These are halcyon
days for the lovers of Rossini’s operas. In the first twenty or
so years of the LP era the composer was represented in the catalogue
by a mere three or four of his operatic works. Currently, representation
on DVD as well as CD is burgeoning, with over thirty of the composer’s
thirty-nine operas readily available in one or the other of the
two formats and sometimes on both. For this, enthusiasts have
in large part to thank the work of the Pesaro and Bad Wildbad
festivals. Performances from the latter have been regularly recorded
and issued by Naxos. Other CD recordings have emanated from Opera
Rara and from the adventurous Italian company Dynamic who regularly
record the composer’s works from Pesaro and other native theatres.
These Dynamic recordings often appear on both CD and DVD. Their
Pesaro recordings include memorable performances of Bianca
e Falliero from the 2005 Festival, (review)
on DVD and CD, a forthcoming La Cambiale Di Matrimonio
from the 2006 Festival on CD and Maometto II from
Venice’s La Fenice in February 2005 on DVD (review).
The foregoing is not to forget a fantastic performance Tancredi
from Florence, a production first seen at Pesaro (review),
and a La Scala Moïse et Pharaon, both on DVD from TDK (review).
This recording of
Torvaldo e Dorliska was taken from the performances at
Pesaro in 2006, its premiere there associated with the arrival
of a Critical Edition. The first performances of the opera in
the twentieth century did not occur until 1988 at Savona’s Teatro
Chiabera. Charles Osborne in The Bel Canto Operas (Methuen
1994) mentions an LP version conducted by Alberto Zedda with
a fine looking cast including Lella Cuberli, Lucia Valentini-Terrani,
Enzo Dara and Siegmund Nimsgern. To the best of my knowledge
this seems never to have made it onto CD, nor do I know its
origins. This DVD was recorded at the same series of performances
that provide the basis of the Dynamic CD issue (review)
that supersedes the earlier Naxos recording from Bad Wildbad
Torvaldo e Dorliska
was composed to open the carnival season at Rome’s Teatro
Valle on 26 December 1815. In the Rossini oeuvre it comes between
his first opera seria, Elisabetta Regina d’Inghilterra,
composed under his contract at Naples and premiered there on
4 October 1815, and his great comic opera, Il barbiere di
Siviglia premiered at Rome’s Teatro Valle in February 1816.
The three operas were staged within sixteen months of each other.
This pace of composition was not, at that time, unusual for
Rossini. What was unusual was that the three works were of different
genres. Torvaldo e Dorliska is described as semi-seria.
It was a genre that he followed once more in La Gazza ladra
at La Scala in May 1817.
The genre of opera
semi-seria, whilst lying between the serious and the comic,
does not mean a mixture of each. Rather, the plot, as here,
involves a near contemporary setting in which an innocent victim
is threatened with death before being rescued at the last minute.
The semi-seria Rossini operas nearly belong to the type the
Germans called Rettungsstück or rescue operas, as epitomised
by Beethoven’s Leonore, later revised as Fidelio.
In the Rossini examples of the genre, there is a connection
with the comic operas in that there is a role written specifically
for a buffo. That does not imply a funny man or clown, rather
a voice type that is perhaps best described as for a character
singer. In Torvaldo e Dorliska this requirement is filled
by the role of Giorgio, the goody of the story. There is a light-hearted,
even comic, interlude, perhaps to provide opportunity for an
aria for the singer of Ormondo, involving the plucking of a
pear from a tree (D1 Ch.9).
Torvaldo e Dorliska
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 (buffa 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 a 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 and 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 principal singers. Pesaro waited until the emergence
of a critical edition of the score, prepared by Francesco Paolo
Russo who replaced Philip Gossett as editor, 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 was struggling with refurbishment
of the normal venue in the town and was staged at the small
Teatro Rossini. I recently praised the staging and director’s
work in a Dynamic DVD recording of Verdi’s I Vespri Siciliani
from the tiny theatre in Verdi’s hometown of Busseto. What I
was impressed with was how the director used the auditorium.
The same is true with this production of Torvaldo e Dorliska.
The stage is extended round and in front of the orchestra
pit. The action takes place all around this extra stage as well
as in the front and in the auditorium. This has challenges for
the camera and sound recordists but these are overcome with
aplomb. The stage set doesn’t feature a castle as such but a
large gate with a forest area beyond. The main castle interior
room is on the stage with the dungeon rising from in front of
the orchestra pit in the form of a cage in which Torvaldo is
imprisoned. This simple and effective set and extended stage,
together with striking lighting allows for imaginative direction
of the action of the story. Add good acting from all the principals
and the realisation of this rarely performed opera is first
rate. As in the recording from Busseto referred, there is the
odd downside of the sight of a member of the audience sat in
a box next to the extended stage. This is a little intrusive
at a gripping point in the drama as the gentleman in the box
has his hand draped on the front lip. A pity that technological
wizardry could not have air brushed it out!
lean and tall physical stature as the rather nasty Duke of Ordow
gives him a head start. Add the costume of a long leather coat
and shaved head and his appearance is fearsome. It is no wonder
he keeps his servants and retainers in fear. His lean focused
bass was perfect for the character as was his singing and acting.
His singing is impressive in terms of both vocal quality and
characterisation throughout the performance, being particularly
fearsome in his confrontations with Dorliska (D1 Ch. 6) and
his bullying treatment of Giorgio sung by the near veteran Bruno
Pratico (D2 Ch. 5). Pratico may not have the sap in his voice
of old but he can still convey a Rossinian buffo character with
clear diction and vocal characterisation always of the best.
These qualities together with his acting realise the character’s
nature which hovers between duplicity and a sense of right and
wrong. The lovers are a well matched pair vocally and as actors.
As Dorliska, Torvaldo’s wife and feature of the Duke’s lust,
the Bulgarian Darina Takova sings with full creamy tone. Once
or twice her divisions could have been better and her tone thins
a little at the top of her voice, but rather her fulsome singing,
committed acting and vocal characterisation than a lighter soprano.
The difference she brings to her singing between that when confronted
by the Duke’s threats as she tells him you will always be
victim of my hatred (D2 Ch.3) and in duet with Giorgio are
impressive. Francesco Meli sings Torvaldo with promising lyric
tones and with plenty of expression. As I noted in my review
of the CD from this series of performances, a 2006 profile in
France’s Opéra magazine indicates his wish to move towards the
lyric tenor fach. His singing here shows his decision is wise;
his voice is growing beyond the light lyric flexible fach although
under pressure he can show a little strain. His changes of appearance
with the putting on and removal of a beard are done with the
felicity that marks a singer at ease on the stage. This quality
marks his acting throughout and parallels his well-characterised
singing. 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 some clarity of diction
in her brief aria.
Víctor Pablo Pérez
on the rostrum draws a vibrant rendering of the overture from
his orchestra and thereafter he paces the drama well. The chorus
sing with enviable involvement and commitment adding to the overall
impression of a well prepared and rehearsed performance. The sound
is nicely caught and Dynamic’s High Definition filming
is first class with well thought out camera work to match.
Robert J Farr