Notes and Editorial Reviews
A bubbly effusion of Rossini’s music, some new, some re-cycled, all enjoyable.
Rossini’s pre-eminence among his contemporaries was widely recognised after the success of his opera seria Tancredi and comic opera L’Italiana in Algeri in Venice in 1813. The composer was summoned to Naples by the impresario Barbaja and offered the musical directorship of the Royal Theatres, the San Carlo and Fondo. The proposal appealed to Rossini for several reasons. First, his annual fee was generous and guaranteed. Secondly, and equally important, unlike Rome and Venice, Naples had a professional orchestra. Rossini saw this as a considerable advantage as he aspired to push the boundaries of opera into more adventurous directions and did
so in the nine opera seria he composed during his seven year stay in the position. Under the terms of the contract, Rossini was to provide two operas each year for Naples whilst being permitted to compose occasional works for other cities.
The composer tended to push the limits of his contract in respect of composing for other theatres. In the first two years he composed no fewer than five operas for other venues, with Il Barbiere di Siviglia being the most successful. This pace of composition and presentation of operas was necessary for a composer to enjoy a decent standard of living. There was also the fact that an opera success in a city far away, at least by the standards of the day, allowed an element of self-plagiarisation. Why waste good tunes - even when a work has been a failure - although this was sometimes taken to excess with straight lifts of music with the words simply altered.
After his first trip to Rome, and the massive success of Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Rossini returned to Naples to find the San Carlo theatre burned down. He composed a cantata for a ceremony to celebrate the wedding of the royal princess. Rather than proceeding with the two operas he was contracted to write for Naples, Rossini then proceeded to enjoy himself around town rather than composing. This led to Barbaja writing a formal letter of complaint to the theatre management about the delay in production, whilst the local papers were scathing. At last, much delayed, the first of the two contracted operas, La gazzetta, (The newspaper), was premiered at the small Teatro dei Fiorentini, Naples on 26 September 1816. It was Rossini’s eighteenth opera and was to be the only comic opera that he wrote for the city. Having given time to the production of Tancredi during the rehearsals of La gazzetta, it was no surprise that Rossini completed the work in a hurry and used music that was well known in Rome and elsewhere and some which would be used again in the near future in La Cenerentola. This is fact, although in the booklet essay with this issue the writer contends that the hand-written score of La gazzetta shows evidence of much care. Being popular with the local audience if not with the local press, it had twenty-one performances. The work was soon withdrawn and not seen again until revived in Rome one hundred and forty years or so later.
The action of La gazzetta takes place in a Parisian inn where several guests are staying. Don Pomponio, a local big mouth, extols the virtues of his daughter and has advertised the fact in the local papers as he seeks to marry her off. To cater for local tradition at the Teatro dei Fiorentini the role of Don Pomponio was written in Neapolitan dialect and is sung here by a native of the city Marco Cristarella Orestano. I cannot vouch for the veracity of his Neapolitan patois but he certainly enters into the spirit of his character. Whilst not being the most mellifluous of baritones his quick patter is delivered with good Rossinian taste and skill (CD 1 Trs. 4-6). Don Pomponio is unaware that his daughter, Lisetta, is in love with Filippo, owner of the inn. Judith Gauthier sings this high role with warm tone, pleasing vocal purity and characterisation (CD 1 Tr. 8). In the duets with her father (CD 1 Tr. 14) and her lover (CD 2 Tr. 4) she characterises the role particularly well. Her lover, Filippo, is sung by Giulio Mastrototaro, one of a clutch of more than adequate lower-voiced males who appear in the cast. Whilst not being outstanding they play a vital part in making the opera truly comic.
Of the other pair of lovers the warm-tones of Sicilian soprano of Rossella Bevacqua contrasts nicely with those of Doralice (CD 1 Tr. 12). Alberto, in search of a wife confuses her with the lady advertised in the ‘Gazzetta’ and which confusion is all part of the improbable fun. While not written to feature any of the high-voiced tenors that Barbaja had under contract in Naples, the role has high tessitura as well as a low dramatic requirement. In this performance it is sung by American Michael Spyres. The following year at Bad Wildbad Spyres sang the role of Otello, written for the great Andrea Nozzari famous for his florid singing and powerful lower notes. Spyres has the range, with a strong baritonal patina, however, whilst being ardent he lacks security and easy divisions in the coloratura in the more florid writing (CD 2 Tr. 6). As Madama La Rose, Maria Soulis’s mezzo is rich and flexible (CD 2 Tr.2).
The enjoyment of this typically Rossinian froth depends so much on the cast and the conductor being sympathetic to the idiom. This is the case here with Christopher Franklin on the rostrum drawing a vibrant performance from orchestra, chorus and soloists. In what is obviously an updated staging proceedings are interrupted by warm applause at the end of most set numbers. The tracks are generous allowing for those who want to get rid of the extensive recitative; personally I do not find this troublesome – at least not in this lively performance. There is some stage noise.
The booklet has a good track-related synopsis as well as an informative essay on the background to the opera, both in English and German. There are artist profiles in English. The background essay addresses the problem of the composition of the Act 1 quintet (CD 1 Tr. 10) and whether Rossini himself composed it. Listen and see if you recognise the music. Rossini enthusiasts will want to pursue the research and solution carried out by Gossett and Scipioni and which is discussed at length in the former’s Divas and Scholars (Chicago, 2006). Also interesting is how a producer butchered their efforts at Pesaro in 2001 (pp. 246-247). The production concerned can be seen as reprised at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, in 2005 on Oopus Arte OA0953D. Interestingly, Gossett contends that the first authentic production of the critical edition was in Britain at the 2001 Garsington Festival. It was at this venue that the British premiere of Rossini’s Armida - which I attended - was produced in 2010.
If you like Rossini’s music for his comic operas you will enjoy this performance and have the somewhat naughty pleasure of identifying the music he borrowed and from where - a hint do not always look to what he had composed before La gazzetta. A full libretto, in Italian can be accessed at the Naxos site.
-- Robert J Farr, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
La gazzetta by Gioachino Rossini
Maria Soulis (Mezzo Soprano),
Michael Spyres (Tenor),
Judith Gauthier (Soprano),
Rossella Bevacqua (Soprano),
Marco Cristarella Orestano (Baritone),
Giulio Mastrototaro (Baritone),
Vincenzo Bruzzaniti (Bass),
Filippo Polinelli (Baritone),
Ugo Mahieux (Harpsichord)
Czech Chamber Chorus,
San Pietro A Majella Chorus
Written: 1816; Italy
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