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Lyrita New Recording
Sarah Beth Briggs
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
La pietra del paragone - melodrama giocoso
in two acts (1812)
Clarice, in love with the Count and admired by Giocondo
- Sonia Prina (contralto); Il Conte Asdrubale,
a rich landowner in search of a wife who loves him not
his money - Francois Lis (bass); Baronessa Aspasia, a
widow looking for a rich husband - Jennifer Holloway
(mezzo); Donna Fulvia, another widow on the lookout -
Laura Giordano (soprano); Il Cavalier Giocondo, friend
of the Count and a poet – José Manuel Zapata (tenor);
Macrobio, a journalist - Joan Martín-Royo (bass-baritone);
Pacuvio, a poet – Christian Senn (baritone); Fabrizio,
confidante of the Count - Filipo Polinelli (bass)
Ensemble Matheus, chorus of the Teatro Reggio, Parma/Jean–Christophe
Direction, designs and video: Giorgio Barberio Corsetti and
Costumes and collaboration on décor: Cristian Taraborrelli
Performed in the Rossini Foundation/Casa Ricordi edition
rec. live, Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, 24, 26, 28 January
Synopsis, essays, artist profiles in French and English
NAÏVE V5089 [2
DVDs: 161:00; bonus interviews: 50:00]
pietra del paragone is seventh
in the Rossini oeuvre being one of no fewer than six of
his operatic works that had their first performance in
1812 when the composer was a mere twenty years old. It
was his first commission for La Scala, then, as now, one
of the most prestigious theatres in Italy. Rossini had
been greatly helped in securing the commission by two singers
who had appeared in his earlier works at Venice’s Teatro
San Moisè, where five of his first nine operas had received
their first productions. The first night of La pietra
del paragone on 26 September 1812 was a resounding
success. It went on to a further fifty-two performances
that season. It was undoubtedly the pinnacle of Rossini’s
first period and barely a year before he received international
recognition with Tancredi and L’Italiana in Algeri, premiered
at Venice’s La Fenice and San Benedetto theatres respectively.
It was in the finale of La pietra del paragone that
the public first heard the Rossini crescendo. Most importantly,
as a consequence of its success, the composer was exempted
from military service; very useful with ninety thousand
Italian conscripts sustaining heavy losses in the Peninsular
War and on the Russian Campaign!
Luigi Romanelli’s libretto for La pietra del paragone allows
Rossini to show off his paces as a wit and romantic scene-painter.
The improbable and convoluted plot involves the affluent
Count Asdrubale who wants a wife who will love him for himself
not his status or wealth. He is pursued by three widows and
constructs a plot to be seen to be bankrupt. This enables
him to ascertain that it is only Clarice of the three who
really loves him. She in turn tests the Count by disguising
herself as her own twin brother who threatens to remove Clarice.
Needless to say all ends happily. Most unusually in opera,
a bass and a low mezzo or contralto sings the two lovers,
the Count and Clarice, reflecting the availability of singers
at the premiere.
Despite its reputation amongst Rossini enthusiasts and scholars, La
pietra del paragone has fared poorly in the theatre
and on record. A 1972 recording on Vanguard featuring the
young Carreras is still shown in the catalogue. The opera
was done at Glyndebourne in 1964 in a bowdlerised Germanic
version that greatly offended Gui and, to the best of my
knowledge, hasn’t been seen there since. However, the work
has maintained its popularity in Germany in a version by
Günther Rennart under the title Die Liebespoke, which
the booklet accompanying the Naxos recording from Bad Wildbad
in 2001 (see review)
suggests takes away much of the charm of the original and
degrades it to an operetta.
The Rossini Foundation at Pesaro, the composer’s birthplace,
and the associated Annual Rossini Festival, were bound to get
to this work and it was presented there, in an updated staging,
in 2002. It never rains but it pours, and this Naïve DVD
arrived a week before one on the Opus Arte label (OA0987D)
of that Pesaro production, transferred and filmed at the
Teatro Real Madrid; this will be reviewed shortly.
The important difference between the two is that this recording
from the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris
is of a production made with video in mind. Alongside Giorgio
Corsetti it represents Pierrick Sorin’s
first venture into opera. In contrast the Pesaro production
performed in Madrid is in the hands of the immensely experienced
opera producer Pier Luigi Pizzi.
other things, Pierrick Sorin is noted in Paris avant-garde
circles for his models and presentations for the renowned
Galérie Lafayette in the Boulevard Haussmann, just up the
road from the recently refurbished magnificent Palais Garnier.
He is a video artist and has made short films via the creation
of small ‘optical theatres’, which enable him to appear in
space in the form of a hologram among real objects. This
technique, together with scenery in the form of models, is
the basis of this production. The singers appear on the stage
in front of cameras and carefully act out the scenes whilst
they appear on screens as if moving among actual objects.
It is cinematographic magic, or if you prefer, gimmickry.
As far as the Théâtre du Châtelet
is concerned, imaginative production is always the name of
the game. With no big fly-tower or proscenium, opera productions
depend on the creative imagination of designers and producers.
This was the case in the performances of Rossini’s Il
Viaggio A Rheims (see review)
when Gergiev and the orchestra were on stage whilst the singers
using minimal sets played the opera at the front of an extended
stage and into the auditorium. It was a similar case when
I caught John Eliot Gardiner’s Falstaff. The orchestra
were wrapped round a spiral staircase on the stage with the
cast entering at the top as required, whilst some of the
action was on an extended stage. All fine with a young, willing
and imaginative cast. I was lucky that my Fenton was in the
lithe and athletic form of Juan Diego Florez. He and his
Nannetta could skip up and down the stairs and still ravish
the ear with delicate phrases and pianissimos!
the creative demands in mind, a youngish cast, perhaps with
few preconceived notions, was assembled. Fine for the production,
less so for Rossini. His operas do require particular singing
skills. Although there are no massive vocal weaknesses among
the cast, those with the requisite professional Rossini experience
are limited to the contralto Sonia
Prina as Clarice and José Manuel Zapata as Giocondo,
the Count’s friend but also
the suitor of Clarice. His singing in particular would grace
any Rossini production and has done so in Pesaro and elsewhere.
Hardly dapper of figure, his singing is full of vocal felicities
(CH.17) and that applies even when he is supposed to be playing
tennis with Clarice (CH.18). Sonia Prina has a wide-ranging
contralto voice and has done a lot of Baroque opera at good
addresses as well as Rossini at La Scala. As yet I do not
think she has the freedom of tonal expression throughout
her vocal range that makes her an ideal Rossini singer able
to meet the demands for fioritura and decoration. The lower
male voices are all adequate and if Laura Giordano as Fulvia
is a little thin-toned, at least her voice is not acidic.
young singers are aided in expression by the fact that the
Ensemble Matheus, a Baroque ensemble from Brittany in residence
at the Châtelet, is not overblown
and perhaps represents the kind of orchestral backing at
the premiere. The conductor Christophe
Spinosi keeps his eye on the stage coordination. He has a
calm beat but does not convince me of his Rossinian credentials.
Curvaceous body-stockinged lovelies move the model sets around,
often, like the lighting, in a bluish haze.
somewhat off-the-wall video presentation of Rossini’s first
opera for La Scala seemed to go down well with the audience,
although I am uncertain if what they were seeing is what
is on the video. I do suggest that before watching purchasers
take full advantage of the extensive booklet essays, synopsis,
cast list, and biographical details, provided in English
and French, to help decide who is who and what is happening.
The two discs are presented in cardboard slipcases at the
front and back of what to all intent and purposes is a book
- very smart it looks too. The whole of the opera is contained
on DVD 1, the second disc contains interviews with the conductor
and Pierrick Sorin.
Robert J Farr
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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