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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Torvaldo e Dorliska Dramma semiseria 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 Paolo Russo for the Rossini Foundation in collaboration with Casa Ricordi
Director: Marioi Martone; Sets: Sergio Tramonti; Costumes: Lubomír Mátl; Video Director: Tiziano Mancini
Filmed in High Definition. Presented in dts digital surround sound, PCM 2.0. Vision 16:9 Colour. NTSC
Menu language English. Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish and Chinese. Notes and synopsis in Italian, English, German, and French
DYNAMIC 33528 [2 DVDs: 157:00]

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 (review).

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 (review) 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 (review) 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!

Michele Pertusi’s 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


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