RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
L’Inganno Felice (The Happy Stratagem) - Farsa giocosa in one act (1812)
Duke Bertrando - Raúl Giménez (tenor); Isabella, his wife, known as Nisa - Annick Massis (soprano); Ormondo, a confidante of the Duke - Lorenzo Regazzo (baritone); Tarabotto, leader of the mining community - Pietro Spagnoli (bass); Batone, a confident of Ormondo - Rodney Gilfry (baritone);
Le Concert des Tuileres/Marc Minkowski
rec. live, Théâtre de Poissy, 12-17 July 1996. DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 68148-4 [78.11]
Rossini’s first staged opera, La Cambiale di Matrimonio, (see review of CD and also DVD) was premiered at Venice’s Teatro San Moisè in November 1810. It was a full year later before his next operaL'equivoco stravagante, appeared in his hometown of Bologna. It was musically sound and innovative and well received. However, its plot offended the local censors and it was quickly withdrawn (see review).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 farsa. L’Inganno Felice (The Happy Stratagem) waspremiered 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 the work had already been heard there in 1819. During his lifetime it was the third most performed of Rossini’s operas. As it traveled, modifications and additions were made to meet the skills and requirements of particular singers and theatres.
In many ways L’Inganno Felice is not a true farsa or comic opera, but can more properly be seen as an early Rossini effort at semi seria. Rossini brought this genre to full flowering much later in his career. The evidence is to be found in Torvaldo e Dorliska, 1815, (see review on Naxos CD and also on Dynamic DVD), and most notably in La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie, 1817), (see review). Matilde du Shabran of 1822, (see review) is a further example. Like L’Inganno Felice these works can, be seen as variants of the rescue opera form. Such works usually, but not always as in Beethoven’s Fidelio, involve a woman faced with an unspeakable fate.
The story of L’Inganno Felice concerns Isabella who was banished and abandoned at sea by her husband Duke Bertrando. This was done at the instigation of his villainous confidante Ormondo whose advances Isabella had spurned. In this nefarious activity Ormondo was aided by a reluctant Batone. Isabella was found, half dead, on the seashore by Tarbatto, a mineworkers’ leader, and has since lived with him as his niece Nisa. Ten years later Bertrando arrives with his two henchmen seeking his wife still the object of his love though he believes her to be dead. Although Batone has regretted his actions Ormondo has no such regrets. Batone, having met Nisa, suspects that she is indeed the Duke’s lost wife. While Ormondo plots to abduct and kill Nisa, Tarabotto reveals a stratagem to the Duke to foil him. In the finale the plot is foiled; husband and wife are reconciled, the guilty punished and the innocent emerge triumphant. It is rescue opera, semi seria and romantic opera with a touch of comedy all wrapped into one. No wonder Rossini used it as a calling card; it certainly stood him in good stead.
In 2008 I awarded the accolade of Bargain of the Month to the Naxos issue of the work derived from live performances recorded three years earlier during the Rossini In Wildbad Festival, (see review). That performance was in a revised edition by Florian Bauer to celebrate the reopening of the new theatre. It included the alternative aria for Isabella prepared for performance at La Scala in 1816 as well as other slight differences that necessitated spreading onto a second CD. This performance relates more to that included in the collection of the five farse that Rossini wrote for Venice’s Teatro Moise between 1810 and 1812. It was included in the Brilliant Label collection of all five (see review). I can state immediately that this performance is far superior to that in every respect. It can at least stand alongside that from Bad Wildbad and whilst also being a live recording it is without the disturbance of applause. The small-sized orchestra is ideal and Marc Minkowski draws idiomatic playing in a clear, well-balanced and warm acoustic.
The singing is first class. Annick Massis is particularly characterful as Isabella with warm-toned expressive tone and secure coloratura (tr. 13) managing the demands of clear diction better than most in the high tessitura and concludes her aria with a secure high note. As her husband, Raúl Giménez is the epitome of the desired mellifluous tenor. His flexible leggiero tenor, with a mezza voce to die for, is ideal to convey Bertrando’s character which he does so with first-rate characterisation (tr.4). I might quibble about the vocal descriptions of the three lower male voices. Pietro Spagnoli, designated bass here is, as we have come to appreciate over the years as a distinguished Figaro in Rossini’sIl Barbiere, a true baritone. He portrays the sympathetic Tarabotto exhibiting his always-welcome qualities ofeven singing and clarity of diction in the recitatives and ensembles. Rodney Gilfry, darker in timbre than Spagnoli, gets the aria when Batone recognises Nisa as Isabella and has to get his mind around the past and present consequences. He sings with firm, resonant and expressive tone (tr.6). Lorenzo Regazzo takes the role of Tarabotto in the Naxos issue, sings the real baddy of the story, Ormondo. Despite the vocal description, he is a true bass and brings the roles’ villainy to full realisation in his interpretation as he plans and instructs the abduction of Nisa (trs.10-11).
The leaflet has a cast-list, track sequence and a track-related synopsis in English, French and German. It is a pity that the budget price does not allow for the inclusion of Damien Calas’s informative essay that accompanied the original issue. One must however be thankful for small mercies and welcome the return of this recording to the catalogue as part of the Erato Opera Collection and at a price that should ensure that every Rossini-lover adds it to his or her collection if it is not already there.
Robert J Farr
A welcome return to the catalogue at a price that should ensure that all Rossini-lovers add it to their collection if it is not already there.