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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
The Great Rossini Overtures

La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie)
Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville)
La scala di seta (The Silken Ladder)
Eduardo e Cristina
L'italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers)
La donna del lago (The Lady of the Lake)
Guillaume Tell (William Tell)
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra/Ola Rudner
Recorded March and October 2002 in the Federation Concert Hall, Hobart, Tasmania
ABC CLASSICS 476 259-9 [76.23]


The booklet accompanying this issue quotes Stendalís Vie de Rossini (Life of Rossini) extolling the composerís popularity in Paris. It was to that city that Rossini went in 1823 after his successes in Naples and where he had taken operatic form to new dramatic heights. Rossini left Italy as the most popular composer of his time. Aged 31 he had written 34 operas, the best of which formed the backbone of the repertoire in the theatres of his native country. Rossini became the director of the Theatre Italian in Paris. He was contracted to present and compose works for his own theatre and The Opera. Rossini staged productions, often with new music, of his most advanced Neapolitan operas including Semiramide and La Donna del Lago. He also composed the last and most romantic of his operas, William Tell, which was premiered at the Opera in 1829. It was his last operatic composition. He retired at the height of his fame and powers.

This collection of nine overtures titled ĎThe Great Rossini Overturesí includes those from the major works named above (trs. 6, 8 and 9). Certainly eight of the piece featured would be in most definitions of his greatest, most substantial and popular overtures. The exception is the rarity Eduardo e Cristina (tr. 4). This two-act work was the composerís 28th opera. It was presented at Veniceís Teatro St Benedetto in April 1819 some six months before La Donna del Lago. Although the opera itself contained much re-cycled work, the overture was original and is striking in melody and structure.

Rossiniís recycling of his overtures is well known, even notorious seen from todayís perspective. As the booklet explains the overture was intended to settle the audience chatter in readiness for the arrival of the singers. The concept of the overture as a vehicle of themes or motifs related to the opera in question was to come later with Verdi and Wagner. Twenty or so years ago in the UK, operatic overtures were the bonne bouche of concerts whose main dishes were a concerto and symphony.

The period of LP and CD brought about many collections of overtures often devoted to one composer. Several distinguished conductors have set down collections of Rossiniís most substantial and popular overtures, as found on this CD. The most complete collection in that by Neville Marriner with the orchestra of St Martinís in the Fields on Philips which features no fewer than 24. This might be considered the definitive collection although it should be realised that several of this number are relatively brief preludes. Riccardo Chailly on a Double Decca issue features 14, missing out the Eduardo e Cristina and La Donna del Lago included here. Both the Philips and the Decca issues have the smell of grease-paint and theatre about them. Their larger orchestral forces in comparison to those here also add to the sonic impact although it can be argued that smaller numbers of players might better reflect practice of the compositional period. What is more important is the turn of the wrist and springing rhythms that those conductors bring.

These recordings are well played in a rather straight-laced manner. They are played more as orchestral introductions to a concert than overtures to an opera. Many will consider the interpretations none the worse for that. With his expanding work in the opera pit, conductor Ola Rudner may look back on this recording as work in progress. Given the clear open recording there is much to enjoy here even if the interpretations are rather strait-laced.

Robert J Farr

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