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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Bianca e Falliero - operatic melodrama in two acts (1819)
Libretto by Felice Romani based on a play by Antoine Arnault
First performed at Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 26 December 1819
Bianca, the daughter of Contareno, María Bayo (sop); Falliero, a Venetian general, Daniela Barcellona (mezzo); Contareno, a Venetian senator, Francesco Meli (ten); Capellio, a Venetian senator in love with Bianca, Carlo Lepore (bass); Costanza, Bianca’s nurse, Ornella Bonomelli (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
Performed in the Critical Edition of the Rossini Foundation in collaboration with Casa Ricordi and Gabriele Dotto
rec. Festival Rossini de Pesaro, August 2005. DDD
DYNAMIC CDS 501/1-3 [3 CDs: 63.25 + 42.55 + 73.01]
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The arrival of this performance for review initially stirred conflicting emotions. First frustration, that with a clutch of Rossini operas unrecorded, here was another Bianca e Falliero when there was already a very fine studio recording from Opera Rara. There was also a previous live recording from Pesaro with Marilyn Horne, albeit no longer available. My second emotion, although more pensive, was one of anticipation. In the 1980s it was via recorded performances made at the Pesaro Festival that it was possible to hear some of Rossini’s opera seria. Those that did appear, such as the previous Bianca and also La Donna del Lago and La gazza ladra amongst others, came about from arrangements between the Festival and CBS/Sony. Since that arrangement died recordings from the Festival have been rare. They have mainly come about when artists contracted to the likes of Universal have been involved, as was the case with DG and Le Comte Ory from 2003 involving Juan Diego Florez. Regrettably there has been no sign of a recording of him as Corradino in Matilda di Shabran from the 2004 Festival. This was the role that brought the tenor to world attention when he was parachuted into Pesaro at short notice in 1996. If this recording of Bianca e Falliero presages an arrangement that will mean more recordings from the Festival on the Italian label Dynamic then I look forward with great anticipation to major gaps in the Rossini discography being filled. All the more so when Dynamic have such an excellent record of taking down live performances in Italy. The 2005 Festival included concert performances of La gazzetta whilst the 2006 has Adelaide di Borgogna and Torvaldo e Dorliska scheduled. None of those three has a recording currently easily available, although a recording of the latter from Bad Wildbad is supposed to be ‘in the can’ at Naxos as I indicated in my Rossini conspectus (LINK).

Bianca e Falliero is the thirtieth 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. Given that pace of composition, which the composer was never to repeat, it sports 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 butchered form and after performances in Sardinia in 1846 it disappeared only being heard again in semi-staged performances at the Pesaro in 1986. Like the previous recordings this one uses the Critical Edition by Gabrielle Dotto based on the autograph full score of 1819.

The libretto for Bianca e Falliero was provided by Felice Romani (1788-1865), the leading librettist at La Scala. He based Bianca e Falliero on the French melodrama ‘Blanch et Montcasin’ by Arnault. However, mindful of the Milan censors, and in contrast to Arnault’s play, Romani provided a happy ending. The story is set in 17th century Venice in a period of conflict with Spain. Contareno (tenor) a Senator and harsh and unbending parent of Bianca (soprano), arranges her marriage to another Senator Capellio (bass). By doing so he hopes to restore his family finances and prestige. 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 returns 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, Bianca pleads for Falliero. Contareno demands the death penalty whilst the compassionate Capellio insists the matter be referred to the full Senate where Falliero is acquitted. At the insistence of Capellio, Bianca’s father accedes to her marriage to Falliero.

This present performance from Pesaro, unlike its predecessor, must be seen in comparison, and even competition, with that from Opera Rara, the only studio recording of the work. It is in vivid and reliable sound and enjoys an excellent balance between soloists, chorus and orchestra. Whilst David Parry’s conducting on the Opera Rara issue is nicely judged between the vivaciously lyric and the dramatic, his feel for the action and its musical realisation is matched by Renato Palumbo although the latter loses impetus, in the interests of his singers, on a couple of minor occasions. Rossini certainly made considerable technical demands on three of his principal singers, particularly on the role of Falliero sung here with conviction and good expression by Daniela Barcellona. Whilst her tone is not as refulgent as Jennifer Larmore for Opera Rara it is a dramatic interpretation to savour. Her scene as Falliero greets the Doge, Incito Prence ... Se per l’Adria ... Il ciel custode, is a pleasure on the ear (CD 1 trs. 7-9). Falliero also has the florid duets with the Bianca of María Bayo in both acts (CD 2 trs 2-5 and CD 3 trs 1-4) and dramatic involvement in the extended trial scenes when he at first refuses to plead his case (CD 3 trs. 11, 12 and 14-15). Barcellona conveys these situations with intensity and subtle variation of vocal colour whilst encompassing, with ease, the coloratura demands. Her performance as Falliero is outstanding and is central to the success of this recording. As Bianca, María Bayo is equally agile in the role’s high tessitura; listen to the cavatina Come sereno il di (CD 1 tr. 12). Only having one solo does not indicate that Rossini was letting his soprano off lightly, the audience would expect more vocal fireworks from the soprano diva than that! These come in her duets with Falliero and in the dramatic confrontations with her domineering father Contareno (CD 1 trs. 16-18 and CD 3 trs 6-9). The scenes between Bianca and her father demand not only vocal agility but also the expression of a wide variety of emotions. Whilst Bayo lacks the seeming ease of projection displayed in the high lying florid passages of Majella Cullagh for Opera Rara, she has greater vocal colour for expressing the emotional intensity and demands of the role. The bad guy father is sung by the tenor Francesco Meli. I had not heard him previously and he is a welcome addition to the Rossini tenor roster, having ease in the higher tessitura and an appropriate touch of metal in his tone for the more dramatic and declamatory passages. Carlo Lepore as the generous Capellio is a little gruff at times but not so as to spoil enjoyment.

Politicians are always selling the virtues of choice. With this recording lovers of Rossini’s works now have that in respect of Bianca e Falliero. Live performances always seem to have an extra frisson, but have the drawback of stage noise and the intrusion of applause. Stage noise is not intrusive here and the applause, whilst enthusiastic, is not raucous. This recording is welcome for its own strengths as well as for the choice it gives in an opera that was the last Rossini wrote for La Scala and into which he put great creativity.

Robert J. Farr


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