> Rossini - L' Equivoco Stravagante [CMG]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
L'Equivoco Stravagante: opera in two acts (complete)
Ernestina: Petia Petrova (mezzo-soprano)
Gamberotto: Marco di Felice (baritone)
Buralicchio: Marco Vinco (bass)
Rosalia: Monica Minarelli (mezzo-soprano)
Frontino: Eduardo Santamaria (tenor)
Ermanno: Dario Schmunck (tenor)
Czech Chamber Orchestra
Czech Chamber Soloists/Alberto Zedda
Rec. 14 and 16 July 2001, Kursaal, Bad Wildbad, Germany DDD
NAXOS 8.660087-88 [137'18"]


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L'Equivoco Stravagante is Rossini's third opera, preceded only by Demetrio e Polibio (1808) and La Cambiale di Matrimonio (1810). It had its first performance on 26 October 1811. The opera was taken off after its third performance and, apparently, went unrevived until an edition by Vito Frazzi was produced in Siena in 1965. The Italian radio aired a performance in 1974 and now Naxos have issued a recording compiled from two performances at the 2001 Rossini in Wildbad Festival in a new critical edition by Marco Beghelli and Stefano Piana.

The opera's early demise cannot be attributed to the quality of Rossini's invention. It was the libretto which caused offence, centred as it is on the device of a woman pretending to be a castrated male pretending to be a woman. This, in 1811 when the subject of male mutilation for musical ends was a very, well, touchy issue! Too much so for the local censor who objected as well to the numerous doubles entendres and leering innuendos scattered throughout the text. Non-Italian speakers will have to take most of this on faith as Naxos, whilst commendably including a complete Italian libretto with the set, have neglected to provide an English, or any other, translation. There is, however, a fairly detailed synopsis cued to the musical numbers.

Though Naxos proclaim theirs a "World Premiere" recording, in fact both of the previous productions I mentioned were issued on disc, the Siena performance as one of Edward J Smith's "Golden Age of Opera" LP sets (EJS 348) and the RAI relay on the Bongiovanni "Golden Age of Opera" CD label (GAO 154). As the former included amongst its cast Margherita Rinaldi and Pietro Bottazzo and the latter included Margherita Guglielmi, Rolando Panerai, and Sesto Bruscantini, it can be claimed that they are by no means wholly superseded by the new issue. Still, on several scores the Naxos is to be preferred even apart from the fact that it alone of the three editions is readily available.

As the notes inform us, Rossini, never one to waste a good tune, several times raided the score of this opera to add to newer works. So experienced Rossinians will experience several instances, beginning with the overture, of déja entendu. In fact the first few numbers, while attractive enough, are conventional in matter and manner. Then the first major ensemble appears and everybody - composer, artists and (as can be deduced from their reaction at its conclusion), the audience - wakes up; from there to the end it's an exhilarating ride and, on the whole, a well executed one.

The vocal standout is undoubtedly the young Bulgarian mezzo-soprano Petia Petrova in the principal female role. She is yet another of those "Rossini mezzos," seemingly able to field the composer's most fiendishly dazzling ornaments with ease. She runs up and down and all around the scales with dizzying facility and contributes lively characterisation in the midst of it all. Most impressive.

Her tenor, Dario Schmunck, has a very pretty voice which he uses quite well. There is just a hint now and then of insecurity at the top of his range to spoil his achievement.

Marco di Felice sings the demanding principal baritone role with technical aplomb and a lively sense of character. The others are all more than adequate in their parts.

It is an irony of today's opera world that even major theatres have the devil's own time trying adequately to cast an Aida or Gioconda but there seems to be no lack of young artists, as here, who though not world-famous names, can sing difficult Rossini scores as though to the manner born.

An important support of their efforts surely comes from having the experienced Rossini specialist Alberto Zedda at the conductor's desk. He gets his soloists to run with the reckless Rossinian ensembles, but never at a cost to proper singing. There is little of the vocal mugging that used to be such an inescapable feature (and trial) of "funny" roles in Rossini opera.

So, in fine, it must be said again, as so often, that Naxos have come up with a real winner. At the price, an irresistible bargain for all lovers of Rossini's genius.

Calvin M Goodwin

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