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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Adelaide Di Borgogna - music drama in two acts (1817)
Adelaide, widow of Lotario, King of Italy - Majella Cullagh (sop); Ottone, Emperor of Germany - Jennifer Larmore (mezzo); Adelberto, Berengario’s son - Bruce Ford (ten); Berengario - Mirco Palazzi (bass); Eurice, Berengario’s wife - Rebecca Bottone (sop); Ernesto, an officer - Ashley Catling (ten); Iroldo, former governor of Canosso - Mark Wilde (ten)
Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Chorus/Giuliano Carella
rec. live, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 19 August 2005, Edinburgh International Festival. DDD
OPERA RARA ORC 32 [77.07 + 52.01]

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The success of his Tancredi, premiered at Venice’s La Fenice on 6 February 1813, firmly established the young Rossini’s reputation as being amongst the leading young Italian opera composers of his day.  He quickly consolidated that position with the sparkling L’Italiana in Algeri premiered at Venice’s Teatro San Benedetto on 22 May that year. Whilst Milan was less impressed with Il Turco in Italia (14 August 1814) other Italian cities took it up with enthusiasm and, together with the earlier works, put Rossini in a pre-eminent position among his competitors. In the spring of 1815 he was summoned to Naples by the influential impresario Domenico Barbaja and offered the musical directorship of the two royal Theatres of that city, the San Carlo and the Fondo. Under the terms of his contract, Rossini was to provide two operas each year for Naples whilst being permitted to compose occasional operas for other cities. Rossini spent eight years in Naples composing nine of his opera serie which contain some of his greatest music. In the first two years of his contract he also composed no fewer than five operas for other cities, including four for Rome. The second of these Rome works, and his 17th opera, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, was premiered on 20 February 1816; it has become the composer’s most popular work and has never gone out of fashion. His second most popular opera, La Cenerentola, his 20th, was also premiered in Rome on 25 January 1817. That year he seemed to have rather overstretched himself even by his own standards and capacity for rapid composition. He followed up La Cenerentola with La Gazza Ladra for Milan on 31 May and Armida at the newly rebuilt San Carlo in Naples on 11 November. 

Rossini was not unused to having to compose swiftly in Rome, usually as a consequence of hitting problems with libretti and censors. He had composed his two previous successes for that city in haste and under considerable time pressure. But it has become the accepted truth among scholars and commentators that by the end of 1817 the composer was creatively exhausted and, as a consequence, Adelaide di Borgogna suffered. This view of the opera seems to be related to the work’s modest initial success, not unusual for any primo ottocento work, and the fact that it did not travel widely and disappeared after the relatively early date of 1825. The libretto by Giovanna Schmidt has also come in for contributory criticism although he was no hack and wrote the libretti for Rossini’s Elisabetta Regina d’Inghilterra (1815) and Armida (1817) as well as works for Donizetti and others without concern being expressed. Although Schmidt abuses history with his story, that is not unusual in opera librettists. Perhaps the most significant critical questions arise for two reasons. First, that Rossini reverted to the outdated form of secco recitative, which, by the time of the composition, had largely been replaced with appropriate dramatic music in most operas and certainly in his opera seria. But perhaps the main contributory factor to the neglect of Adelaide is to be found in the lack of an autograph. As well as making performing editions easier, this would more surely indicate the origins of the components of the work refuting suggestions that some of the composition was farmed out to assistants. In his usual scholarly and extensive accompanying essay, Dr Jeremy Commons examines these issues and whilst accepting some of the arguments about weak passages of composition, argues strongly in favour of the work.

Schmidt’s libretto, set in 10th century Italy, tells the story of Adelaide whose husband has been killed by Berengario. She can be returned to the throne if she marries Adelberto his son. The German Emperor, Ottone, a trousers role, comes to her aid and after the defeat of Berengario she and her saviour end in love and triumph.

Certainly, one of the weakest passages in the opera, at least in comparison with the rest, is the overture. With only slight alteration to the orchestration this is a straight lift from that composed for La Cambiale di matrimonio, the composer’s second opera, and first to be staged, in 1810. Thereafter Adelaide has typical, often distinguished musical thrust with provision for vocal display and dramatic cohesion. Derived from concert performances given at the Edinburgh Festival in 2005 Opera Rara field their first team of principal singers. Majella Cullagh gets the vocal fireworks under way early in Adelaide’s confrontation with Adelberto and Berengario when Adelaide refuses to countenance marriage ending on a well-held high note (CD 1 trs 2-5). She gets even better in Adelaide’s act 1 cavatina (CD 1 trs. 25-26) and when duetting with Jennifer Larmore’s Ottone (trs. 28-30) she decorates the line as she does in the act 2 when her trill and singing brings justifiable applause from the audience (CD 2 trs 19-20). Larmore’s creamy, steady and accomplished florid singing is first heard in Ottone’s scene and cavatina as the Emperor arrives with his soldiers (CD 1 trs. 7-10). She is a little heavier and thicker-toned when later in act 2 Ottone crowns Adelaide (CD 2 tr. 22), but together with Majella Cullagh her singing is fully characterised and distinguished in every way. Bruce Ford’s rather dry tone and Mirco Palazzi’s lean bass do not rise to the standard of their female counterparts, either vocally or in characterisation, whilst the minor roles are also somewhat varied in vocal quality with Rebecca Bottone’s light soprano sounding rather tweety (CD 1 tr. 22). The Scottish Chamber and Chorus make a vigorous contribution. Giuliano Carella paces the orchestra in the interests of his soloists whilst giving rein to the chorus who are excellent. The audience are enthusiastic in their applause without too much disturbance to the dramatic flow.

Scholars can make of this opera what they will and argue about whether or not it was all from the pen of Rossini. Without doubt the two finales come from his pen (CD 1 trs. 31-34 and CD 2 trs. 21-24) as do the major solo and duet items. The reversal to secco recitative is not so boring as to deter my considerable enjoyment of yet another previously unknown Rossini composition; I had missed out on the Fonit Cetra issue featuring Martine Dupuy and Mariella Devia under Alberto Zedda. The scheduled concert performances at Pesaro in 2006 were bedevilled by illness of the soprano and were curtailed.

This well recorded live performance of one of Rossini’s lesser-known opera seria from Opera Rara, with two female soloists of the highest calibre in the major roles, enables Rossini enthusiasts to go ahead and purchase with confidence.

Robert J Farr


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