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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Tancredi - opera in two acts (1813)
Tancredi, a Knight and son of the deposed king of Syracuse - Daniela Barcellona (mezzo); Argirio, ruler of Syracuse and father of Amenaide - Raul Giménez (ten); Orbazzano, leader of a powerful family faction in Syracuse - Marco Spotti (bass); Amenaide, daughter of Argirio in love with Tancredi - Darina Takova (coloratura soprano); Roggiero, Tancredi’s friend - Nicola Marchesini (male falsettist); Isaura - Barbara Di Castri (mezzo)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Riccardo Frizza
rec. live, Teatro Communale, Florence, 21 October 2005
Stage Director and Set and Costume design by Pier Luigi Pizzi
Sets and Costumes made by the Rossini Opera festival in Pesaro in collaboration with the Teatro Communale, Florence
Sound format, DD 5.1. DTS 5.1. LPCM stereo. Picture format 16:9 anamorphic
Introductory essay in English, German and French
Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, German, French and Spanish
TDK DVWW-OPTANC [155:00]
 


Rossini was not yet 21 years of age when he scored a success with his seventh opera La pietra del paragone at La Scala in May 1812 (see review). It came in the middle of the sequence of five one-act farsa (see review) that he wrote in a hectic compositional period for Venice’s small Teatro Moise. It was while Rossini was in Venice in November 1812, preparing for the premiere of the fourth of those farsa, L’occasione fa il ladro (see review), that he was invited by the Teatro La Fenice, the city’s premier theatre, to compose an opera seria for the following season. The subject of Voltaire’s Tancrède (1760) had already been chosen, as had the librettist, Gaetano Rossi who three years earlier had provided Rossini with the verses for the first of his operatic compositions to be staged.
 
Rossini’s Tancredi is set in the Sicilian city of Syracuse around 1005. Argirio (ten), ruler of the city has promised his daughter Amenaide (sop) in marriage to Orbazzano (bass) so as to unite their families against the Saracens. Amenaide is in love with Tancredi (mezzo) son of the deposed king of Syracuse. Tancredi returns from exile in time to stop the marriage despite believing Amenaide to be unfaithful to him. When Orbazzano has Amenaide condemned to death on a trumped-up charge Tancredi fights and kills him. Tancredi leads a successful expedition against the Saracens and in the original composition is united with Amenaide in a happy ending.
 
Tancredi was favourably received at its premiere on 6 February 1813 and was subsequently seen in other Italian towns to great acclaim in this form. For its second staging in Ferrara, under the aegis of Count Lechi, several weeks after its premiere in Venice, Rossi’s libretto was altered to match the tragic ending of Voltaire’s play and Rossini composed new music.  The tragic ending was not popular with Italian audiences used to happy endings and was soon dropped. Since the re-discovery of the music of this tragic ending in the 1970s it has become popular with singers and producers. Audio recordings with Marilyn Horne (CBS M3K 39073) and Fiorenza Cossotto (Warner Fonit 5050466) feature this ending whilst the Naxos, with Ewa Podles as Tancredi, uses the original Venice happy ending (see review).
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Tancredi was Rossini’s defining opera. Over the next few years after its premiere the work was translated into twelve languages and performed all over Europe and the Americas. It set the composer at the forefront of his contemporaries, a position he quickly consolidated with L’Italiana in Algeri three months later. It was after a revival of Tancredi in Venice in 1815 that the catchy tune from the cavatina Di tanti palpiti spread to have ‘a wider and more universal popularity of any aria in the world’ (Stendahl, ‘The Life of Rossini’, 1824). Despite its immense popularity, Tancredi, like all his bel-canto seria, fell into neglect until the 1950s, after which it was regularly revived, becoming a particular favourite of Marilyn Horne.
 
This production by Pier Luigi Pizzi was first seen at the Pesaro Rossini festival in 1999, also with Daniela Barcellona as Tancredi. It was reprised in 2004 with Marianna Pizzolata in the title role and Patrizia Ciofi singing a highly-praised Amenaide. For this revival at the Maggio Musicale in Florence that role went to Darina Takova. Whilst the singing and acting of Daniela Barcellona as Tancredi take the laurels of the evening, Takova’s purity of tone, expression and characterisation matches her. Slender, she moves with grace, acts with natural conviction and only a little more facial animus is needed to crown an outstanding portrayal. Her coloratura and phrasing mark her out as a natural in this fach as can be appreciated in Amenaide’s scene and cavatina in act 2 (CHs 25-27 and 31). Raul Giménez as Amenaide’s father Argirio reprises the role he sang in 1999. He has been around the bel canto repertoire, not least in Rossini, for so long that there is a tendency to take his vocal skills of clarity of diction, graceful phrasing and pleasing tone for granted. His acting demeanour, whether showing his authority, or despairing of the decision he has to make regarding his daughter’s life are such as to draw the watcher into the intensity of the drama. As Orbazzano, who forces Argirio into making the fateful decision, Marco Spotti sings with good diction and strong and even bass tone. His general deportment and acting are also of a high standard as is that of Barbara Di Castri as Isaura, Amenaide’s confidante. She sings with rock-solid creamy tone (CH. 24).
 
Unusually, the role of Roggiero is sung by the male falsettist Nicola Marchesini. At the premiere the role was specified and sung by a soprano en travesti and that is the norm on records and in the theatre. Marchesini also appears as Condulmiero a Venetian General, designated for a tenor at the premiere, in the Dynamic label recording of Maometo II (see review). As in that performance he sings with effortless even tone (CHs. 40-41) and perhaps his obvious maleness adds to the dramatic conviction. However, the famous rondo Perché turbar la calma (CH. 47) belongs to the hero Tancredi not to Roggiero as shown in the Chapter listings (CH. 47) in the booklet. That rondo is part of what is designated in the score as No 16 Gran Scena di Tancredi (CHs. 42-52). The description is no understatement. Its histrionic challenge is perhaps why the opera has drawn some of the greatest mezzos in the bel canto business to the title role since the opera’s re-emergence from the shadows of neglect. I was never fortunate enough to see Marilyn Horne sing the role; she did so much to rescue Rossini’s operas from neglect. Whatever her acting and vocal skills, and both were formidable, she would have been hard-pressed to better Daniela Barcellona in this performance. Helped by her tall imposing stature to portray the fighting hero, as in her portrayal of Falliero (see review) she walks and moves like a man. Only the close-ups of her hands betray femininity. Her vocal range, from a free and easy top through forte or mezza voce centre to formidable lower notes is even and musical. Diction and decoration are all one would hope and her sotto voce death, prostrate, is intensely moving. Whilst there continues to be debate as to the comparative musical merits of the lieto fine (happy ending) and this truer, Voltairian, tragic finale, all I can add is that Rossini’s music during Tancredi’s demise is of a dramatic quality that he would not repeat for some years whether by cause of opportunity or ability. Daniela Barcellona’s acted and sung performance is an illumination of her as a singing actress in this fach and of this opera.
 
The overall dramatic impact of this outstanding performance is facilitated by the set, costume design and stage direction of Pier Luigi Pizzi. His set comprises classical columns and shapes, pillars, a statue of a horse, stairs and marble chairs all of which move easily as required to give a representational background for the evolving story. The soldiers are in period battle dress whilst the ladies’ dresses vary between neo-classical off-shoulder white gowns to figure hugging full-length sleek blue that would not disgrace a 20th century cocktail party; they are never inappropriate. Pizzi moves his singers around the stage, in the interests of the drama and of their singing to the audience, with seeming ease and naturalness. His particular facility is also illustrated in the way Amenaide’s imprisonment is portrayed (CH. 25) and the use of silhouette against an azure blue cyclorama. Video direction is in the very capable hands of Brian Large who generally, one or two excessive close-ups apart (CHs.14 and 23), brings this opera to the small screen in manner that draws the watcher into the story. Riccardo Frizza, who conducts the recently issued Decca recording of Matilda di Shabran recorded at Pesaro in 2004 featuring Juan Diego Florez as Corradino Ironheart, (see review) does so here with the same balance of loving support for both his singers and the dramatic detail of Rossini’s composition. To conclude a very enjoyable evening’s watching and listening both the picture quality and sound reproduction are exemplary. In all respects this issue supersedes the Arthaus Music issue (100 206) of Pier Luigi Pizzi’s earlier production seen and recorded at the Schwetzingen festival in 1992 - that is in 4:3 form and stereo only.
 
Robert J Farr

 

 



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