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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Bianca e Falliero. Operatic melodrama in two acts (1819)
Bianca, the daughter of Contareno, María Bayo (sop); Falliero, a Venetian general, Daniela Barcellona (mezzo); Contareno, Bianca’s father and a Venetian senator, Francesco Meli (ten); Capellio, a Venetian senator in love with Bianca, Carlo Lepore (bass); Costanza, Bianca’s nurse, Omellia Bonomellia (sop); Priuli, Doge of Venice, Danio Benini (bass); Pisani, a member of The Council of Three, Stefan Cifolelli (ten);
Chorus Da Camera di Praga
Orchestra Sinfonica de Galicia/Renato Palumbo
rec. live, Teatro Rossini, Pesaro Festival, Italy, August 2005
Performed in the Critical Edition of the Rossini Foundation in collaboration with Casa Ricordi and Gabriele Dotto
Director, Jean-Louis Martinoty. Sets by Hans Schavernoch. Costumes by Daniel Ogier. Video Director Tiziano Mancini
Recorded in High Definition. Presented in dts digital surround sound, PCM 2.0. Vision 16:9 Colour. NTSC
Menu language English. Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish and Chinese. Notes and synopsis in Italian, English, German, and French
DYNAMIC DVD 33501 [2 DVDs: 183:00]

 

 

There have never been better days for Rossini enthusiasts. Since my Rossini conspectus was published, in two parts, in November 2005, (Part 1, Part 2) and a clutch of Rossini operas, not previously or easily available, have appeared on CD and DVD. These include DVDs of three of the early farse in productions by Michael Hempe, Maometto II from La Fenice, Moïse et Pharaon from Milan and La Gazzetta. On CD I have reviews of both Matilde di Shabran (Decca 475 7689-91) with Juan Diego Florez from Pesaro and Torvaldo e Dorliska (Naxos 8.660189-90) from Bad Wildbad in preparation. Full web references for all the above reviews will be given in full when I update the conspectus around the date of its anniversary. This DVD of Bianca e Falliero marks another significant addition. It complements the CD issue from Dynamic taken from the same series of performances at Pesaro in 2005 (see review).

Bianca e Falliero is the 30th in the 39 titles in the Rossini operatic oeuvre. It was the composer’s fourth opera of 1819 and was written to a commission from La Scala, Milan, to open the Festival Season on 26 December of that year. Despite that pace of composition, which the composer was never to repeat, there are remarkably few self-borrowings. The first night audience were generally enthusiastic and the work was given a further 39 performances that season, the longest run ever for any Rossini opera seria at La Scala. It went on to be staged throughout Italy and was presented in Vienna and Lisbon, in 1825, and Barcelona in 1826. It was revived at La Scala in 1831 in a badly butchered form and after performances in Sardinia in 1846 it disappeared only being heard again in semi-staged performances at Pesaro in 1986. Like the previous recordings this one uses the Critical Edition by Gabrielle Dotto based on the autograph full score of 1819.

Romani’s libretto for Bianca e Falliero Felice is based on the French melodrama Blanch et Montcasin by Arnault. However, mindful of the Milan censors, and in significant contrast to Antoine Arnault’s play, Felice Romani provided a happy ending. The story is set in 17th century Venice in a period of conflict with Spain. Contareno (ten) a Senator, and the harsh and unbending parent of Bianca (sop), arranges her marriage to another Senator Capellio (bass). By doing so he hopes to restore his family finances and splendour. Bianca is in love with Falliero (mezzo) the Venetian general who has helped defeat the Spanish. She also knows that her father might not approve their marriage, as Falliero is not wealthy. This is proved to be correct as her father warns her that she will forfeit his love if she ever uses Falliero’s name. Unhappily, Bianca submits to his threats. In the conclusion to the first act Falliero returns to Contareno’s house to declare his love for Bianca while her intended husband, Capellio, looks on at her plight as her father berates her. Both men order Falliero from the house. In act 2 Falliero does return to Contareno’s house to meet Bianca and pleads with her to elope with him. On Contareno’s return he is forced to flee over the wall into the garden of the adjacent villa of the Spanish Ambassador where he is caught and accused of treason. Falliero is put on trial before The Council of Three that includes both Bianca’s father and her intended husband. Falliero considers himself lost but Bianca comes before the Council to explain his presence in the Ambassador’s house. In the famous quartet that outlived the demise of the opera in the 19th century (D2b Ch.15), Bianca pleads for Falliero. Contareno demands the death penalty whilst the compassionate Capellio insists the matter be referred the full Senate where Falliero is acquitted. At the insistence of Capellio, Bianca’s father accedes to her marriage to Falliero.

Whilst in the audio performance I noted the considerable demands Rossini makes on his principals, particularly on the role of Falliero, the DVD illustrates this even more. The role is sung taken by the mezzo Daniela Barcellona who sings and acts with total conviction. A tall woman, with masculine appearance accentuated by her broad shoulders, costume and macho movements, she makes a very visually convincing army commander. Falliero arrives with a very macho swagger, glorying in the adulation at his victory as the populace and Doge greet him. Falliero’s response Incito PrenceSe per l’Adria …Il ciel custode, is vocally and histrionically thrilling (D1 Ch.6). But that is only the warm-up. Falliero has a long love duet with Bianca to come when the two duet in unison to a delightful degree (D1 Chs.15-17) as well as a big sing in act two. The love duet is Rossiniana of the first class and demands bel-canto virtuoso singing, which it gets in abundance here. The Bianca of María Bayo, diminutive in size among tall colleagues, has a flexible coloratura voice with a good range of colour and expression. More importantly when it comes to the second act when Bianca chooses to face the ‘The Council of Three’ in accusing Falliero, she can spit venom (D2 Ch.14). She concludes the opera with a fine rendition of the rondo Teco io resto (D2 Ch.17) which is musically a straight lift of Elena’s Tanti affetti from La donna del lago. But rather than Bianca glorying in her father’s compliance with her own wishes to marry Falliero, she is left bereft on stage as the curtain falls. I wonder if this was the producer’s attempt to hark back to the original play and the finale that Romani would have written were it not for the Roman censors? If so it rather backfires and leaves the viewer uncertain. I do not know how it was received at Pesaro where the audience certainly appreciated the quality of the singing and regularly indicated their approval, but not in a manner that was too disturbing to dramatic continuity.

The decision to conclude the opera in the indecisive manner of having Bianca alone on stage matches other rather incongruous touches on the part of director Jean-Louis Martinoty and his designer Hans Schavernoch. Having Capellio, Bianca’s implacable father, in a wheelchair and using crutches to move about certainly limits the staging in the tribunal scene, where the opportunity to convey the oppressive nature of the situation is lost. Part of that loss is also due to the use of the two large, dividing, one way mirrored doors, apexed mid-stage. These open to good effect at various stages to reveal backdrop scenes of Venice or to represent a chapel as Bianca dreams of her marriage to Falliero before having to agree to comply with her father and marry Capellio (D1n Chs.20-21). Back lighting is also used to illustrate other rear stage activities vaguely germane to what is being sung. Together with gauze the effect at times causes a distraction from the dramatic effect of the singing and unfolding story. That is the case in the tribunal scene when the back lighting is used to show senators walking about when the scene, one of great drama and tension as Capellio defies Contareno’s wish to have Falliero condemned to death, should focus wholly on that situation. The costumes by Daniel Ogier are in period and the set, dominated by a large winged lion, otherwise effective.

The male principals, again with a lot to sing, were good if not as outstanding as their female colleagues. As Contareno, Bianca’a hardhearted father, Francesco Meli, who I had not heard before, encompasses the high tessitura with ease and an appropriate touch of metal. His acted portrayal, although somewhat limited by the gratuitous wheelchair and singing of the declamatory passages, indicates a welcome addition to the Rossini tenor roster. Carlo Lepore as the generous-hearted Capellio is tonally more varied in his singing. He has generally good vocal weight and juicy sonority but also has gruff and woolly patches too. Whilst he does not erase memories of Samuel Ramey, his limitations were not such as to spoil his convincing portrayal or my enjoyment.

The Chorus da Camera di Praga and the playing of the Orchestra Sinfonica de Galicia under Renato Palumbo match the singing of the principals in its high quality. The conductor is sensitive both to his singers whilst being true to Rossini’s drama. The sound is superb as is the colour definition achieved by Dynamic’s engineers. This is an issue not to be missed by lovers of the composer’s music.

Robert J Farr

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