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Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Il Turco in Italia, Moise et Pharaon

Rossini / Campanella / Bartoli / Raimondi
Release Date: 11/16/2010 
Label:  Tdk   Catalog #: DVWWBOXROSSIN  
Composer:  Gioachino Rossini
Performer:  Dalibor JenisKristinn SigmundssonRoberto SaccàJoyce DiDonato,   ... 
Conductor:  Bruno CampanellaFranz Welser-MöstRiccardo Muti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paris National Opera ChorusParis National Opera OrchestraZurich Opera Chorus,   ... 
Number of Discs: 4 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews


ROSSINI Moïse et Pharaon Riccardo Muti, cond; Ildar Abdrazakov ( Moïse ); Erwin Schrott ( Pharaon ); Giuseppe Filianoti ( Aménophis ); Tomislav Mužek ( Read more class="ARIAL12i">Éliézer ); Giorgio Giuseppini ( Ostride ); Antonello Ceron ( Aufide ); Sonia Ganassi ( Sinaïde ); Barbara Frittoli ( Anaï ); Nino Surguladze ( Marie ); La Scala O & Ch TDK DVWW-BOXROSSINI (2 DVDs: 181:00) Live: Milan 2004

ROSSINI Il barbiere di Siviglia Bruno Campanella, cond; Dalibor Jenis ( Figaro ); Roberto Sacca ( Almaviva ); Joyce di Donato ( Rosina ); Carlos Chausson ( Bartolo ); Kristinn Sigmundsson ( Don Basilio ); Nicholas Garrett ( Fiorello ); Jeannette Fischer ( Berta ); Paris Natl Op O & Ch TDK DVWW-BOXROSSINI (DVD: 152:00) Live: Paris 4/2002

ROSSINI Il Turco in Italia Franz Welser-Möst, cond; Ruggero Raimondi ( Pasha Selim ); Cecilia Bartoli ( Donna Fiorilla ); Oliver Widmer ( Poeta Prosdocimo ); Paolo Rumetz ( Don Geronio ); Reinaldo Macias ( Don Narciso ); Judith Schmid ( Zaida ); Valery Tsarev ( Albazar ); Zurich Op O & Ch TDK DVWW-BOXROSSINI (DVD: 140:00) Live: Zurich 2002

Here are three different Rossini operas, performed at three different venues between 2002 and 2004, packaged together by TDK. As usual, the question is, would you want the whole set or should you seek out one or two of the individual performances?

I began my viewing with Moïse et Pharaon for three reasons: First, I consider it one of Rossini’s very finest operas, in fact a more integral dramatic work than the celebrated Guillaume Tell; second, because Riccardo Muti, though allowing modern production values, is a famous enemy of Eurotrash; and third, because two of the leads are among my favorite modern singers, Ildar “Mr. Borodina” Abdrazakov in the title role and Erwin Schrott as Pharaon. Neither disappoints me. Muti conducts this music at a faster clip than did Lamberto Gardelli in his classic recording, but in this case (unlike the Chailly Petite Messe Solennelle reviewed elsewhere in this issue) speed does not equate to glibness or lack of dignity.

This score is one of the least-known great operas I know of. For the first time, Rossini sublimated his irrepressible comic instinct to write serious music with all his sunshine and rhythmic liveliness and, for the last time, made it work from first scene to last. Perhaps the most striking and modern feature of Moïse is the use of through-composed recitatives, a style pioneered by his great predecessor Spontini. I know of nothing he wrote finer than the first 15 minutes of act II, and the famous act IV prayer influenced Verdi’s “Va, pensiero.” Critics who enthuse over his Otello, which I find quite inferior, would do well to study Moïse. Even the ballet music— de riguer at Paris in his time—has dignity, and is not foolishly glib (though the choreographer has naught but the most basic moves for the corps (“dance like an Egyptian”), and even then they’re not always together; plus, the lead étoile looks 10 years older than I am, and that’s not good.

But I get ahead of myself. From the moment the curtain rises, you know you’re in for a treat. Gianni Quaranta’s sets are modern but elegant, the costumes “theatrical Egyptian” but appropriate for the period, Luca Ronconi’s direction and the superb way he fills space take your breath away, and the singing (both solo and choral) and acting are spot-on. This is the way opera should always be staged, but how seldom do we see it nowadays? Heavens no, directors are too busy filling the stage with naked people pawing each other, dead rabbits, or both. (I thought the dead rabbit concept was confined to one production of Parsifal, but a good friend of mine recently saw a performance of Lulu in Paris and them ole dead rabbits came back for an encore. Presumably, some directors feel sorry for Elmer Fudd.)

Giuseppe Filianoti is magnificent as Aménophis—a big, bright, ringing voice with laser-like focus, and his Israelite counterpart, Tomislav Mužek (Éliézer), also has a surprisingly good, almost baritonal tenor voice. Sonia Ganassi is a superb singer, both in voice and subtlety of expression, with a timbre of bronze. Indeed, the only singer for whom I have any quibble is soprano Barbara Frittoli, a superb actress and first-rate musician, yet one whose voice always has a nagging brightness verging on the brittle. I doubt if this tendency could be trained out of her; it just seems to be her particular vocal characteristic. I forgive her because she can move you, to ecstasy or tears depending on the situation, and she does so here; plus her florid singing, which I’ve never heard in her Met roles, is quite cleanly executed.

I then moved on to Il Barbiere di Siviglia, an odd production apparently set in the Middle East. Moroccan, Persian, and Berber styles are mixed in the costumes and makeup, which creates more questions than it provides answers. Online I discovered that director Coline Serreau, better known for her 1970s feminist documentaries and the film Three Men and a Baby , conceived this production in Seville under Osmanic occupation. This makes sense in transferring Rosina from the position of Bartolo’s captive ward to the separatist position Islamic women live under, with the action showing her movement toward liberation, which finally occurs in the second-act storm scene. Some viewers have found this production over the top in its comedy, but that does not bother me so much as some of the singing.

In the first scene, as Fiorello sings “Piano, pianissimo,” his band of itinerant musicians creeps out of the shadows behind sand dunes and shuffles and hops like rabbits behind him—all of it extraordinarily funny. Almaviva makes his entrance, in the person of Roberto Saccà, and he is the only male in the cast who is not bearded. Why? He also sings quite miserably, the voice back of the throat and clouded with tremolo. Figaro emerges in the person of Dalibor Jenis, a sort of one-stop desert Wal-Mart, selling gold chains, rings, watches, cell phones, and perfumes, most of which are on his person along with a little umbrella hat. This, too, is quite comical, but Jenis is a third-rate baritone, his voice exhibiting a cheap tone, rattling vibrato, and poor production except for one or two high notes he shouts to the rafters. Rosina’s first appearance shows her wearing a type of facemask with beaded cloths hanging down past her neck. Carlos Chausson is one of the smallest, leanest, and most comical of Bartolos, in a dark beard that makes him look like an Emir. He, too, sounds unsteady at first, but Joyce di Donato is in splendid voice from her first note. Her problem, like that of Marilyn Horne, is that she is a perfect singing machine who projects no emotion whatsoever in her voice. Kristinn Sigmundsson, on the other hand, is absolutely top-notch as Don Basilio, gotten up like an ayatollah.

Oddly enough, the concept works, and both Chausson and Sacca improve vocally as the performance progresses: Chausson in the middle of “Un dottor della mia sorte,” in which he rattles off the patter with a linguistic brilliance I haven’t heard since Sesto Bruscantini, and Sacca after his entrance as the drunken soldier. His repeated, shouted “Hey!” notes work to focus the voice; perhaps he should have shouted a few in his dressing room before coming out. The act I finale is exceptionally brilliant, with great singing from a big-voiced Berta, Jeannette Fischer, who all but steals the show with her act II aria. She is a tall, thin, athletic woman with a comic face like Fannie Brice and even more comical body movements à la Joan Davis, and she sings the heck out of it—the best I’ve ever heard. Chausson scurries about the stage with a perpetual scowl and jittery, nervous movement that make me laugh—a Bartolo on caffeine! Bruno Campanella’s conducting is brisk, energetic, and full of life, and the Paris Opera Orchestra is simply scintillating—catch, particularly, the brilliant playing of the winds in the act I finale. At opera’s end, a forest of palm trees grows out of the ground as Rosina and Almaviva literally walk off into the sunset, and I find it a nice touch that the first curtain calls are taken by huge paintings of Rossini and his librettist, Cesare Sterbini. Jenis never really improves as a singer, but he is a fine comic actor. If you can put up with this defect, and if you enjoy the stage concept, you’ll like this Barbiere if you just start it with “Una voce poco fà” after your first viewing.

Now we turn your attention to Turco in Italia, the strangest of the three operas. No, not the production—though we’ll get to that anon—but the opera itself. This is one of Rossini’s early comic farces, written a year after L’Italiana in Algeri, and in fact Italian audiences stayed away from the performances because they were convinced it was just a rewrite of the previous opera. It was not: All of the music and the plot were entirely original. Like Pietra del Paragone, it’s a work with rapid, busy music that is curiously unmemorable and, not so curiously, almost entirely divorced from the text. Without a libretto, the characters could be singing about the rain in Spain, what they had for dinner last night, or if they should bet on a horse or not, but while you’re watching it it’s utterly delightful and engrossing.

In this opera, a poet who is writing the plot is the main narrator and onstage director, aided by the prompter (possibly the first and last time in operatic history that the prompter has a role!), so the story seems to be made up as it goes along—except that the characters often act out their scenes differently from what he has written. In a way, it reminds me of the old Burns and Allen show, where George would watch what was going on in his den on a TV set, then step into the action and foil Gracie’s plans. The crux of this convoluted concoction is the incessantly flirty Donna Fiorilla, who makes a fickle Hollywood starlet look like Mother Theresa. She’s married to Don Geronio but is carrying on an affair with Don Narciso, the tenor, which doesn’t stop her from flirting with a group of men who look like the Italian Olympic team or being flirted to by Pasha Selim, who has roused himself from the seraglio, finds himself shipwrecked in Italy, and puts the make on our doughty heroine. In the meantime one of Selim’s former amours, Zaida, finds her way to him, creating a no-holds-barred wrestling and hair-pulling match with Fiorilla. Our poet-author designs a meeting at a masked ball in which he persuades Don Geronio to dress up as the Pasha and Zaida to dress up as Fiorilla in order to see, once and for all, who loves whom; this neat little idea is foiled by Narciso, who, overhearing the plot, also shows up dressed as Selim. The Pasha goes off with Zaida, and all seems well, but the poet persuades Geronio to serve his wife with a false letter of divorce, then make up to her in the end.

Cesare Lievi’s stage production is ingenious and imaginative, using a moving walkway to bring the characters on and off the stage from right to left in addition to having moving sets and changing backdrops facilitate the change of scenery. Oliver Widmer, who in real life is Cecilia Bartoli’s boyfriend, is a competent buffo baritone with an exceptionally bright tone. Bartoli, as can be expected, has a ball in the role of Fiorilla, though her muscular, athletic build unintentionally makes her comic as the object of so many men’s affections. Paolo Rumetz has a good tone but is not fully skilled in coloratura runs, while Reinaldo Macias has the requisite technique but a voice that is a bit too nasal and piercing for my taste. Judith Schmid is competent as Zaida, but the real wonder in this production is Ruggero Raimondi. For a singer who has performed the heaviest bass and baritone roles in the repertoire, he is surprisingly good in florid comic music—not perfect, but excellent nonetheless—and his huge, booming tone is caught to good advantage by the sound engineer. He is also a fine actor, and it is obvious he is having a great time in this opera.

Thus we arrive at the question where we began: Is the full set a good value? I say yes. You may or may not have a superior video Barbiere in your collection, but this production is just so funny and so ingenious that even if you only watch act I, scene I once, it’s worth going back to see and hear the rest, and the other two operas could scarcely be bettered.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Il barbiere di Siviglia by Gioachino Rossini
Performer:  Dalibor Jenis (Baritone), Kristinn Sigmundsson (Bass), Roberto Saccà (Tenor),
Joyce DiDonato (Mezzo Soprano), Carlos Chausson (Bass Baritone), Nicholas Garrett (Bass Baritone),
Jeannette Fischer (Soprano)
Conductor:  Bruno Campanella
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paris National Opera Chorus,  Paris National Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1816; Italy 
Il turco in Italia by Gioachino Rossini
Performer:  Ruggero Raimondi (Bass), Paolo Rumetz (Bass), Cecilia Bartoli (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Franz Welser-Möst
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zurich Opera Chorus,  Zurich Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1814; Italy 
Moïse et Pharaon by Gioachino Rossini
Performer:  Nino Surguladze (Mezzo Soprano), Barbara Frittoli (Soprano), Giuseppe Filianoti (Tenor),
Tomislav Muzek (Tenor), Antonello Ceron (Tenor), Giorgio Giuseppini (Bass),
Ildar Abdrazakov (Bass), Sonia Ganassi (Mezzo Soprano), Erwin Schrott (Bass Baritone),
Maurizio Muraro (Bass)
Conductor:  Riccardo Muti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra,  Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: By 1827; Italy 

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