fact, it represented the swan song of an idea of opera seria, characterised by a more psychologically penetrating score, the massive use of recitatives to concentrate the greatest expression and emotion in the scene, as well as by the preponderant role of castrati, who could exhibit their virtuosity in the interpretation of the main roles.

Carmela Remigio (Griselda) and Raffaele Pe (Gualtiero)
© Clarissa Lapolla

The original source of the libretto by Apostolo Zeno was Bocaccio's Decameron. In Griselda, Scarlatti displays a wealth of original and suggestive instrumental combinations, mainly in the wind section, and the score supports or exalts the voices with an empathetic understanding of the drama, along with a refined, intrinsic musical sensuality.

It is the story of Gualtiero, King of Sicily, who puts his blameless wife Griselda, a shepherdess elevated to queen, to the most severe trials: humiliations, harassment, intrigues, all fueled by Ottone, Gualtiero's scheming brother, with the people rebelling against the queen's lack of noble birth. Her stable trust and unbreakable loyalty to her husband will prove that the nobility of virtue is to be valued higher than the nobility of blood. He finally elevates her to the throne again with full honours.

Director Rosetta Cucchi sets the plot in Sicily at the beginning of the 20th century, an oppressive patriarchal society with rigid rules. Gualtiero is always flanked by a group of bodyguards – are they rural mafia men? – while Griselda is surrounded by a group of veiled women sharing her destiny of marginalization.

Carmela Remigio (Griselda) and Mariam Battistelli (Costanza)
© Clarissa Lapolla

Gualtiero is torn between his personal feelings of affection and respect for Griselda and the political and social norms to which he is subject. Scarlatti clearly marks the king's inner struggle: the role, originally written for a castrato, was rendered by countertenor Raffaele Pe with elegance and controlled energy. The king is supported by his vassal and confidante Corrado, Prince of Apulia (credibly sung by tenor Krystian Adam).

Soprano Carmela Remigio sang the cast-aside queen with a remarkably strong vocal appeal and acted her despair and devotion with nobility, poignancy and self-confidence. Costanza, the daughter of Gualtiero and Griselda, was splendidly performed by the soprano Mariam Battistelli. Costanza is in love with Corrado's younger brother Roberto (mezzo Miriam Albano, with whom she sang beautiful, catchy duets). Corrado, however, wants her to become Gualtiero's new wife. Only the king knows that Costanza is actually his daughter and arranges a meeting of mother and child in Griselda's simple hut.

Miriam Albano (Roberto), Carmela Remigio (Griselda) and Mariam Battistelli (Costanza)
© Clarissa Lapolla

Both the ensemble La Lira di Orfeo and Coro Ghislieri appeared at Martina Franca's Festival della Valle d'Itria for the first time and did a very good job. George Petrou conducted this lavish masterpiece with a strong sense of drama, appropriately highlighting the recitatives while keeping the action at an impressively homogeneous pace.