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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Alternative Arias

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Ma forse, ahime Lindoro... Ah, se e ver che in tal momento (Aria, Rosina)
Tancredi, O sospirato lido!...Dolci d'amor parole. (Recit. and Cavatina, Tancredi)
La gazza ladra, Deh! Lasciate ch'io pur di gioia esulti... Beviam, tocchiamo a gara. (Recit. and Cavatina, Pippo)
Zelmira, Da te spero, o ciel clemente. (Zelmira)
Tancredi, Qual suon? Che miro!...Va, palese e troppo omai. (March and aria, Tancredi). (with chorus of Turin Radio)
Il barbiere di Siviglia, La mia pace, la mia calma. (Aria, Rosina)
Maometto II, Non tener: d'un basso affetto (Aria, Calbo)
Marilyn Horne (mezzo)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI/Alberto Zedda
Recorded at the Auditorium RAI, Turin, December 1982.
WARNER FONIT 8573 82247-5 [50.10]

This CD seems to follow a developing trend with many re-issues, dropping the price but also the content. When this recording of Rossini’s alternative arias appeared on a CBS Masterworks (MK 44820) they came with the addition of the composer’s cantata for solo voice ‘Giovanna d’Arco’ to give a total time of 68 minutes against the 50 here. Also to be abhorred is the loss of the notes by the renowned Rossini scholar Philip Gossett explaining the practice and circumstances of alternative arias. The notes are replaced by a pretentious and diffuse essay titled ‘The Register of the Human Voice’ which seeks to develop the thesis of the place of the ‘contralto’ voice as central to Rossini’s operas. The author, Bruno Cagli, eulogises Marilyn Horne as fitting Rossini’s intentions. Maybe. I have my doubts if Gossett, or the other Rossini scholar involved here, the conductor Alberto Zedda, would agree.

At the start of her long career, Marilyn Horne sang the soprano roles of Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West, Giulietta in Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman and Marie in Wozzeck, her debut role at Covent Garden in 1964. In a 1965 recital for Decca she sang Semiramide’s high soprano aria Bel raggio lusing hoier. Later that same year she recorded the mezzo role of Arsace from the opera with Joan Sutherland in the title role. At this stage of Horne’s career it was her phenomenal wide range, flexibility and timbre that pointed her to the bel canto repertoire and the mezzo fach. On this recording she transposes downward, the alternative ‘letter aria’ from act 2 of Il barbiere di Siviglia. This transposition is hardly surprising as, at the time of this recording, she had sung the mezzo roles of Carmen and Dalila as well as some of those of Verdi. At this stage of her career she was also making a big impact in the Rossini dramatic travesti roles at the Pesaro Festival and elsewhere. In these roles, such as the eponymous Tancredi (tr 5) and Calbo in Maometto (tr. 7) Horne’s renowned lower register is heard to good dramatic and musical effect. As was often the case these alternatives were written by Rossini to accommodate the skills of individual singers or the demands of a theatre. In the case of the second extract from Tancredi (tr. 5) Rossini changed the original happy ending of the opera to a tragic one for performances in Ferrara. He later incorporated it into the now commonly accepted happy ending. An example of changing to accommodate individual singers is found in the aria from his last opera for Naples, Zelmira (tr. 4). The creator of the role was his mistress, later his wife, Isabella Colbran, renowned for her florid singing. After Naples Rossini presented the opera in Vienna, London and Paris. For the latter his Zelmira was Giuditta Pasta, best known at that period for her dramatic rather than her florid singing. To accommodate her strengths Rossini re-wrote the final scene, giving Zelmira this new aria and incorporating the original one into an ensemble.

In providing these contextual explanations I do not wish to detract from the variety and quality of Marilyn Horne’s singing. It was not without benefit to her skills, and our enjoyment, that she immersed herself into the diversity of Rossini’s compositional idiom. It says much for her schooling and vocal technique that at this stage of her career she could bring lightness of tone and characterisation to her Rosina whilst going to the opposite extreme for darkness and tragedy. It is a shame about the short playing time and lack of contextual explanation. However, this disc is a must for all lovers of Rossini’s writing and of Marilyn Horne’s formidable vocal skills and abilities. The disc is an ideal complement to her ‘Rossini Heroes and Heroines’ (Decca) and comparison with Ewa Podles’ equally formidable lower register and expressive power in her live ‘Rossini Gala’ (Dux).

Robert J Farr

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