Notes and Editorial Reviews
Massimo Spadano, cond; Marco Filippo Romano (
); Loriana Castellano (
); Matteo D’Apolito (
); Timur Bekbosunov (
); Silvia Beltrami (
); Svetlana Smolentseva (
); Eliseo Castrignanò (hpd); Camerata Bach Ch, Pozna?; Southwest German Ch O, Pforzheim
NAXOS 8.660331-32 (2 CDs: 129:11)
Here is another virtually unknown, early 19th-century Italian comic opera receiving its first recorded performance, and to paraphrase Oscar Levant’s description of Hollywood, Naxos must have dug deep below the surface tinsel to find this real piece of tinsel underneath.
Stefano Pavesi (1779–1850) was a very successful opera composer in his day, until he was rendered irrelevant by the younger and more talented Rossini. Pavesi studied with Niccolò Piccinni in Naples and then with Fedele Fenaroli at the Conservatorio di Sant’Onofrio, from where he was expelled for unstated political reasons. He then made his way to Marseilles and Dijon, joining Napoleon’s army. Pavesi soon decided military service wasn’t his calling, so he abandoned that career and came under the guidance and protection of Giuseppe Gazzaniga, a member of the Neapolitan school of opera composers, who helped Pavesi produce his first opera,
Un avvertimento di gelosi,
in Venice in 1803. Some 70 operas followed. He was appointed the master of the chapel at Crema and then music director at the Court Opera in Vienna for six months out of every year between 1826 and 1830, succeeding Salieri.
, composed in1810, received 54 consecutive performances at La Scala, and a number of Pavesi’s other operas also enjoyed critical acclaim and public popularity. Today, Pavesi is a flat line on the life support monitor.
After reading the synopsis of Angelo Anelli’s libretto three times—no libretto text or translation thereof is supplied—I still have a hard time understanding the plot. There don’t seem to be enough characters to make for such a convoluted story, but Anelli somehow managed to come up with an Italian farce so labyrinthine in its machinations that it defies comprehension. Just how farcical the whole thing is may be deduced from the opera’s subtitle, “Pantaloon Takes a Wife,” a pantaloon being defined as a character in the
, portrayed as a foolish old man in tight trousers and slippers.
Part of the comprehension problem is Naxos’s plot synopsis, which doesn’t really do a very good job of explaining the relationships between the actors, but here’s what I was able to make of it. Lisetta and Pasquino are Marcantonio’s servants, while brother and sister Dorina and Medoro are his nephew and niece. Tobia and Bettina are also siblings, and reciprocal matrimonies are planned for Dorina and Tobia and for Bettina and Medoro. I hope I have that right; otherwise, as the saying goes, incest is a game the whole family can play.
The story appears to revolve around Marcantonio wanting to find himself a suitable wife and desiring to make out a will, which, of course, throws the two intended sibling couples into a tizzy over fear for their inheritance. The rest is pure silliness, as the pair of betrothed couples, in league with the servants, dupe Marcantonio into making a fool of himself. Along the way, there’s some uncertainty as to who is to end up with whom, when Medoro discovers that Bettina would rather become his uncle’s wife than marry him. In a scene that made me laugh out loud, an image of Salome’s
Dance of the Seven Veils
came to mind, only in contrary motion. Bettina tries to arouse Maractonio’s amorous interest by putting on a fashion show for him, during which she keeps putting clothes on instead of taking them off. As expected, all of the intrigues work themselves out in the final scene, and a happy ending is had by all.
One shouldn’t be too hard on such frivolous frolics, for many an opera of the period, including some by Rossini and even—dare it be said?—Mozart are based on similarly inane librettos. Bear in mind that even Mozart’s
, hardly a comedy, is classified in the composer’s catalog as an
. What raises a trivial plot to the profound and the universal is the contribution of the composer, namely, the music. And it’s on that score that Pavesi comes up short.
For one thing, there’s too much chatter—miles and miles of it in the form of recitatives—and not enough singing; and when the long-awaited aria, cavatina, or duet does come along, too often it sounds like just more patter, only now set to a pedestrian, predictable melody supported by dull, unimaginative harmony. There’s no inspiration in this music, and, as a result, nothing inspiring or memorable about it. It’s tempting to peg composer and librettist as Dumb and Dumber, though you might be hard-pressed to decide which was which.
Sometimes there really are good reasons why a composer has been swept into the dustbin of history, and I think Pavesi makes a persuasive case for that argument. It wouldn’t be fair, however, to fault any of the singers, orchestral musicians, or conductor for Pavesi’s paucity of talent. As far as I can tell, all involved in this production play their roles with admirable musicianly skill, and make a sincere effort to enliven Pavesi’s stillborn offspring.
While I would not particularly recommend this release to an audience having only a generalized appreciation for early 19th-century Italian comic opera, it may nonetheless draw the attention of those with a more specialized or even scholarly interest in the brief transitional period of Italian opera between Mozart and Rossini, c. 1790–1810. Keep in mind that Mozart’s
Così fan tutte
dates from 1790, while Rossini produced his first big hit,
La scala di seta
, in 1812, at the age of 20. Pavesi’s
falls right in that crack, or should I say, through it?
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Ser Marcantonio by Stefano Pavesi
Loriana Castellano (Alto),
Massimiliano Silvestri (Tenor),
Svetlana Smolentseva (Mezzo Soprano),
Silvia Beltrami (Mezzo Soprano),
Marco Filippo Romano (Baritone),
Timur Bekbosunov (Tenor),
Matteo D'apolito (Bass Baritone)
Pforzheim Southwest German Chamber Orchestra,
Poznan Camerata Bach Choir
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