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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
L'equivoco stravagante (A Bizarre Deception) - Dramma giocoso in Two Acts.
Libretto by Gaetano Gasbarri
Edition of the Deutsche Rossini Gesellschaft revised by Marco Beghelli and Stefano Piana.
Prepared for the Rossini in Widbad Festival.
First performed at the Teatro del Corso, Bologna on 26th October 1811
Ernestina, Gamberotto's literature-loving daughter ... Petia Petrova (mezzo);
Gamberotto, a newly rich farmer ... Marco Di Felice (bass-bar);
Buralicchio, rich, young and stupid, betrothed to Ernestina ... Marco Vinco (bass);
Ermanno, a poor young man, in love with Ernestina ... Dario Schmunck (lyric ten);
Rosalia, a servant of Ernestina, Monica Minarelli (mez);
Frontino, Gamberotto's servant and Ermanno's confidant ... Eduardo Santamaria (ten)
Czech Chamber Chorus
Czech Chamber Soloists/Alberto Zedda
Recorded live July 14th and 16th 2001 in the Kursaal, Bad Wildbad, Germany, during the Rossini in Wildbad Festival
World Premiere Recording
NAXOS OPERA CLASSICS. 8.660087-88 [75.20 + 72.07]

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In the present day in the UK, with its egalitarian credo, it is difficult to imagine that a mere fifty years ago the best way of becoming a lawyer or doctor was to be the offspring of a male member of the chosen profession. Three hundred years before that, the social divisions between the classes, as much as between the professional and the artisan, were as insurmountable as those preventing passing from the nouveau riche to the aristocracy. Rossiniís aspirations and abilities would have been as of nought were it not for the professional contacts of his parents.

Born in Pesaro, a small city on the Adriatic on 29 February 1792, both Rossiniís parents were musicians. His father was a horn player of some ability whilst his mother, an untrained soprano, sang small roles in opera. The Rossiniís settled in Bologna and at the young age of 14 the young Gioachino became a member of the local Accademia Filarmonica, a singular honour for one so young. By the age of 12 he had composed Masses and the six Ďsonate a quatroí. At age 14 he entered the Liceo Musicale and was reported to have devoured the music of Haydn and Mozart. More importantly he supplied display arias for insertion into operas by other composers being performed in Bologna, a common practice. With the encouragement of the tenor Domenico Mombelli, a friend of the family, he composed his first opera, Demetrio e Polibio around 1807, although it was not performed until 1812 on his becoming better known.

Rossiniís real chance came in 1810, with a commission from Veniceís Teatro San Moise. A German composer had reneged on his contract and through the good offices of Giovanni Morandi and his wife, friends of Rossiniís parents and members of the Teatro Moise Company, the young and inexperienced aspiring composer was commissioned in his stead. The theatre was ideal for his debut as it had been for several other composers. There was a good company of singers and a simple set for each farsa kept expenses for the impresario to a minimum. Rossiniís La cambiale di matrimonio was premiered on 3 November and he went on to compose another four one-act farsa for the theatre in the following 27 months (review). However, it was a full year before Rossiniís next opera L'equivoco stravagante was premiered on 26 October 1811 at his hometown theatre. Written when Rossini was only nineteen it is part social satire and part opera buffa. The plot revolves around the efforts of a scheming servant, Frontono, to break the relationship between Ernestina, daughter of the nouveau riche farmer Gamberotto, and her wealthy but stupid suitor Buralicchio. He does this so that the penniless Ermanno might seek to have his love for Ernestina requited. Buralicchio is deceived into believing Ernestina is in fact Gamberottoís castrated son dressed in womenís clothes so as to avoid military service. This bizarre deception of the title eventually leads to a happy ending.

Although the opera was well received by the audience, the vigilant prefecture considered it corrupting and moved to suppress it after only its initial three contracted performances. Rossini, as was usual among composers of the day, when an opera might only be seen for a small number of performances in one town, pillaged his own music recycling it in later works. It is not correct that the overture, as quickly becomes apparent, is that which Rossini used again in Il Barbiere and with greater orchestral complexity in Elisabetta, his first Naples opera. The original autograph score is lost. This version, a World Premiere Recording made at the 2001 Rossini in Wildbad Festival, was prepared for the Deutsche Rossini Gesellschaft from contemporary manuscripts in Europe and America. The veracity of the scholarship involved is confirmed by the imprimatur conferred by the presence of the renowned Rossini scholar and conductor Alberto Zedda on the podium.

For a nineteen-year-old composer, Líequivoco stravagante is an ambitiously long piece. It also shows Rossini already prepared to push out the accepted conventions. He gives a much greater prominence to ensembles over solos and secco recitatives, with varying elements mixed in a manner that would become a distinctive hallmark of his compositions. In this performance the composerís distinctive brio takes a few pages to pick up pace. This is, I suspect, more to do with the young composer than with the expert Rossini conductor Alberto Zedda who, once the story is under way, paces it with distinction, although the outbursts of flaccid applause do little for dramatic verisimilitude. The team of relatively young singers contribute to the freshness of the opera in both their individual solos and particularly in the vibrancy they bring to the ensembles and finales, where Zedda is particularly strong. The Bulgarian mezzo Petia Petrova (b. 1973) as Ernestina has a full-toned and flexible voice. Her fioritura runs are secure and well articulated (CD 2 trs. 6 and 12). As her impecunious would-be lover, Ermano, the Argentinean Dario Schmunck has a bright and forward lyric tenor voice with good diction and plenty of metal in his tone (CD 2 trs. 6 and 12). There is a typical Rossinian duet between the lovers (CD 1 tr. 18) that precedes the terzetto and act 1 finale (CD 1. trs. 20 and 21) and this has real brio. Gamberotto, the newly rich farmer is sung by the baritone Marco Di Felice (b. 1964). He is strong-voiced and whilst getting only a brief aria (CD 2 tr. 10) plays a full and characterful part in the many duets, trios and ensembles. As the rich, young and stupid Buralicchio, Ivo Vinco (b. 1977) adds to his growing reputation with a well-sung and portrayed characterisation. His bass voice is firm with a welcome clarity of diction (CD 1 trs 5-7). The mezzo Monica Minarelli, as Ernestinaís servant Rosalia, is vocally lighter and with a quick vibrato is aurally distinct from her mistressís bigger and more creamy tone (CD 1 tr. 16).

The Naxos booklet has a track-listing with cast and timings. There is also a track-related synopsis given in English, French, German and Italian. This is essential in following the full libretto, which is in Italian without translation, and is made easier by the clearly delineated track markings. The recording is well balanced between the voices and orchestra. World Premiere Recordings are not common and this addition to the rapidly filling discography of Rossiniís 39 operas makes a welcome appearance in the catalogue. The work gives even more indications than any of the five farsa, except perhaps Il Signor Bruschino, of the riches that were in store from Rossiniís pen as he went on to become the universally recognised father of bel canto. Highly recommended.

Robert J Farr

see also review by Calvin Goodwin


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