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Brilliant Classics

Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
The five One Act Farse composed for the Teatro San Moise, Venice. 1810-1813

Note: These are listed below in compositional order. The reviews, which follow, are in the same order. The sequence of the discs in the box is indicated in each case
La Cambiale di Matrimonio (The Bill of Marriage) (CD 7)
Farsa giocosa in one act. First performed at the Teatro San Moise, Venice, 3 November 1810
Tobia Mill, an English merchant, Bruno Pratico (bass); Fanny Mill, his daughter, Alessandra Rossi (sop); Edoardo Milfort, in love with Fanny, Maurizio Comencini (ten); Slook, a Canadian merchant, Bruno de Simone (bass); Norton, Mill’s cashier, Francesco Facini (bass); Clarina, Fanny’s chambermaid, Valeria Baiano (mezzo)
Ursula Dütschler, harpsichord
English Chamber Orchestra/Marcello Viotti
Recorded 20-23 August 1990, All Saints Church, London
1 CD [75.54]
L’Inganno Felice (The Happy Stratagem) (CD 8)
Farsa giocosa in one act. First performed at the Teatro San Moise, Venice, 8 January 1812
Batone: Natale de Carolis (bass-bar); Isabella, Amelia Felle (sop); Bertrando, Lorio Zennaro (ten); Tarabotto, Fabio Previato (bass); Ormondo, Danilo Serraiocco (bar)
Ursula Dütschler, harpsichord
English Chamber Orchestra/Marcello Viotti
Recorded 18-24 February 1992, Rosslyn Hill Chapel, London
1 CD [79.47]
La Scala di Seta (The Silken Ladder) (CDs 3 and 4)
Farsa in one act. First performed at the Teatro San Moise, Venice 9 May 1812
Germano, a servant, Alessandro Corbelli (bass); Giulia, Teresa Ringholz (sop); Dorvil, Giulia’s husband, Ramon Vargas (ten); Blansac, Natale de Carolis (bass-bar); Lucilla, Giulia’s cousin, Francesca Provvisionato (sop); Dormont, Giulia’s father, Fulvio Massa (ten)
Ursula Dütschler, harpsichord
English Chamber Orchestra/Marcello Viotti
Recorded 13–15 October 1992. Rosslyn Hill Chapel, London
[2CDs: 45.27 + 40.52]
L’occasione fa il Ladro (Opportunity Makes the Thief) (CDs 5 and 6)
Burletta per musica in one act. First performed at the Teatro San Moise, Venice 24 November 1812
Berenice, Maria Bayo (sop); Don Parmenione, Natale de Carolis (bass); Conte Alberto, Lorio Zennaro, (ten); Ernestina, Francesca Provvisionato, (sop); Martino, Fabio Previati (bass); Don Eusebio, Fulvio Massa (ten)
Ursula Dütschler, harpsichord
English Chamber Orchestra/Marcello Viotti
Recorded 18-24 February 1992. Rosslyn Hill Chapel, London
[2CDs: 43.53 + 41.16]
Il Signor Bruschino or Il Figlio per azzardo (CDs 1 and 2)
Farsa giocosa in one act. First performed at the Teatro San Moise, Venice, late January 1813
Florville, Sofia's beloved, Luca Canonici (ten); Gaudenzio, Sofia's tutor, Bruno Pratico (bar); Sofia, Patrizia Orciani (sop); Signor Bruschino, Natale de Carolis, (bass-bar) Filiberto, inn-keeper, Pietro Spagnoli (bar) Marianna, a maid, Katia Luting (mez); Bruschino Figlio, Signor Bruschino son, Fulvio Massa (ten)
Ursula Dütschler, harpsichord
I Filarmonica di Torino/Marcello Viotti
Recorded October 1988. Scuolo di Alto, Perfezionamento Musicale Saluzzo, Turin, Italy
[2CDs: 43.32 + 40.02]
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92399 [8CDs: 75.54 + 79.47 + 45.27 + 40.52 + 43.53 + 41.16 + 43.32 + 40.02]


Gioachino Rossini was born in Pesaro, a small town on the Adriatic on 29 February 1792. Both his parents were musicians. His father, an Italian nationalist, was briefly imprisoned in 1800 by the Papal authorities. This may well have influenced Rossini’s later lukewarm attitude towards the unification cause so fervently espoused by Verdi and other creative artists. As a young man Gioachino was an accomplished singer. Whether this skill was the basis or motivation for his compositional skills is not known. By 1805, as well as singing in Paer’s Camilla in Bologna, by then his home-town, he had composed the six sonate a quattro as well as overtures and several masses. At age 14 he entered the Bologna Liceo Musicale. In his time there he put the gloss of academic rigour on his innate compositional gifts. His first opera was composed during his time as a student and was to a commission by the tenor Domenico Marbelli. Marbelli, together with his two daughters, formed the nucleus of an itinerant operatic group of a type commonly found at that time. That work, Demetrio e Polibio, was not staged until May 1812 by which time five of Rossini’s other works had been, including three of the farse included here.

The Teatro San Moise in Venice was the smallest of the theatres regularly presenting opera in that city. The audience expected new works and the impresario would commission several each season guaranteeing at least three performances to each. The theatre was run on a shoestring and such farse required little scenery or staging. Given that the San Moise had a good roster of singers it was an ideal opportunity for Rossini when another composer reneged on his contract and he was offered the opportunity to replace him. La Cambiale di Matrimonio with its pace, energy and wit was well received. At age twenty Rossini’s career was off to a cracking start.

In the chronological sequence of these recordings, originally issued separately by Claves, La Cambiale di Matrimonio (CD 7 in this set) was second. Most significantly the recording venue changed to All Saints Tooting. This is a venue notorious difficult to tame in respect of reverberation. The original recording engineers didn’t manage it. The voices have a bathroom acoustic added to which the orchestra is too recessed. These factors do limit enjoyment of the work. Nonetheless its vitality shines through, aided by Marcello Viotti’s stylish and idiomatic conducting. The singing is variable. In my review of Naxos’s recently issued recording of Il Signor Bruschino I criticised Alessandra Rossi’s singing as lacking both agility and steady legato. In this recording, made ten years earlier, she is no better. She sounds thin, even acidic, despite the excess bloom around the voice (CD 7 tr. 13). Maurizio Comencini as the suitor Edoardo lacks spontaneity and is unsteady at times. Thankfully, because the work deserves better, Bruno Pratico as Tobia and Bruno de Simone as Snook are real Rossinian troupers. Their duet (CD 7 tr. 13) is superb, whilst in solo both sing and characterise well.

It was a full year after La Cambiale that Rossini’s next opera was staged. It was a relative failure. However, the Teatro San Moise was eager for another Rossini farsa and L’Inganno Felice was premiered to acclaim. Within a year it had been staged in Bologna, Florence, Verona and Trieste as well as at the Teatro San Benedetto, second only to La Fenice in Venice. The innate quality of the music also enabled Rossini to use the opera as a calling card when he settled in Naples in 1815. He was also able to secure performances in Paris in 1824, although the work had already been heard at the Theatre Italian in the latter city in 1819. Most importantly for this series of recordings, L’Inganno Felice, La Scala di Seta and L’occasione fa il Ladro, numbers two, three and four in Rossini’s compositional sequence, were recorded in a more suitable venue in terms of balance and reverberation than La Cambiale. This enables the listener to hear the composer’s inventive and characterful orchestration more clearly. As with La Cambiale the singing is variable with the lower voices well taken. Natale de Carolis as Batone is well tuned but lacks some sap in the voice (CD 8 tr. 6) whilst the Ormondo of Danilo Serraiocco is impressively full toned (CD 8 tr. 10). Good vocal flexibility is in evidence in the duet between Batone and Tarabotto (CD 8 tr. 12). Regrettably, whilst the tenor of Lorio Zennaro has pleasing timbre he is not ideally steady (CD 8 tr. 4). Amelia Felle as Isabella is rather raw-toned in her aria (CD 8 tr. 14) as she declares her love for her long lost husband.

After his sacred opera, Ciro in Babilonia was premiered in Ferrara for Lent, Rossini was back at the Teatro San Moise in May to present La Scala di Seta. This was the last of the farse recorded by Claves. Again using Rosslyn Hill Chapel. Spread over two CDs (3-4) it is a scintillating piece with bright orchestral colours and distinctive writing for the woodwind. The silken ladder of the title is used nightly by Dorvil to join Giulia who he has secretly married. She is still living in the house of Dormont, her father, who wishes her to marry Blansac who is loved by Lucilla. The opera’s overture is amongst Rossini’s most popular and Viotti brings out its character well with strong rhythms and good string work. The cast is amongst the best in the series with Alessandro Corbelli outstanding as Germano and Teresa Ringholz up to the heroine’s task with agility and warm tone. Their duet (CD 3 tr. 4) is Rossini coloratura singing of the highest order. The young Ramon Vargas as Giulia’s husband sings with pleasing tone and without strain and one wishes he had more to sing.

Nine days after the premiere of La Scala di Seta Rossini’s very first opera, Demetrio e Polibio, was staged in Rome. By 1820, as Rossini’s fame spread, it had been staged elsewhere in Italy as well as in Vienna, Dresden and Munich. Thereafter it disappeared until a revival in 1979. A recording exists on the Bongiovanni label.

Back in Bologna Rossini received a commission to compose an opera for La Scala, which was then, as now, the leading opera house in Italy. The two-act opera buffa La pietra del paragone was premiered on 26 September 1812. It was a big success and ran for no fewer than fifty-three performances in its first season. In my review of the recent Naxos issue of a recording made at the Bad Wildbad Festival in 2001 I recount how the work not only made Rossini the pre-eminent young opera composer in Italy, but also got him exemption from military service.

Whatever his new found eminence, Rossini, not yet 21 years of age, was loyal to the Teatro San Moise and accepted two further commissions for one act farse. The first of these was L’occasione fa il Ladro (CDs. 5-6). He composed the score in eleven days. It was not received with enthusiasm and was dropped after five performances. However, as Rossini’s fame spread it was revived in Barcelona (1822), Lisbon (1826), St Petersburg (1830) and Vienna (1834). Its first UK performance was at the 1987 Buxton Festival. In the summer season 2004, Opera North presented it as Love’s Luggage Lost.

L’occasione fa il Ladro (CDs 5-6) is described as a burletta and revolves round a typical farsa libretto involving mistakenly exchanged suitcases at a country inn. The work was recorded at the same series of sessions as L’Inganno Felice and several singers appear in both works. It is unique among the five farse, and unusual in the Rossini oeuvre, in having no formal overture. Instead a brief andante prelude leads into allegro storm music of the kind that is familiar in several of Rossini’s operas, both buffa and seria. As in L’Inganno Felice the tenor Lorio Zennaro whilst having a light, if dryish timbre and a pleasing heady tone, is not always steady (CD 5 tr. 3). This is also in evidence in his delightful aria D’ogni piu sacro (CD 6 tr. 2). He duets well with the Ernestina of Francesca Provvisionato (CD 5 tr. 9) whose singing is a pleasure throughout. Maria Bayo as Berenice is rather careful in her introduction to Vieino e il momento but flings off the coloratura with accuracy, aplomb and warm tone (CD 5 tr. 7). Both female singers are dependable and characterful throughout. The buffo character of the work is underscored by the music for Don Parmenione sung by Natale de Carolis and Martino sung by the character bass Fabio Previati. As in the other operas in the series these two nicely contrasted voices are towers of strength, singing with accuracy and bringing out the character of their parts. Their contrasting voices and well articulated fast singing is particularly good in duet (CD 5 tr.5). Viotti shapes the melodies and moves the music along well. Why L’occasione fa il Ladro was not better received at the Teatro San Moise I do not know. In a city where the opera theatres also reflected social undercurrents may have been significant. Certainly, the fact that the composer had signed a contract to produce an opera for the prestigious La Fenice was well known and his upward movement may have caused resentment. This is certainly suggested as one reason for the lukewarm response at Teatro San Moise to Il Signor Bruschino, the last of the five farse, when it was premiered two months later.

As I have intimated Il Signor Bruschino was not well received at the Teatro San Moise. In my review of the recent Naxos issue of a 2002 studio recording I suggest additional, musical reasons, why this might have been the case. It was several decades later that the work was revived in Milan (1844), Madrid (1858), Berlin (1858) and Brussels (1859). It is now recognised as the most musically innovative and mature of Rossini’s farse. There is more spoken dialogue than in previous works which may not have pleased the San Moise audience. In this performance, as with the Naxos, an all-Italian cast move this on swiftly and easily.

Il Signor Bruschino (CD 1-2) was the first of these five farse recorded by Claves. Recorded in Turin, the sound is a little flat and the players do not have the brio of their English counterparts. The tenor and soprano pairing of Luca Canonici and Patrizia Orciani as the lovers is the best of the series. Their long duet (CD 1 tr. 2) is a vocal highlight of this issue. In the character part of Gaudenzio, Bruno Pratico sings strongly (CD 1 tr. 6) although he is drier in tone than Tobia Mill in Il Cambiale (CD 7). Natale de Carolis as Bruschino is his characterful and dependable self, as he has been on four of these recordings. This is certainly a better all round performance than the Naxos issue with Viotti finding plenty of humour in the music.

Whilst this collection from the Brilliant label has cast weaknesses, it is an excellent idea to issue all the one act farse in one collection and the company are to be commended for doing so. I cannot see it being rivalled in the near future and at its price all lovers of Rossini and the bel canto period should add it to their collection. The discs are contained in cardboard slipcases in a robust box. The downside is that the brief booklet essays are badly translated and poorly proof read. More importantly, there is no list of the operas with reference to the appropriate pages in the supplied librettos that are printed in full but without translation. Nor are the track numbers easy to pick out in the librettos. The sequence of the recordings is haphazard, rather than by chronology of composition, which adds to the unnecessary frustrations. Nonetheless my advice is to go out and buy whilst the opportunity is there.

Robert J Farr

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