Today we know that the reason for this penetration of Italian musical tastes into the small principality of Weimar lay elsewhere: the passion of the young prince Johann Ernst of Saxony for the Venetian concertos (and those of Vivaldi in particular). During the prince’s long period of study in Amsterdam, he had occasion to enjoy the exhibitions on the organ in the local Nieuwe Kerk by the blind virtuoso Jan Jacob de Graaf.
Gérard Lesne founded the Il Seminario musicale Ensemble in 1985. Since 1990, the Ensemble has been in residence at the Royaumont Foundation, where it attracts vocalists and instrumentalists who share Lesne's enthusiam for the 17th and 18th century Italian repertoire. The musicians perform on old instruments and strive to reproduce as faithfully as possible the lilt and narrative line characteristic of the baroque style as expressed in works by composers such as Monteverdi, Cavalli, Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Caldara, Pergolesi, and the others. The size of the ensemble is variable depending on the repertoire. Based on a rich and varied continuo section (theorbo, cello, basson, double bass, organ and harpsichord) supporting one or more soloists, it can be expanded with the addition of a string quartet to make a small chamber orchestra suitable for performing chamber operas. Responsibility for the Ensemble's musical direction is shared by the instrumentalists and vocalists.
Vivaldi’s Griselda, one of more than twenty operas, is based on a story retold in Boccaccio’s Il decamerone about the testing of Griselda’s patience and virtue by her royal husband through a series of cruel trials. The sense of drama that permeates many of Vivaldi’s more programmatic works, such as the Four Seasons, is very naturally carried over into his operas, especially with the use of so-called ‘simile’ arias, in which an emotional state is compared with various natural phenomena. Several very fine examples can be heard in Griselda, including Costanza’s extraordinary ‘Agitata da due venti’ in Act Two; the text compares love and duty with two contrary winds, and the setting is correspondingly wild, with fierce fioriture and wide leaps.