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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
L’Inganno Felice (The Happy Stratagem) - Farsa giocosa in one act (1812)
Isabella, known as Nisa - Corinna Mologni (soprano); Duke Bertrando - Kenneth Tarver (tenor); Tarabotto - Lorenzo Regazzo (bass); Batone - Marco Vinco (bass); Ormondo - Somon Bailey (bass)
Czech Chamber Soloists Brno/Alberto Zedda
rec. live, 1-3 July 2005, Königliches Kurtheater, Rossini In Wildbad Festival, Bas Wildbad, Germany
NAXOS OPERA CLASSICS 8.660233-34 [51.21 + 34.17]

A libretto is now available for this title. There is no English translation.

Experience Classicsonline

Rossini’s first staged opera, La Cambiale di Matrimonio, (see review of CD and also on DVD) was premiered at Venice’s Teatro San Moisè in November 1810. It was a full year later before his next opera L'equivoco stravagante, was staged, in his home town of Bologna. It was musically sound, innovative and well received, but its plot offended the local censors and it was quickly withdrawn (see review). Meanwhile the impresario of the Teatro San Moisè had been impressed by Rossini’s first effort for his theatre and was eager for another Rossini farsa. L’Inganno Felice (The Happy Stratagem) was premiered there to acclaim on 8 January 1812 during the important carnival season. Within a year it had been staged in Bologna, Florence, Verona and Trieste as well as at the Teatro San Benedetto, second only to La Fenice in Venice. The innate quality of the music also enabled Rossini to use the opera as a calling card when he settled in Naples in 1815 and then in Paris in 1824, although it had already been heard there in 1819. It was the third most performed of Rossini’s operas in his lifetime. As the opera travelled, modifications and additions were made to meet the skills and requirements of particular singers and theatres. The Edition performed here is the revision by Florian Bauer and includes the alternative aria for Isabella written for La Scala, Milan in 1816 (CD 2 tr.4). 

In many ways L’Inganno Felice is not a true farsa or comic opera, but can be seen as an early Rossini effort at semi seria. This genre Rossini brought to full flower much later in his career with Torvaldo e Dorliska (1815, see review on Naxos and also on Dynamic DVD), most notably in La gazza ladra (1817, see review) and also with Matilde du Shabran (1822, see review). All three are also, as here, variants of the rescue opera, usually, but not always as in Beethoven’s Fidelio, involving a woman faced with an unspeakable fate. In L’Inganno Felice, the story concern Isabella who was banished and abandoned at sea by her husband Duke Bertrando at the instigation of his villainous confidant Ormondo whose advances she had spurned and aided by a reluctant Batone. She was found half dead on the seashore by Tarabotto, a mineworker’s leader, and has since lived with him as his niece.  Ten years later Bertrando arrives with his two henchmen seeking his wife who he really loves but also believes dead. Although Batone has regretted his actions Ormondo does not. Batone having seen her, suspects that Nisa is the Duke’s wife. While Ormondo plots to abduct and kill Nisa, Tarabotto reveals a stratagem to the Duke to foil him. In the finale (CD 2 tr.6) the plot is foiled and husband and wife are reconciled. The guilty are punished and the innocent triumphant. It is rescue opera, semi seria and romantic opera with a touch of comedy wrapped into one. No wonder Rossini used it as a calling card.

This edition of L’Inganno Felice was prepared for concert performances in July 2005 to celebrate the re-opening of the Königliches Kurtheater at Bas Wildbad, Germany, the base for the annual Rossini In Wildbad Festival. The acoustic of the new theatre is far better than that of the old, being leaner and more analytical. This enables the listener fully to appreciate the work itself in its many felicitous moments and also the detail brought out by Alberto Zedda. Scholar as well as conductor Zedda has been instrumental as no other in the Rossini renaissance of the past thirty years. He brings zest and brio to his conducting of Rossini as can be heard here as early as the overture (CD 1 tr.1). His skill does much to explain why this work was held in such high esteem by the composer as well as the impresario of the Teatro San Moisè who, after the first performance wrote to the composer’s mother in eulogistic terms about it and about her son’s future.

Alongside the conducting of Zedda in the enjoyment of this performance is the quality of the singing of all the soloists. It must have been difficult to choose three bass voices each of distinct timbre and vocal character. Lorenzo Regazzo as Tarabotto, the rescuer of Isabella, is strong, sonorous and sings with good characterisation (CD 1 trs.2-3). He affects a darker timbre than I would have expected from a singer who appeared as Guglielmo at Covent Garden in 2007 and as Leporello in René Jacobs recent recording of Don Giovanni (Harmonia Mundi 901964.66). I was impressed by his singing and acting as Maometto in the DVD recording of Maometto II from La Fenice in 2005 (see review). His contribution here confirms my favourable view. Regazzo’s voice is well contrasted with the softer grained Marco Vinco’s as Batone. Vinco is something of a Rossini specialist these days, appearing regularly at the Pesaro Festival. His imposing stage presence and acting can be seen as well as heard in performances of La Cenerentola, (see review), La pietra del paragone (see review) and L’Italiana in Algeri (see review) and elsewhere. His vocal acting and characterisation are used to good effect in this performance (CD 1 tr.6). In the smallest of the bass roles, that of the unrepentant Ormondo, British-born and trained Simon Bailey, now based in Germany, is again vocally well contrasted. His singing is a little less even than that of his colleagues but it’s expressive and well characterised (CD 1 tr.10).

Corinna Mologni, as Isabella-cum-Nisa, is light-toned and flexible with a touch of cream to her voice. Her coloratura runs are not perfect, but as befits a singer who has essayed Elvira in I Puritani they are accomplished with expression and vocal freedom. She is well up to the varied challenges of the Milan aria (CD 2 tr.4) and elsewhere sings with good expression. The booklet gives a special note to Kenneth Tarver who undertook the role of Duke Bertrando at short notice and learned it in five days, thus saving the Festival. He is an accomplished light lyric tenor with a touch of metal in his tone. He sings Don Ottavio in the recording of Don Giovanni under René Jacobs referred to above. I admired his free, elegant and mellifluous singing in Opera Rara’s recording of La Donna del Lago from the 2006 Edinburgh Festival (see review) and am equally impressed here. He can and does caress a phrase as well as also clearly expressing what he is singing about. Overall, and without making allowances whatsoever for the circumstances, his singing is all I could have hoped for and a strength to this fine performance.

Naxos does not provide a libretto or translation. There is a full track-listing including characters involved, an excellent track-related synopsis and artist profiles, all in English. There is also an excellent informative background essay in English and German. The Claves recording of February 1992 made in Rosslyn Hill Chapel, London is included in a bargain price Brilliant set (see review) as well as a separate disc (Claves 50-9211). Neither the singing nor the recording is a match for this Naxos issue.

Robert J Farr




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