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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Torvaldo e Dorliska - Dramma semi-seria in two acts (1815)
Torvaldo - Francesco Meli (ten); Dorliska, Torvaldo’s wife - Darina Takova (sop); Giorgio, custodian of the Duke of Ordow’s castle - Bruno Pratico (bass); Duca d’Ordow - Michele Pertusi (buffo bass); Ormondo, Captain of the Duke’s guard - Simone Alberghini (bass-bar); Carlotta, Giorgio’s sister - Jeanette Fischer (sop)
Prague Chamber Choir
Orchestra Haydn di Bolzano e Trento/Víctor Pablo Pérez
rec. live, Teatro Rossini, Pesaro Festival, Italy, August 2006
Performed in the Critical Edition by Francesco PaoloRusso for the Rossini Foundation in collaboration with Casa Ricordi
DYNAMIC CDS 528/1-2 [76.52 + 74.18]

I believe the first staged production of Torvaldo e Dorliska in the twentieth century were given at Savonna in 1989. Charles Osborne in The Bel Canto Operas  (Methuen 1994) mentions an earlier LP version conducted by Alberto Zedda with a fine cast including Lella Cuberli, Lucia Vallentini-Terrani, Enzo Dara and Siegmund Nimsgern, but this seems never to have made it onto CD. Aware of that, I recently welcomed the Naxos recording of performances given at Bad Wildbad, known as the Pesaro of the North in 2003. It fills an important gap in the Rossini discography. I also gave notice that the work was performed at the Rossini Festival at Pesaro in 2006. The adventurous Italian company Dynamic were on hand to record from Pesaro and this issue is the product. Dynamic has the habit of recording performances for later DVD issue as with Bianca e Faliero recorded at the 2005 Pesaro Festival. Even before I make my assessment of this recording I express the hope that they will do likewise with this Torvaldo
Rossini had already agreed to compose a work to open the Carnival Season at Rome’s Teatro Valle on 26 December 1815 as he prepared his first opera seria for Naples, Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra. It was enthusiastically received at its premiere on 4 October 1815. On his arrival in Rome to rehearse Il Turco in Italia for a performance a month later, he did not like the libretto for the new work prepared for him by Angelo Anelli the librettist of his popular L’Italiana in Algeri. Rossini turned to a young civil servant, inexperienced as a librettist, Cesare Sterbini. He produced a semi-seria libretto of Torvaldo that essentially belongs in the category of a rescue opera of which the outstanding example is Beethoven’s Fidelio.
The opera is set in and around the castle of the Duke of Ordow (bar). The evil Duke is in love with Dorliska (sop) the wife of the knight Torvaldo (ten). The Duke had attacked the couple on their wedding day with the intent of taking Dorliska for himself. In the struggle Torvaldo was wounded and left for dead. Dorliska having escaped arrives at the castle and seeks shelter not knowing it is the home of the Duke. At first she is given shelter by Giorgio, the castle guardian (bass), and his wife Carlotta (sop) but is discovered by the Duke. Torvaldo who has not been killed arrives at the castle in disguise to rescue her but she inadvertently reveals his identity and he also becomes a prisoner. Giorgio declares that he is an honourable man and with the aid of his wife and disaffected villagers, tired of their tyrant Duke, Torvaldo and Dorliska are rescued.
For Torvaldo Rossini did not try to import the musical initiatives of his Naples opera to Rome, rather he presented a traditional structure with the musical numbers interspersed with recitative. Although there are self-borrowings the music has impetus and drama with significant demands on the principals. Pesaro has waited until the emergence of a critical edition of the score, prepared by Francesco PaoloRusso who has replaced Philip Gossett, before presenting the work at the Festival for the first time. The performances from which this recording is derived were of the only new production at the 2006 festival, which is struggling with refurbishment of the normal venue in the town and having to use temporary venues at a sports stadium in the outskirts. Nor did the Festival have good fortune when one of the two concert performances of Adelaide di Borgogna had to be cancelled because of the illness of Patrizia Cioffi where she was cast alongside Daniela Barcellona as the emperor Ottone. Given these fraught circumstances the organisers must have been mightily relieved at the reception given to this first production of Torvaldo presented in the town centre venue of the Teatro Rossini. Reports indicate an imaginative production by Mario Martone with some singing from the aisles of the theatre. Whether the challenges of this accounts for the rather flat sound, which lacks the presence of the parallel recording of performances of L’Italiana in Algeri from the out of town venue I do not know, but it is a little lacking, unlike the singing and orchestral playing, in warmth and life.
The coloured photograph on the inside of the booklet shows the imposing physical stature of Michele Pertusi as the rather nasty Duke of Ordow. His singing is equally impressive in terms of both vocal quality and characterisation throughout the performance. Of note is his singing in the confrontation duet with Dorliska (CD 2 trs 9-10) when she tells him ‘you will always be victim of my hatred’ and particularly in the duets with Giorgio the good guy of the plot. The near veteran Bruno Pratico sings Giorgio. His leaner bass tone is distinct from that of Pertusi, absolutely essential in their scenes and many patter-type vocal interactions and where their excellent diction and articulation is vital. Pratico is ideal in conveying the many circumstances and dilemmas that the character Giorgio finds himself in and consequent moods. Giorgio is scared to the core of his master the Duke, but is relentless in his determination to help Dorliska and later Torvaldo, eventually supporting the insurrection against his sadistic master that frees the lovers. Bruno Pratico’s command of this character role is consummate and his portrayal superb in all respects. Francesco Meli sings Torvaldo with promising lyric tones and with plenty of expression (CD 1 trs. 11-12). In a recent profile in France’s Opéra magazine he indicated his wish to move towards the lyric tenor fach. In this he is probably wise, as he has not quite got the free top of the voice that is required for the ideal Rossini tenor. What he has is a pleasing tenor tone, sensitive phrasing, good legato and willingness to use mezza voce, all allied to a capacity for expression and characterisation that combine to bring the role to life. Darina Takova as Dorliska also exhibits some of these skills. The Bulgarian soprano’s smooth creamy tone and ability to express Dorliska’s emotions are a strength in this performance. Regrettably, her lack of security in the upper reaches of the voice, with smudged divisions and a touch of shrillness, are a drawback from time to time (CD 1 tr.7). In the comprimario, but vital, role of Carlotta, Jeanette Fischer’s voice is distinct from that of Takova. She sings with lightness and flexibility although losing clarity of diction in the flights of her brief aria (CD 2 tr. 12). Víctor Pablo Pérez on the rostrum draws a vibrant rendering of the overture from his orchestra and thereafter paces the drama well. The chorus sing with commitment.
The accompanying booklet has an interesting, if brief, essay on the complexities of the semi-seria genre. This like the synopsis is given in Italian, French, German and English. There is a full libretto with English translation. Rather than the listing of the members of the orchestra and chorus I would have appreciated some up to date biographical details of the singers and conductor which Naxos do provide for their cast. 
After so long with no available recorded version of Torvaldo e Dorliska, to have choice is a luxury and a challenge. Both this and the Naxos are taken from live performances which inevitably means the intrusion of applause. In both cases this is not too obtrusive and is not a serious drawback to the enjoyment of discovering this Rossini opera which was followed two months later by his most popular work, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, with the same librettist as for Torvaldo. This Dynamic recording has a far more experienced cast than that from Bad Wildbad on Naxos and is issued with a complete libretto. But of course those come at a financial cost with this performance being at full price compared with Naxos’s bargain price. Rossini lovers with only audio replay facilities or preferences will want this recording. Others who have already purchased the Naxos issue might want to wait and see if a video was made at Pesaro before investing.
Robert J Farr


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