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The thirty-nine operas of Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)

A conspectus of their composition and recordings

Gioachino Rossini was born on February 29th 1792 in Pesaro on the Adriatic coast of what we now call Italy and which at that time was a series of separate states under foreign occupation. He died in 1868 at the age of 75 with his serious operas swept from the performing stage by the works of Verdi.

After his death Rossini was mainly remembered for his comic operas, particularly his eleventh work L’Italiana in Algeri of 1813, his sixteenth Il Barbiere di Siviglia of 1815 and La Cenerentola, his twentieth, first performed at the Teatro Valle, Rome, on 25th January 1817. At the death of Beethoven in 1827 Rossini was widely regarded as the foremost composer of his day. At the height of his fame he was fêted in Vienna, where he met Beethoven, in England where he sang duets with the King, and in Paris where he was appointed director of the Théâtre Italien.

Rossini presented his final opera in 1829, thirty-nine years before his death! It was, coincidentally, his thirty-ninth opera and although he received many proposals for further operatic works he resisted them all. In later years he composed over one hundred and fifty pieces for performance at the ‘Samedi soirs’ held at the Paris home he shared with his second wife Olympe. He referred to these pieces as ‘Pêches de vieillesse’ (sins of old age).

There were also the significant religious pieces, the Stabat Mater (1832 and 1842) and La Petite Messe Solennelle (1864 and 1867). original version recorded live at Compiègne). These latter pieces arose from particular circumstances and friendships.

As to the reasons behind Rossini’s premature retirement after Guillaume Tell, one of the most glorious and romantic of operatic scores, there is only conjecture. Although he worked on at the Théâtre Italien Rossini was in poor physical and mental health with persistent and painful urethritis from chronic gonorrhoea, a consequence of too many nights in the arms of Venus as one of his friends explained. This condition meant frequent and painful catheterisations as well as other stringent and debilitating treatments; there were no antibiotics in those days! More significantly perhaps, was that after Guillaume Tell, when he had taken a year over the composition, he feared return to the pressurised compositional demands of his early years.

From 1811 to 1818 he composed and staged at least three operas each year. This pace of creativity was necessary for a composer to earn a living. There were no copyright laws in, or between, any of the Italian states. Also a composer’s score belonged to the impresario of the theatre who had commissioned the work. The composer received his fee for delivering the work and seeing it presented on the stage. He was required to be present at the keyboard for the first three performances in case the orchestra lost their way, a not unusual circumstance in Italy where only the La Scala theatre in Milan and San Carlo in Naples had a full time professional orchestra. Elsewhere, as Rossini himself noted in Rome, his barber of the morning might be an orchestral player at the evening performance. In Il Barbiere di Siviglia the tenor at the premiere, Manuel Garcia, was paid three times the composer’s fee and the soprano twice as much! No wonder Rossini needed to write rapidly and travel widely to make a living let alone secure his future.

Given the pressures of composition, Rossini, like Bach, Haydn, Paisiello and Cimarosa before him, did not hesitate to re-use themes or sections of music from an earlier work which had not been heard in the city of the new composition. It was a common practice of the time and not a reflection on Rossini’s personal predilection for socialising on arrival in the city scheduled for his new work and before settling down to compose in his usual speedy and felicitous manner.

Rossini’s father was a professional horn player and his mother an untrained, but skilled, soprano who sang small parts in opera. By age 13, as well as singing in Paer’s opera Camilla in Bologna to which city the family had moved, the young Gioachino had composed the admired ‘six sonate a quatro’ as well as several overtures and masses. At 14 he entered the Liceo Musicale in Bologna 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.

His first opera was composed during his time as a student to a commission by the tenor Domenico Marbelli who, together with his two daughters, formed the nucleus of an itinerant operatic group commonly found at that time. That work, Demetrio e Polibio, (No 1) was not staged until May 1812 by which time five of Rossini’s other works had been presented. A CD issue of a live performance from the 1992 Valle d’Itria Festival was issued on the Dynamic label in 1997 (CDS 171).

On record Rossini’s operas have had a chequered existence. In the first twenty years of LPs only the three popular comic operas, plus conductor Gui’s Glyndebourne Le Comte Ory, Callas in Il Turco in Italia and one opera seria had anything approaching a regular presence in the catalogue. That situation only really changed in the mid-1970s when, under Erik Smith’s guidance, Philips embarked on a series of recordings of Rossini’s Naples opera seria. The arrival of the Pesaro Festival in the early 1980s stimulated live recordings, as at a later date did performances from the Bad Wildbad Festival.

The present situation is that most of Rossini’s operas have been available in audio recordings with gaps rapidly being filled by Opera Rara and Naxos. I use the past tense regarding availability because many of the early live performances from Pesaro, and which appeared on CBS and Sony, are not currently available and the same applies to a number of studio recordings from the Universal stable. Some of the latter are reappearing at cheaper price.

Particularly welcome is the emergence on DVDs of a number of works including at least two that have no current audio performance in the catalogue. Except where links are provided to reviews on Musicweb, I provide catalogue numbers of the last availability of a particular opera of which I have knowledge, but this can only be a guide.

In the first decades of the 19th century every major city in the states of Italy boasted two or even three theatres presenting opera, which was the popular entertainment among the population whatever, their social status. The audience expected new works and the impresario would commission several each season guaranteeing at least three performances to each. Impresarios clamoured and competed for new works from established composers. The problem for aspiring composers was getting a foot on the ladder. Rossini was lucky when a German composer reneged on his contract at the Teatro San Moisè in Venice. The smallest of Venice’s three theatres, it was run on a shoestring and staged ‘farse’ (comic opera) which required little scenery or staging. Members of the San Moisè theatre troupe, who were friends of Rossini’s family, successfully pressed the claims of the young Gioachino to replace the German.

Rossini’s first staged opera, La Cambiale Di Matrimonio (No. 2) was premiered at the theatre on November 30th 1810; Rossini was 19 years old. The work has pace energy and wit. It was well received and Rossini’s career was off to an encouraging start, its success leading to contracts for another four. These were premiered between January 1812 and January 1813. The four, and their number in Rossini’s compositional sequence were L’Inganno Felice, (The Happy Stratagem) (No. 4), La Scala Di Sieta, (The Silken Ladder) No. 6, L’occasione fa il Ladro, (Opportunity Makes the Thief) (No. 8) and Il Signor Bruschino, (No. 9). Claves recorded all five in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the conductor Marcello Viotti making the most of the young Rossini’s modest innovations and scintillating tunes. The Brilliant label have re-issued this collection at bargain price (review). Despite some individual vocal limitations, and an over-resonant acoustic for La Cambiale Di Matrimonio, the set provides an unequalled opportunity to hear these works, some of which are not available elsewhere. Of those that are, there is an excellently cast and recorded L’Inganno Felice, (Erato 0630-17579-2) and a starry cast Il Signor Bruschino (DG 435 856-2). The latter rather eclipses the Naxos issue except on price.

It was another year after the premiere of La Cambiale Di Matrimonio before Rossini’s next opera, was staged at his hometown of Bologna. During this period Rossini earned a sparse living as a coach at the Accademia dei Concordi in Bologna and by conducting works of other composers. He received a commission to write an opera for the Bologna’s Teatro del Corso and provided with the libretto of L’equivoco stravagante (No 3) (A Bizarre Deception). (review) This work was very well received by the audience but was withdrawn after its initial three contracted performances when the local prefecture considered its plot immoral and corrupting! Rossini re-used some of the music to good effect in later operas but not, as is sometimes reported, its overture for Il Barbiere Di Siviglia. The opera is ambitiously long for a nineteen year old with the prominence of ensembles over solos and secco recitatives being of particular note. The Naxos performance from the Bad Wildbad Festival, which is known as the Pesaro of the north, is a World Premier Recording and is thoroughly recommendable.

Rossini composed two other works in the intervals between the five Teatro San Moise farse. The first was Ciro in Babilonia, (No. 5). This work, based on the subject of Belshazzar’s feast was written by the twenty-year-old Rossini for Ferrara and premiered there on March 14th 1812. It was performed at the Bad Wildbad Festival in 2004 and a recording is in preparation from Naxos. An earlier performance conducted by Carlo Rizzi was available on the Akademia label (CDAK 105). The second work, La Pietra del Paragone, (No. 7), (review) was premiered at La Scala, Milan on September 26th 1812. Then, as now, La Scala was the premier opera house in Italy. Its commission indicates that Rossini was making rapid progress in the competitive business of opera composition. This two-act opera buffa was an instant success and performed over fifty times during the season with Rossini being widely hailed as Italy’s leading young composer. The work allowed Rossini to show off his skills as a romantic scene painter. It was in the finale of La Pietra del Paragone that the public first heard the Rossini crescendo. Most importantly, and as a consequence of its success, Rossini was exempted military service; very useful when there were 90,000 Italian conscripts sustaining heavy losses in the Peninsular War and on the Russian Campaign! Despite its reputation La Pietra del Paragone has not fared well on record. A 1971 recording featuring the young Carreras (Vanguard) has long been unavailable and the reviewed recording from the 2001 Bad Wildbad festival is welcome despite limitations. Other live recordings, mostly deriving from Italian theatres, are to be found on the Nuova Era label. They list one of La Pietra del Paragone (7132-33) conducted by Claudio Desderi the renowned Rossini buffa who is the non-too sprightly conductor of Naxos’ Il Signor Bruschino.

Il Signor Bruschino
[review] is now recognised as the most musically mature and innovative of Rossini’s farse although at the time it was not well received. The audience may not have responded to there being more spoken dialogue than in the four earlier works in the series that they had liked and applauded. Also it was widely known in Venice that within six weeks of the premier of Bruschino Rossini was scheduled to present Tancredi at La Fenice, the most prestigious, and more socially elite, Venetian theatre. Maybe his audience resented his desertion of the San Moisè. After all that theatre had premiered five of his one act farse written between 1810 and 1813 of which Bruschino was the last. Or, as has been suggested, the work moved contemporary conventions a little too far for his audience. The tapping of music stands by violinist’s bows early in the overture, for example, might not have gone down well with the conservative opera-goers of the San Moisè who knew what they liked and liked what they knew best.

The clientele of Venice’s La Fenice were more sophisticated musically than their fellow citizens at the Teatro San Moisè, and with Tancredi, (No. 10) (review) Rossini fulfilled all their expectations. Based on Voltaire’s tragedy, but given a happy ending, its catchy tune from the cavatina Di tanti palpiti became the whistle tune in Italian streets until displaced by Verdi’s La donna e mobile forty years later. For the second staging in Ferrara a few weeks after the Venice premiere on February 6th 1813, Rossini wrote a tragic ending to match Voltaire. Both versions provide an ideal vehicle for a dramatic mezzo in the title role. The bargain price Naxos issue (review) of the original ending is superbly served by Ewa Podles’ interpretation and characterisation of Tancredi and where her vocal quality is matched by the coloratura of Sumi Jo as Tancredi’s lover. Marilyn Horne did much to revive this opera and her interpretation, again in the tragic ending, was recorded live at La Fenice in 1983 with the great singer at the peak of her powers (CBS M3K 39073). Also available is a 1978 studio recording with Fiorenza Cossotto giving a well-sung interpretation of the title role (Warner Fonit 5050466-1814-2-8). There is a DVD available from Arthaus Musik (100 206).

Whilst Rossini’s reputation was on the rise in the states of Italy, Tancredi spread his reputation more widely. It is the earliest of the composer’s opera seria and can be seen not only as the epitome of bel canto but also, more significantly, as the stirring of Romanticism in Italian opera. It is no accident that the work has played a significant role in the revival of bel canto operas that emerged in the second half of the twentieth century. In 1992, the bicentenary of Rossini’s birth, it was chosen for concert performances at the renowned Salzburg Festival.

After his visit to Ferrara to present the revised Tancredi, Rossini returned to Venice to write and to present L’Italiana in Algeri, (No. 11), at the Teatro San Benedetto Theatre on 22nd May 1813. It is the earliest of the composer’s truly great full-length comedies. He claimed to have composed the work in a mere eighteen days and it certainly has speed as well as felicitous melodies. It was rapturously received and although it fell from the repertoire for a period early in the 20th century it was revived for the Spanish coloratura Conchita Supervia in 1925. It is one of the few Rossini operas to have had a presence in the catalogue since the early days of LP. The overture is most appealing with the, by now, inevitable crescendo to go along with a tuneful brio. The role of the feisty Isabella as the eponymous heroine has drawn many of the great post-Second World War mezzos to record it. Of particular note are the recordings by Marilyn Horne (Erato 2292-45404-2 in 1981) [highlights], Agnes Baltsa (DG 427 331-2) in 1987 and most recently Jennifer Larmore in 1997 (Teldec 0630-17130-2). Lucia Valentini-Terrani recorded the role twice. On the second of her recordings (Arts Archives 43048-2) (review) she is in full-toned voice, her flexible coloratura and facility in vocal characterisation combining to give an outstanding portrayal. The rest of the Italian cast bring a welcome clarity of enunciation and relish to their words despite a rather resonant recording.

Tancredi and L’Italiana in Algeri launched Rossini on an unstoppable career that saw him become the most prestigious opera composer of his time although this burgeoning reputation did not command the success of his next two operas, both commissioned by La Scala, Milan. The first, Aureliano in Palmira (No. 12) opened the Carnival (winter) season on December 1813. Giovanni Velluti (1761-1861) the last of the great castrati sang the hero Arsace, as he did when the opera was presented in London in 1826. It was the only time that Rossini wrote a work for castrato voice. Despite its modest reception Aureliano in Palmira was given fourteen times in the Milan season. In a live recording on Nuova Era (7069-70) the role is sung by the Italian mezzo Luciana d’Intino. The second of the Milan duo, Il Turco in Italia (No. 13) premiered on August 14th 1814, was initially seen by the Milanese as a repeat of L’Italiana in Algeri, which it manifestly is not. It quickly spread to other Italian cities, and abroad, and was received with acclaim. The role of Fiorilla is a gift for a singing actress with coloratura flexibility. Maria Callas instigated a revival of the work in the early 1950s and recorded it with Nicolai Gedda in September 1954. Her infectious portrayal has been widely admired, but the mono sound and abridged version have been superseded and displaced by later stereo versions including a scintillating performance by Cecilia Bartoli under Chailly’s baton (Decca 458 924-2) where she is partnered by the young Ramon Vargas and some of the best Italian buffa singers of the day.

However modestly Rossini’s two operas for Milan were received, it was nothing compared to the failure of Sigismondo (No. 14) at Venice’s La Fenice on December 26th 1814. Even the composer himself described it as a fiasco! After a revival in 1992 conducted by Richard Bonynge, Julian Budden, the eminent scholar of Italian opera wrote, ‘Good to hear once but definitely not for the repertoire’. Rossini re-worked some of the music to better effect in later works. The failure of Sigismondo mattered little as the entrepreneur and formidable impresario of the Royal Theatres of Naples, Domenico Barbaja, saw Rossini as pre-eminent among his contemporaries. He summoned Rossini to the city and offered him the position of musical director of the city’s two Royal Theatres, the San Carlo and Fondo. Barbaja’s proposals appealed to Rossini for several reasons. Not only was his annual fee generous and guaranteed, but also the San Carlo had a professional orchestra, unlike the theatres of Rome and Venice for example. The composer saw this as a considerable advantage as he aspired to push the boundaries of his opera composition into more adventurous directions and which would also be more acceptable to the sophisticated audience of the San Carlo.

Elisabetta regina d’Inghilterra (No. 15), premiered to great enthusiasm on October 4th 1815 was the first of nine opera seria Rossini composed for Naples. In the music he makes imaginative use of the professional musicians with several innovations. Not least he dispensed with unaccompanied recitative to give added dramatic vigour. He also wrote out in full the embellishments he expected from his singers, thus avoiding their choosing to show off their vocal prowess to the detriment of the drama. A 1975 Philips recording (432 453-2), of Elisabetta, one of a series of ground-breaking recordings of Rossini’s opera seria on that label, and featuring José Carreras and Montserrat Caballé, has largely been displaced by an Opera Rara issue (ORC 22) which is totally complete.

Under the terms of the contract, Rossini was to provide two operas each year for Naples whilst being permitted to compose occasional works for other cities. In the first two years of the contract he composed no fewer than five operas for other venues, including four for Rome where he went after the premiere of Elisabetta to present performances of Il Turco in Italia at the Teatro Valle and to write a new work, Torvaldo e Dorliska (No. 16). A well cast performance conducted by Rossini scholar Alberto Zedda did appear on LP, but I have never come across it on CD. Naxos has a performance from Bad Wildbad, conducted by de Marchi, awaiting issue. The work is also scheduled for production at Pesaro in 2006. Previously to the premiere of Torvaldo e Dorliska on 15th December, Rossini signed a contract with the rival Teatro de Torre Argentina in Rome for a comic opera to be presented during its Carnival Season and to be delivered by mid-January! It was decided that the opera would be based on Beaumarchais’ play Le Barbier de Séville. For Rossini this posed a difficulty in that Paisiello had set an opera by the same name in 1782 and both it, and the composer, were greatly respected. Rossini moved to ensure Paisiello took no personal offence with his younger colleague and the opera was presented as Almaviva, ossia L’inutile precauzione (the useless precaution) with the sequence of scenes distinctly different. Despite Rossini’s efforts Paisiello’s supporters created a disturbance on the first night and turned it into a fiasco. On the second night Rossini was tactfully ill and did not attend the theatre, as stipulated in his contract. The performance was an unprecedented success after which the cast and supporters walked to Rossini’s lodgings carrying candles and singing tunes from the opera. After its initial seven performances in Rome the opera began to be called Il Barbiere di Siviglia. It was soon performed as such around Italy and reached London on the 10th March 1818 and New York the following year. It is the only opera by Rossini to have maintained its place in the repertoire in the theatres of Italy, and elsewhere around the world, throughout its life. A Naxos recording, complete with all the recitatives is an outstanding bargain (review). For a starrier cast the erstwhile Philips recording conducted by Marriner with Thomas Allen and Agnes Baltsa, has been re-issued by Decca at mid price (470 434-2). A DVD of the 1972 Unitel Film based on Jean-Pierre Ponelle’s production at La Scala and conducted by Claudio Abbado (review) is among a plethora of audio and video recordings of this ever-popular work which enchanted both Beethoven and Verdi. A 1944 live performance from the Metropolitan Opera, New York, featuring Salvatore Baccaloni and Ezio Pinza in the cast is available on the Guild label (review).

On his return to Naples, Rossini found the San Carlo had been destroyed by fire. He composed a cantata to celebrate the marriage of the daughter of the King of Naples, for which he pillaged much of the music from his own previous works, following which he composed his only buffa for Naples, La Gazzetta (No. 18). It was premiered at the small Teatro dei Fiorentina on 26th September 1816. This premier had been postponed because Rossini was indulging his social life to the full, as was his wont. Perhaps the soprano Isabella Colbran, then the mistress of Barbaja, was also distracting him. It was she for whom he wrote the lead soprano parts in all the nine Naples opera seria. Colbran was to transfer her affections to Rossini eventually becoming his wife. La Gazzetta is full of self-borrowings but is a delightful piece. Audio recordings of live performances have appeared on the Nuova Era and Bongiovanni labels. A first film of a stage performance, that from Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu in July 2005, is scheduled for release by Opus Arte on DVD in 2006.

Certainly Barbaja was getting tetchy with the delays in the completion of the next scheduled opera seria. He complained, in writing, to the administrator of the Royal Theatres about Rossini’s dilatoriness in providing the finished work whilst being active with his social engagements. The work concerned, Otello (No. 19), should have been premiered on October 10th. It was first postponed for a month before being eventually staged on December 4th 1816. As the San Carlo was not yet rebuilt it was staged at the smaller Royal Theatre, the Teatro del Fondo. While in 1816 there had been musical adaptations of some of Shakespeare’s non-tragic plays, Rossini’s choice of Otello with its tragic ending was distinctly adventurous. Press and public alike enthusiastically received the work although there were criticisms of the verses and treatment of Shakespeare. Whilst Rossini did write a happy ending (lieto fine) for Rome in the 1819-1820 season, the opera quickly spread throughout Italy and maintained a place in the repertoire until swept away by Verdi’s penultimate masterpiece sixty years later. In writing for Naples Rossini had to accommodate the distinguished roster of singers Barbaja had assembled in the company. These included the tenors Giovanni David, who had a range of three octaves, and Andrea Nozzari whose heroic voice was both strong and flexible with a wide extension. These types of tenor voices seemed to be in decline up to the 1980s, a situation that made staging of Rossini’s opera seria difficult. In Otello there are three prima tenor roles. On record, the 1978 recording (Philips 432 456-2) features Carreras, Fisichella and Lewis in these roles with the delectable American lyric coloratura Frederica Von Stade in the Isabella Colbran role of Desdemona. Colbran had a mezzo’s tonal colouring and a vocal range from G below the stave to E flat in alt. Von Stade assays the role with aplomb as does the soprano Elizabeth Futral on the Opera Rara issue (review). Although William Matteuzzi in the David role of Rodrigo is in poor voice, the singing of Bruce Ford in the title role obviates any limitation. He is more a Rossini singer than Carreras, and the clear differentiation in tone of Juan José Lopera in the role of Iago is a further advantage in listening. The Opera Rara issue provides the happy ending as an appendix as well as several alternative arias that Rossini wrote for particular singers at later performances.

Prior to leaving Rome after Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Rossini had agreed to return with a new opera to open the carnival season on December 26th 1816 With the delays in the premiere of Otello he did not arrive in Rome until mid-December and then to find that the Papal Censors had embargoed the libretto provided for him by Jacapo Ferretti. At a late night crisis meeting with the impresario and Ferretti the subject of La Cenerentola (No. 20) was agreed, as was a postponed premiere. Ferretti’s libretto owes as much to plagiarism of another poet’s work as to Charles Perrault’s original ‘Cinderella’ fairy tale. Likewise, in the pressure of circumstances, Rossini re-used the overture of La Gazzetta, written a few months earlier for Naples. He also employed a local musician, Luca Angolini, to assist him by composing all the secco recitatives as well as other pieces. These additions by Angolini are now omitted in performances and recordings, which follow the conductor and Rossini scholar Alberto Zedda’s Critical Edition. La Cenerentola survived a noisy first night on January 25th 1817 to be performed twenty times before the end of the Teatro Valle season in mid-February. It was heard throughout Italy by the end of the year and in France and England within two years. In the present day it is second only to Il Barbiere in popularity among the Rossini oeuvre. On record La Cenerentola has had a charmed life. A Sony recording of 1983 featured Vallentini-Terrani as the eponymous heroine together with Francesco Araiza as a strong Romiro and the Rossini experts Enzo Dara and Alessandro Corbelli. A Philips issue of 1987 featuring the tangy mezzo of Agnes Baltsa as Angiolia together with Araiza, Ruggero Raimondi and Simone Alaimo, under Neville Marriner’s sympathetic baton and is also a favourite. Although not currently available it will surely be re-issued and is worth looking out for. It in turn became second favourite to many ears with the arrival of a Decca full-priced 1992 recording featuring the formidable Angiolina of Cecilia Bartoli under Chailly’s idiomatic baton (436 902-2). This issue featured a wholly Italian cast, orchestra and chorus. Despite its verve and vocal strengths, admired by many critics, I personally found Bartoli’s Cenerentola a little overpowering with her Angiolina likely to make short shrift of her stepsisters. Nor was I wholly happy with Matteuzzi as the Don Ramiro. However, I found my ideal with the 1994 Teldec recording, which is re-issued under the umbrella of the Warner label (review). Jennifer Larmore initially presents an appropriately softer and more vulnerable Angiolina than some of her rivals. Her Una volta is poignant and expressive, with a lovely creamy tone, whilst her contribution to the stirring rondo finale is strong and vibrant without being overwhelming or showy. Throughout the performance her coloratura is secure and free whilst her phrasing and expression are exemplary. The rest of the cast, although lacking a little ‘Italianata’ in some cases, sing and characterise well. There is a welcome highlights disc of this issue available at bargain price on the Warner ‘Apex’ label (2564 61503-2). (review). The latest audio version on Naxos (review) features the upcoming American mezzo Joyce DiDonato as the eponymous heroine and the promising Granada-born tenor José Manuel Zapata as her beau. Idiosyncratically conductor Alberto Zedda adds Luca Angolini’s chorus Venga, inoltri to the start of the third scene of act one. The popularity of La Cenerentola is also measured in the number of DVDs in the catalogue. A Unitel film version based on Jean-Pierre Ponelle’s 1973 production at La Scala has Francisco Araiza and Frederica Von Stade as a handsome pair of lovers in a well-sung cast (review) under Claudio Abbado. Jennifer Larmore appears on a 1992 recording from the Netherlands Opera now on DVD (Arthaus Musik 100 214)

Three weeks after the premiere of La Cenerentola, Rossini went to fill a new commission for La Scala, Milan. Here he was given the libretto of his 21st opera La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie). It was premiered to great enthusiasm on 31st May 1817. The work quickly spread across Europe reaching England in 1821 and America six years later. With its opening drum-rolls the overture made appropriate demands on the professional orchestra of La Scala which, like that of Naples was wholly professional. La Gazza Ladra is significantly longer than any of Rossini’s previous operas and whilst having a happy ending is full of drama and affecting music. A Sony recording of a live performance at the Pesaro Festival conducted by Gianluigi Gelmetti is well cast and recorded (Sony 45850). There is also an abridged recording in English on the Chandos label that has been widely admired (Chan 3097) with Majella Cullagh and Barry Banks as the star-crossed lovers for whom everything, eventually comes right [review].

Continued ... Part 2

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