A preposterous plot, two ridiculed characters,
boy finally weds girl, all live happily ever after and all in
one act: plainly we have a farsa, a particular form of
one act opera popular at the turn of the eighteenth / nineteenth
centuries. This is the last such work that Rossini wrote (at
19) and is one of the best of that art form.
So why for all practical purposes did it disappear
from view? To which the answer would appear to be that Tancredi
was first performed within one month and L’Italiana in Algeri
within six months. This does not pretend to be in the same league.
The then evening’s entertainment would probably have been two
works of this genre plus a ballet: which probably explains why
there have been comparatively few productions over the last
This production makes up for that. It is direct,
lively and abounds in expression. The thick vein of sentimentality
running through the opera is explored to the full. The 'comic’
characters miss not a posture. It has its shortcomings but it
is a rollicking performance without irritating audience noise,
thumping feet on stage or even singers breathing.
Now before I put some detail on those generalisations,
I shall suggest to Pavane that they should give a prize to the
listener who identifies the most phrases and musical effects
which appear in later Rossini operas – this was only his ninth
and all his ‘greats’ were still to come.
The overture is the ‘bows struck on metal candle
holders’ overture and the clattering repetition is taken as
a call for breakneck speed. There is no time to pause to draw
breath before we are headlong into sentimentality and Florville’s
introduction and duettino with Mariana the maid.
Kazimierz Myrlak as Florville does not have
the most powerful voice and initially he seems distant from
the microphone. Further the orchestra are too loud in several
places, particularly early on, obscuring the voices of Myrlak
and others. However, Myrlak gradually asserts himself and it
is essential for him to do so when singing with Jan Wolanski
(Bruschino senior) and Jerzy Mahler (Gaudenzio).
These are our farsa characters and fortunately
they have distinctive bass timbres. Wolanski carries all before
him, even the ridiculous repetition of che caldo. In
the trio with Florville and Gaudenzio he sounds like a prodded
balloon which the others will soon puncture. Even in his deranged
mode later when denying the identity of his purported son (Florville)
he carries off the vocal leaping without hesitation.
Indeed there is no hesitation: two sections
of recitative are dramatically fast and are so good that unusually
the unaccompanied letter reading by Gaudenzio is my first example,
recited at a gallop with bags of expression and nothing missed.
Indeed Mahler has a superbly deep brown voice in all the recitatives
whether accompanied or not. Whilst he is not quite so comfortable
with some of the coloratura, he portrays well Gaudenzio’s lack
of comfort with himself: he seems to be the clown’s face with
a strong suggestion of inner pathos.
Dariusz Niemirowicz sings Filiberto the innkeeper
with a clear timbred voice essential to another rapid-fire recitation
and plot advancer. He manages to inject mischievous fun into
his role without reducing the quality of his tone. My real regret
is that there is not more of Halina Gorzynska who has the maid’s
tiny role. She has a delightfully clear voice.
Sofia is accorded a solo recitative and aria
with a plangent cor anglais background. Alicja Slowakiewicz,
with just a hint of shrillness at forte, delivers this with
some excellent tonal variations. As my second example I have
returned to a point partway through her duet with Florville
at the beginning of the opera. It was tempting to take an example
from her duet with Gaudenzio but that would overload the samples
in his favour. However it does demonstrate what to me is one
of the great strengths of this recording, namely that the combination
of the singers produces a result greater than the sum of the
parts. The duets and ensembles are almost all quite excellently
performed. That leads me to my third sample taken from the end
of the quartet of Bruschino’s discomfiture. The sample has Bruschino
Unfortunately whilst there is an extremely
detailed synopsis, which has the side effect of making the plot
seem even dafter than it is, there is no translation of the
libretto – which text you will certainly need if you are to
follow some of the interchanges on this crisp CD. Of the opera
I cannot improve upon Richard Osborne’s description: "a
small treasure trove of comic devices" [R. Osborne, Rossini,
The Dent Master Musicians Series, ed. S.Sadie (London: J.M.Dent,
1963) p15]. Of the performance, there are imperfections but
the treasure trove is laid before us very very entertainingly.