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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868) 
La Gazzetta - dramma giocoso in two acts (1816)
Lisetta, Pomponio’s daughter, Cinzia Forte (sop); Don Pomponio, Bruno Pratico (buffa bass); Filippo, an innkeeper, in love with Lisetta, Pietro Spagnoli (bass); Alberto, a wealthy young man, Charles Workman (ten); Madame La Rose, Agata Bienkowska (mezzo); Doralice, in search of a husband, Marisa Martins (sop)
Orchestra Academy of the Gran Teatre del Liceu. Intermezzo Choir/Maurizio Barbacini
An original production of the Rossini Opera Festival (Pesaro)
rec. live, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 1, 3 July 2005
Director, set and costume designer: Dario Fo
Television Director: Angel Luis Ramirez
Picture format: 16/9 Anamorphic
Sound formats: LPCM Stereo. DTS surround
Subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, Catalan and Italian
OPUS ARTE DVD VIDEO OA 0953D [2 DVDs: 155:00]
 

Under the terms of his contract as musical director of the Naples’ two Royal Theatres, Rossini was to provide two operas each year for the city. He was also allowed to compose occasional works for other cities. In the first two years of the contract he composed no fewer than five operas for other venues, including four for Rome where he went after the premiere of Elisabetta to present performances of Il Turco in Italia and to write a new work, Torvaldo e Dorliska. On his return to Naples, Rossini found the great Teatro San Carlo, the premiere theatre, had been destroyed by fire. There was no other theatre suitable for a serious opera. He composed a cantata to celebrate the marriage of the daughter of the King, for which he pillaged much of the music from his own previous works, and followed this with his only buffa for Naples, La Gazzetta, his eighteenth opera. It was premiered at the small Teatro dei Fiorentina on 26 September 1816. This premiere had been postponed because Rossini was indulging his social life to the full, as was his wont. When eventually La Gazzetta reached the stage it was not a success and was withdrawn after a few performances. It lay forgotten until revived in the 1960s. Its failure was attributed to a clumsy libretto by Giuseppe Palomba after the novel Il Matrimonio per concorso by Carlo Goldoni. It certainly needs some measure of concentration to follow. The music is however full of Rossinian felicities. Yes there are self-borrowings and the jolly overture was rescued from potential oblivion when Rossini used it again some months later in Rome for La Cenerentola. Even as an enthusiast of Rossini’s operas, I had not managed to hear either of the live audio performances that appeared some years ago on the Nuova Era or Bongiovanni labels. This performance allowed me to hear the complete work for the first time and with the advantage of the stage picture to help me follow the plot. Or at least in theory!  
 
The theory broke down fairly early in act 1 when I became confused by all the comings and goings of singers and extras. After watching the whole of act I (DVD 1. Chs. 2-14) I re-read the story again and, more importantly, watched the illustrated synopsis. This made everything much clearer as to who was who, although the arguments and misunderstandings of the farsa only became clearer as each act unfolded.  Set in a Paris inn, Rossini’s farsa recounts a complicated story involving a ridiculously pompous old man, Don Pomponio, who has advertised in the newspaper La Gazzetta for a husband for his daughter Lisetta. She is in love with Filippo the young proprietor of the inn. Other guests at the inn include another father, Ansalemo, who is trying to marry off his daughter Doralice. Another guest is Alberto a wealthy young man in search of a wife. Such a set of circumstances is perfect for the twists and turns of mistaken identities and lovers’ quarrels. Despite threats of duels, it is a farsa and all ends happily.
 
The Director, Dario Fo opts for an ultra-updated presentation. The women of the chorus are in elegant modern dress as they enter and move with balletic movements of arms and body as they sing (DVD 1. Ch.2). Later on young ladies in short underskirts, showing suspenders holding up their stockings, make irrelevant arm movements simulating violin playing as Alberto sings his aria (DVD 2 Chs. 5-6). Sexiness is overt here, as elsewhere, but fails to be either seductive or titillating. The various comings and goings of these extraneous people, match in style the constantly changing sets with balconies and backdrops being flown at a hectic pace. It is as though the director were a child who when let into a toyshop felt the necessity to indulge his every fantasy.  The sets are opulent and often aesthetically pleasing were one allowed to see them for any long period. Even with the costs of production shared with the Rossini Festival at Pesaro, and perhaps elsewhere, this staging must have made a fair dent in the Liceu budget. The cost could be justified if the dancing, dresses, extras and sets had illuminated the confusions of the plot rather than adding to them. In this respect the production here is in sharp contrast with Michael Hempe’s productions of two of Rossini’s earliest farsa, La Scala di Seta (see review) and L’occasione fa il Ladro (see review). Shared between Oper der Stadt Köln, and recorded at the Schwetzinger Festival, the direction and elegant sets illuminate the mistaken identities and complexities of the plot.
 
Two of the singers in this performance also appeared in their roles at Pesaro, Bruno Pratico as Pomponio and Cinzia Forte as his daughter Lisetta. He is now rather portly, and his idiosyncratic over colourful modern dress does little to help his portrayal. When dressed up as a Turk he looks silly rather than ridiculous (DVD 2. Ch. 12). The fact that Pratico survives it all to vocally portray the character’s ridiculous pomposity says much for his long experience in this fach. As Pomponio’s advertised daughter, Cinzia Forte’s strengths are in her long lithe legs rather than in her thin-toned singing. (DCD 2. Chs.10-11). The Doralice of Marisa Martins is also thin-toned. Only Agata Bienkowska as Madame La Rose has much vocal colour.
 
As Alberto, the tall American Charles Workman replaces the chubby but more vocally mellifluous José Manuel Zapata who had appeared at Pesaro. Workman’s height and acting ability make him a suitable match for the leggy Cinzia Forte during the intended confusions of the plot, but his rather dry tone was not easy on my ear (DVD 2 Chs. 5-6). Along with Pratico, the other natural Rossinian in the cast, both vocally and histrionically, is Pietro Spagnoli as Filippo the innkeeper and Lisetta’s intended, or at least when all the confusions are sorted out. Spagnoli sings with steady tone and his unexaggerated acting is a strength in this frenetic production.
 
Rossini’s music, apart from the overture, is thin in act 1 but is distinctly more lively and more like what we might expect in act 2. It cannot be said that La Gazzetta is one of his more inspired works. It was the only farsa he wrote for Naples and at a time when his love life and Isabella Colbran seemed to be his most urgent concern. This production buries whatever virtues there are in Rossini’s music in an over-rich mixture of vaudeville and burlesque which sometimes degenerates into slapstick. Whatever was the reason for Pomponio to run round the stalls with a balloon, or the verbal exchanges with the conductor? Any pleasures on hearing this opera for the first time, and assessing its worth musically, were lost to me in the excesses of the production.
 
Robert J Farr
 

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