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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Rossini from Glyndebourne - Three comic operas:
Il barbiere di Siviglia
La Cenerentola
Le Comte Ory
The Glyndebourne Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sylvain Cambreling; Donato Renzetti; Andrew Davis
see below for further details
rec. 1981, 1983, 1997
WARNER ENTERTAINMENT 50-51442-7848-2 [3 discs: 154:00 + 151:00 + 142:00]

Experience Classicsonline

Rossini at Glyndebourne and as a composer of comic operas

As with Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, and Verdi’s Macbeth, among other works, Glyndebourne did justice to Rossini before his operas had really found favour elsewhere in Britain. This was largely under the influence of Vittorio Gui who took over as chief conductor in 1951. As well as the three operas in this issue, L’Italiana in Algeri, the rarity La pietra del paragone, Il Turco in Italia and more recently the opera seria Ermione have been given at Glyndebourne. But it was the standard set by Gui with these three operas, and the audio recordings of all three under his direction, that really established the house tradition. By the time of the recordings of Il Barbiere and La Cenerentola contained here, the 1950s productions were well overdue for renewal, whilst that of Le Comte Ory was even more so when it was revived in this new production in 1997. 

Rossini’s strength as a composer of comic operas was founded in his early experience. His first stage production, La Cambiale Di Matrimonio, a one act farsa was premiered on 3 November 1810 at the small Teatro San Moisè, Venice. It marked the composer out as having wit and the capacity to express it in music. He followed with four other farsi for the theatre over the next three years and a year later, in 1814, he really made his mark in the comic genre with L’Italiana in Algeri for the medium sized San Benedetto Theatre in Venice. This success, and that of his first great opera seria Tancredi, marked Rossini out as a leader among the host of primo ottocento Italian opera composers of the day. Ever one to spot a winner, the impresario Domenico Barbaja offered Rossini the post of Musical Director of the Royal Theatres, the San Carlo and Fondo, in Naples. It was for the San Carlo, with its professional orchestra and superb stage facilities, that Rossini composed his great opera seria starting with Elisabetta Regina d’Inghilterra premiered on 4 October 1815.

DVD 1: Il barbiere di Siviglia,

A clause in his contract at Naples allowed for Rossini to accept occasional commissions from other theatres. It was a clause that he took full advantage of. Whilst in Rome to present Torvaldo e Dorliska to open the Carnival Season at the Teatro Valle on 26 December 1815, he signed a contract with the rival Teatro de Torre Argentina for a comic opera to be delivered by mid-January! After one unsuitable subject was put aside, and by now in some haste, it was decided to base the new opera on Beaumarchais’ Le Barbier de Séville. To avoid any offence to the widely respected Paisiello, who had already composed an opera based on that story in 1782, the opera was presented as Almaviva, ossia L’inutile precauzione (the useless precaution), later reverting to the title by which we now know it. Given the time-scale, it is hardly surprising that Rossini indulged in some self-borrowings. The overture was that used for Aureliano in Palmira in 1813, and re-used with heavier orchestration for Rossini’s first Naples opera, Elisabetta. Similarly the storm scene of act 2 (CH. 23) was first heard in La Pietra del paragone (1812) (see DVD review) and subsequently in L’Occassione fe il ladro one of the five one act farsa referred to. Elsewhere in the work, Rossini developed and extended tuneful lines from earlier operas into full-blown arias and duets.

Despite Rossini’s efforts, Paisiello’s supporters created a disturbance on the first night and turned it into a fiasco. On the second night Rossini was tactfully ill and did not attend the theatre, as stipulated in his contract. The performance was an unprecedented success and the cast and supporters walked to Rossini’s lodgings carrying candles and singing tunes from the opera. After its initial seven performances in Rome the opera began to be called Il Barbiere di Siviglia. It is the only opera by Rossini to have maintained its place in the repertoire throughout its life. When Rossini met Beethoven in Vienna the great man told him only compose buffa operas like Il Barbiere. Verdi was also a great admirer of the work. 

The casting of this 1981 production was typical of the Glyndebourne practice of the time with its subtle mixture of native and foreign talents, some regulars others more transient. Many famous singers were more than happy to spend time in the ambience of Glyndebourne and profit from the extended rehearsals provided before hitting the major houses and their greater remuneration, to the benefit of all. One such is the bass Ferruccio Furlanetto whose sonorous and appropriately creepy Basilio is a strength in this performance. His La calunnia, (CH 9) is sung without exaggeration and is a pleasure to hear. Others singers such as Claudio Desderi, were happy to keep a more regular contact with Glyndebourne. He returned the following year to this Bartolo to sing Don Magnifico in the performances of La Cenerentola reviewed below. His is not a sappy bass voice but that of a buffa or character bass. That is what he portrays to perfection in this production, really living in the skin of Rossini’s Bartolo particularly with his facial expression and capacity for quickly articulated patter (CHs 10-11). John Rawnsley’s Figaro is strongly sung. His is an up-in-your-face characterisation without much variety of vocal colour in his Largo al factotum (CH 5) or general histrionic subtlety. But he looks the part and manipulates the proceedings to perfection in John Cox’s production. As Rosina, Maria Ewing tends to flounce about with a hairstyle questioning gravity in Una voce poco fa (CH 8) without convincing me of her vocal suitability for the part. Max-René Cosotti as Almaviva sings a weak Ecco, ridente in cielo (CH 3) and I was relieved that he didn’t get Almaviva’s second act aria. His decorations in the act two quintet (CHs 20-21) were only sketched. He really only convinces when he is acting the fool as either Basilio’s substitute (CHs 17-18) or as a drunken army officer seeking billets in Bartolo’s household. Catherine McCord sang Berta’s aria well (CH 22). Sylvain Cambreling on the rostrum kept the music flowing without showing any particular natural feel for Rossini’s comedy. The sound is rather two-dimensional and on the dry side.

The sets, with well-painted drops and trompe l’oeil scenery allow for quick and easy changes as with the move from the town square to Figaro’s shop in act one (CH 7) and the changes in act two. John Cox keeps the whole stage activity moving in a sensible and realistic manner without exaggeration or degenerating into slapstick although the costume given to Almaviva as the drunken billet-seeking army officer looks more like a pirate than an officer and the gentleman he has to reveal himself to be.

As a part of this collection, this performance is well worth seeing, especially at its lower price. It would not be my first choice for watching this opera. Of older offerings, the Unitel Film of 1972, based on a production directed and designed by Jean-Pierre Ponelle at La Scala, Milan and conducted by Abbado with an international cast is to be preferred (see review). There are several modern recordings available with contemporary international singers in the main roles.

DVD 2: La Cenerentola

La Cenerentola was Rossini’s 20th opera and his take on the Cinderella story. It is his most popular work after Il Barbiere di Siviglia. The libretto by Jacopo Ferretti is not based directly on Charles Perrault’s fairy tale of 1697 but was plagiarised from Pavesi’s Agatina o la virtu premiata, which had its premiere at La Scala in 1814. Originally Rossini was supposed to have set an entirely different work to open the Carnival Season at the Teatro Valle, Rome on 26 December 1816. However, on his arrival in mid-December he found the Papal Censors had rejected the proposed libretto. At a late night crisis meeting with the impresario and librettist the subject of Cinderella was agreed, as was a postponed premiere. With less than a month to go before the new first night both composer and librettist had to make compromises. Rossini borrowed the overture from his own farsa La gazzetta, written for Naples a mere five months earlier (see DVD review). He also employed a local musician, Luca Angolini, to assist him by composing all the secco recitatives as well as other pieces that are now generally omitted in performance and recordings, most of which, as here, follow Alberto Zedda’s Critical Edition.

Allen Charles Klein’s sets are intent on stressing the fairytale spirit of the score whilst the costumes are in a similar over-the-top pantomime spirit. Clorinda and Tisbe have elongated noses whilst Don Magnifico is dressed up to the nines in what must have been exaggerated old style even for the original play. As Prince Ramiro, the English lyric tenor Laurence Dale (b. 1957) looks very young and is dressed with the utmost finery, even when acting as butler. If the sets for Il barbiere were very trompe l’oeil these here are even more so with crazy-angled chairs and tables. The large model wheeled on for Ramiro’s coach crash outside Don Magnifico’s Castle is the ultimate in action and scenic sumptuousness within the spirit of the production whilst the cardboardy maze (CH 25) seemed needless. John Cox is not as easy in the bringing out of the characters as in Il barbiere. This is true of his management of Magnifico’s Sia qualunque delle figlie (CH 26) when he thinks Clorinda or Tisbe is going to be chosen as Ramiro’s bride, which is allowed to degenerate to near slapstick, and particularly that of Alidoro whose his magic moments go for little. La Ciel involves a simple drop with a pastoral scene (CH. 16).

The singing cast offers the standard Glyndebourne mix. The Italian duo of Alberto Rinaldi as Dandini and Claudio Desderi as Magnifico, with the benefit of their native language, make much of Un segreto d’importanza (CH. 30) as the servant reveals his true identity. Rinaldi is an imposing stage presence but his tone is a little dry whilst I prefer some more bass sap for Magnifico than Desderi manages. That being said, their acted portrayals, and characterisation are good whilst their diction is exemplary with Desderi being in his element in the buffa aspect (CH 20). Laurence Dale might well look very young, but his singing as Ramiro or the pseudo-butler is first class although a little more facial expression would have made for perfect casting. His lyric tenor is light and flexible and easy on the ear. His relatively short career as a singer, before moving on to design and production, yielded many recordings in early music as well as oratorio. These are well worth hearing with many now available at lower prices. As Cenerentola, Kathleen Kuhlmann sings well if not with absolute distinction. In 1982 she made her debut at Covent Garden and La Scala as well as Glyndebourne. Her angular features make her look a little old for the role and particularly as the chosen bride of this Ramiro. Her low mezzo is sonorous and her decorations are accurate whilst her concluding rondo (CH 38) maintains that standard.

As with the Comte Ory below, this film has had a previous release on DVD. It fits in more with the accompanying Il Barbiere than Comte Ory in design concept. A more recent Glyndebourne production has made it onto DVD (Opus Arte OA 0944 D). In a highly competitive field I liked a performance from Genoa in 2006 with Sonia Ganassi in the title role and Marco Vinco as Dandini (see review), whilst the Unitel film remains a classic (see review). In the context of this collection of Glyndebourne productions, and with some good singing and acting, it deserves its place in the catalogue.

DVD 3: Le Comte Ory

Following that premiere of Zelmira, his last opera seria under his contract in Naples, Rossini went to Vienna to present a season built around the composer’s works, and then to London via Paris. On his return to Paris the composer was appointed Director of the Théâtre Italien. His contract required him to present productions of his own works, and that of other composers, as well as writing new works in French for presentation at The Opéra (The Théâtre de l’Académie Royale de Musique).

The works in French were a little slow in coming, as Rossini needed to grapple with the prosody of the language and re-align his own compositional style towards that of his new hosts. Before any operas in French there was the unavoidable duty of a work to celebrate the coronation of Charles X in Rheims Cathedral in early June 1825. Called Il viaggio a Reims (A journey to Rheims - see DVD review) it was composed to an Italian libretto and presented at the Théâtre Italien on 19 June 1825. It was hugely successful in three sold-out performances after which Rossini withdrew it, considering it purely a pièce d'occasion. For his first two works in French, Rossini established a tradition, later followed by Donizetti and Verdi, of revising a proven earlier work to a new libretto. He also took into account the French liking for spectacular scenes and choral involvement in his choice of revising Maometto II of six years earlier as Le Siège de Corinthe and Moïse et Pharaon, considerably modified from the Italian language Mosé in Egitto. The latter was already in the repertory of the Théâtre Italien when Rossini put up this rival to it. Both those works were received with acclaim. Rossini used five of the nine musical numbers in the withdrawn Il viaggio a Reims in Le Comte Ory. It was premiered to similar acclaim at The Opéra on 20 August 1828. Rossini had the operatic world at his feet, but it was to be his penultimate operatic work, not caused by his death but by early retirement!

I reviewed this performance in detail when it was first issued on DVD (see review). I commented that I could not see this masterly production and performance being bettered on DVD in the near future. The high quality of the ensemble and the unity of the solo singing being matched by first rate audio quality and video direction. Then as now it deserves to be in the collection of every lover of Rossini’s music. The presentation of the details of the recording, chapters and synopsis, being in a proper booklet are a considerable improvement on that original issue where they were printed on the back of the front cover and had to be read through the translucent DVD casing.

Le Comte Ory was a Glyndebourne favourite of Vittoria Gui. His mid-1950s performance was recorded by EMI. Together with recordings of Il Barbiere and La Cenerentola it very often stood alone under the composer’s name in the catalogue for nearly twenty years. Now combined with more than passable performances of Rossini’s two other famous comedies and at mid-price this set is an excellent bargain and a memento of Glyndebourne at its best.

Robert J Farr

Further details:

Il barbiere di Siviglia - Melodramma Buffa in two acts (1816) [154:00]

Count Almaviva, an aristocrat in disguise who in enamoured of Rosina – Max-René Cosotti (tenor); Figaro, a barber and general factotum – John Rawnsley (baritone); Bartolo, a doctor and elderly guardian of Rosina and who fancies to marry her – Claudio Desderi (buffa baritone); Rosina, ward of Bartolo enamoured of Almaviva – Maria Ewing (mezzo); Basilio, a singing teacher – Ferruccio Furlanetto (bass); Berta, Dr. Bartolo’s housekeeper – Catherine McCord (mezzo); Fiorello, servant of Count Almaviva – Robert Dean (baritone)
The Glyndebourne Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sylvain Cambreling
Producer, John Cox. Designer, William Dudley. Directed for video by Dave Heather
rec. Glyndebourne Festival Opera, June 1981
Picture Format NTSC 4:3. Regios 2-6
Sound Format Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Subtitles in English, French, German and Spanish

La Cenerentola - Opera Buffa in Two Acts (1814) [151:00]
Angelina, Cenerentola or Cinderella – Kathleen Kuhlmann (mezzo); Don Ramiro,a disguised Prince and her suitor - Laurence Dale (tenor); Dandini, his servant – Alberto Rinaldi (bass); Don Magnifico, Cenerentola’s father – Claudio Desderi (buffa-bass); Alidoro, Ramiro’s tutor - Roderick Kennedy (bass); Clorinda, Cenerentola’s step sister - Marta Taddei (soprano); Tisbe, Cenerentola’s step sister – Laura Zannini (mezzo)
The Glyndebourne Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Donato Renzetti
Producer, John Cox. Designer, Allen Charles Klein. Directed for video by John Vernon
rec. Glyndebourne Festival Opera, August 1983
Picture Format NTSC 4:3 Color, Regions 2-6. Sound Format, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Subtitles in English, German and Spanish

Le Comte Ory - Opera in two acts (1828) [142:00]
Count Ory, a young and licentious nobleman, Marc Laho (tenor); Countess Adele, Annick Massis (soprano); Isolier, page to Count Ory and in love with the Countess Adele, Diana Montague (mezzo); Raimbaud, friend to Count Ory, Ludovic Tézier (baritone); Governor, tutor to Count Ory, Julien Robbins (bass); Ragonde, companion to Countess Adele, Jane Shaulis (mezzo); Young Nobleman, friend of Ory, Colin Judson (tenor); Alice, a young peasant, Stella Woodman (soprano);
The Glyndebourne Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Davis
rec. Glyndebourne Festival Opera, July 1997
Director, Jéróme Savory. Designer, Ezio Toffolutti. Directed for Video by Brian Large
Picture format NTSC 4:3. Colour. Sound in linear PCM stereo. Subtitles in English, German, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.



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