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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
L’occasione fa il Ladro, (Opportunity Makes the Thief) - Burletta per musica in one act (1812)
Berenice, Susan Patterson (sop); Don Parmenione, Natale de Carolis (bass); Conte Alberto, Robert Gambill (ten); Ernestina, Monica Bacelli (sop); Martino, Alessandro Corbelli (bass); Don Eusebio, Stuart Kale (ten)
Radio Symphony Orchestra of Stuttgart, Germany/Gianluigi Gelmetti
stage production of the Oper der Stadt Köln and Opera de Montpellier from the Schwetzingen Festival
rec. live, Rokotheater Schwetzingen 1-3 May 1992
Stage production and design: Michael Hempe.
Costumes: Chiara Donato
Directed for TV: Claus Villar
Picture format NTSC 4:3. Colour. Sound Formats: PCM stereo; DD 5.1; DTS 5.1.
Subtitles in English, German, Spanish, Italian and French
First performed: Teatro San Moise, Venice, 24 November 1812
EURO ARTS DVD 2054998 [94:00]

L’occasione fa il Ladro, his eighth opera, was the fourth of the five farse that Rossini composed for the Teatro San Moise in Venice. His seventh opera, La Pietra del  Paragone, had been  premiered at La Scala on 26 September 1812. 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. 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 his new-found eminence Rossini, not yet 21 years of age, was loyal to the Teatro San Moise and accepted two further commissions for one act farse for that theatre; L’occasione fa il Ladro was the first. He composed the score in eleven days and it is certainly the most rumbustious of those written for the San Moise. L’occasione is described as a burletta and revolves round a typical farsa libretto involving the impersonation of a character following mistakenly exchanged suitcases at a country inn. It is unique among the five farse, and unusual in the Rossini oeuvre, in having no formal overture. Instead a brief andante prelude leads into allegro storm music of the kind familiar in several of Rossini’s operas, both buffa and seria. It was not received with enthusiasm and was dropped after five performances. However, as Rossini’s fame spread it was revived in Barcelona (1822), Lisbon (1826), St Petersburg (1830) and Vienna (1834). Its first UK performance was at the 1987 Buxton Festival. In the summer season 2004, Opera North presented it as Love’s Luggage Lost.
Like the DVD recording of the second in the sequence of Rossini’s farse for Venice, La Scala Di Seta, (see review) this performance derives from the Rokotheater Schwetzingen. The production and sets are by Michael Hempe first made for a stage production of the Oper der Stadt Köln and Opéra de Montpellier. Like its predecessor, the sets and costumes are in date and style for the period. Whilst I admired the set of the earlier opera this setting is a quantum leap better, particularly that of scene two at the house of Don Eusebio with its backdrop of the Bay of Naples; sheer magic! (Chs. 7-22). The plot, whilst essentially simple is full of twists and turns. On a stormy night, represented in the orchestra, two men take shelter in an inn and their suitcases are mixed up. Don Parmenione is looking for the sister of a friend who has eloped with her lover, whilst Count Alberto is on his way to a first meeting with his fiancée the Marquise Bernice. Parmenione takes advantage of the switch of suitcases to present himself as Count Alberto. Meanwhile Bernice has changed clothes with her chambermaid Ernestina. Alberto is entranced on his arrival by the Marquise Bernice in her disguise as a chambermaid. After shenanigans about identity and a trial by letter, all brilliantly portrayed, Parmenione is revealed as an impostor (Ch. 14) and all ends well.
As in La Scala Di Seta much of the pace and humour of the situation is kept going by the acting of Alessandro Corbelli as Alberto’s manservant Martino. He is a singer/actor second to none in this repertoire. His acting, facial expressions and body movements are allied to an excellent vocal technique as exemplified in his Il mio padrone (Ch. 16). Of the destined lovers, the young Susan Patterson as Berenice has a light flexible voice and acts well. She shapes and characterises her cavatina Vicino e il momento (Ch. 7) with aplomb. She has gone on to heavier roles since this 1992 recording and is scheduled as Abigaille in Chandos’ Opera in English Nabucco where much more vocal weight as well as flexibility is needed. As her suitor Alberto, Robert Gambill cuts a fine figure and acts well although his voice lacks a little of the ideal flexibility and lightness for this genre. On the other hand Natale de Carolis as the impostor Parmenione is ideal in vocal weight, characterisation and acting. In the lesser roles of Don Eusebio and the maid Ernestina, Stuart Kale and Monica Bocelli enter into the fun and are more than adequate vocally. Gianluigi Gelmetti keeps the music moving along and exhibiting a natural feel for this genre
This staging and performance can hardly be bettered. I can thoroughly recommend its purchase for an enjoyable aural and visual operatic experience of a work too rarely seen. I will be keeping my fingers crossed that the remaining two of the five San Moise farse, L’Inganno Felice and Il Signor Bruschino, not already released by Euro Arts, were part of a Michael Hempe sequence of productions and will find their way onto DVD from the Euro Arts in due course.
Natale de Carolis repeats his role in this opera in the complete set of farse available from Brilliant at bargain price (see review). Excellent value in the car CD player with the benefit of the visual memory of this superb production.

Robert J Farr


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