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).
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.
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).
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.
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