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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Matilde di Shabran - Melodramma giocoso in two acts (1821)
Matilde, Annick Massis (sop); Corradino Ironheart, Juan Diego Florez (ten); Raimondo Lopez, Eduardo’s father, Bruno Taddia (bass); Edoardo, Hadar Halevy (mezzo); Aliprando, physician, Marco Vinco (bass); Isidoro, poet, Bruno de Simone (bass); Contessa d’Arco, Chiara Chialli (sop); Ginardo, tower-keeper, Carlo Lepore (bass); Egoldo, leader of the peasants, Gregory Bonfatti (ten); Rodrigo, captain of the guards, Lubomir Moravec
Prague Chamber Choir
Orchestra Sinfónica de Galicia/Riccardo Frizza
rec. live, Rossini Opera Festival, Pesaro, Italy, August 2004
DECCA 475 7688 [3 CDs: 68.23+52.56+67.36]
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In part two of my Rossini Conspectus I noted that there was no available recording of Matilda di Shabran, Rossini’s 32nd opera. Juan Diego Florez had reprised the role of Corradino at the Pesaro Festival in 2004. It was as Corradino that Florez was projected to fame when, aged 23, he jetted in to the Pesaro Festival in 1996 to replace the scheduled tenor, Bruce Ford, who had withdrawn. In the eight years between his Pesaro appearances as Corradino, Florez has become the Rossini tenor of choice. I expressed the hope that his recording company had been present, as they had been for his Festival performances in Le Comte Ory in 2003, with the performance later issued by DG (477 5020). The good news is that his recording company engineers were present. Two years on, this superbly presented, recorded and sung version becomes available and certainly fulfils all my hopes as well as closing a major gap in the Rossini discography. The luxury presentation, in a multi-fold form (partial picture below) and with background essay by the Rossini scholar Richard Osborne, track-related synopsis and full libretto, all in English, French and German, is available at a special price for a limited period.

After the premiere of Maometto on 3 December 1820, Rossini went to Rome where he had agreed to write a new work to open the Teatro Apollo’s Carnival Season on 26 December. He had already started on the composition of Matilde di Shabran in Naples but on his arrival in Rome it was obvious that the libretto was not suitable. Rossini turned to his friend Jacopo Ferretti, librettist of La Cenerentola, who made further changes to a libretto he had already started to adapt, simply changing the names to suit the announced name of ‘Matilde’. The result of Ferretti’s efforts was a long, action-packed and hilarious melodramma giocoso that even the speedy Rossini could not ingest in the short time available. He limited self-borrowings to the overture, taken from his 28th opera, Eduardo e Cristina, a duet and chorus. Rossini enlisted his friend, the young composer Pacini, to assist him by writing three numbers. All the numbers by Pacini were replaced by music composed by Rossini when Matilde di Shabran was presented in Naples in the following November after its delayed Rome premiere at the Teatro Apollo on 24 February 1821. It is in the Naples version that the work is performed on this recording. It had a mixed reception but quickly spread to other Italian cities. It reached London in 1823 and New York in 1834.

Its plot is not as complex as is often made out. Yes there is a tyrant misogynist, a mad poet and damsels being thrown off cliffs, but it is all fairly straightforward. Corradino Ironheart, the high-lying tenor role sung in this performance by Juan Diego Florez, is a parody of a tyrant. He is belligerent and said to loathe woman and poets and any other affront to his machismo. Something of a recluse he lives in his Spanish castle whose entrance is adorned with threatening slogans. He has taken Edoardo, the son of his enemy Raimondo, a travesti role sung by Hadar Halevy, a prisoner. He has also given houseroom to Matilde, orphaned daughter of a former comrade-in-arms, sung by Annick Massis. Matilde is well equipped, pace Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, to deal with Corradino’s ranting and proceeds to cajole and hypnotize him into helpless submission. Having done so she deserts him for Edoardo, leaving him to fend off the advances of the Contessa d’Arco sung by Chiara Chialli who has presented herself as a rival for Corradino’s hand. He determines to get rid of Matilde and despatches the itinerant poet Isidoro, sung by the character bass Bruno de Simone, to pitch her over a cliff. The music tells us that this might be an opera seria moment but it quickly hints that the shrewish feminist will come to no harm. With Edoardo’s father arriving, and the castle on war footing, the second act is a typical Rossini racing sequence of musical scenes and ensembles. With the first act being over two hours long there are other incidents and roles to complete the mélange in what is really an opera buffa with more dramatic content than the genre normally gets.

With the thoroughness the work deserves the Pesaro festival have cast the performance with care. Florez was an obvious choice as Corradino. He flings out high Cs in E palese il trademento (CD 3 tr.9) and well-articulated coloratura passages, with that distinctive plangent tone of his to give both vocal thrill and histrionic credibility. Annick Massis as Matilde lacks the vocal charisma of Florez. Nonetheless her singing, particularly in Ami alfine (CD3 tr.20) is well characterised and particularly affecting with good divisions; she manages the climactic finale with only the slightest feel of strain (tr.22). Earlier, her expressive singing and characterisation in the act two sextet, as Corradino condemns her to death, is excellent (CD3 trs.9-11). The itinerant poet Isidoro, who has to do the dirty deed, is also well sung and characterised by Bruno de Simone. His is not a juicy tone but every word, like that of the other singers in the cast, is clear and pointed. Of these other singers the physician Aliprando sung by Marco Vinco and the Ginardo of Carlo Lepore are noteworthy particularly in their contributions to the ensembles (CD2 trs. 8-15). Likewise Hadar Halevy as the young son of Raimondo sings with clarity, good tone and expression (CD 1 trs.14-16).

There is no bland vocalisation in this performance and none of the singing is less than adequate - often far better. It has all the frisson of a live occasion and the benefits of adequate rehearsal and an atmospheric recording. Perhaps important for those that find applause intrusive to the flow of the work, the Decca engineers have, as if by sonic magic, got rid of it except for the ends of the acts. Similarly, stage noise is hardly evident. Add vibrant and idiomatic conducting from Riccardo Frizza and the outcome is as good as one could hope. To put the final shine on the whole enterprise, the excellent booklet has the essay by Richard Osborne, a track-related synopsis and full libretto, all with English, French and German translations.

Robert J Farr

In outstanding fashion this fills an important gap in the composer’s discography. A work of Rossini’s compositional maturity, I cannot see it being bettered. ... see Full Review


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