Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792 – 1868)
La Gazzetta (1816) [129.41]
Don Pomponio Storione – Marco Christarella Orestano (baritone)
Lisetta – Judith Gauthier (soprano)
Filippo – Giulio Mastrototaro (baritone)
Don Anselmo – Vincenzo Burzzaniti (bass)
Doralice – Rossella Bevacqua (soprano)
Alberto – Michael Spyres (tenor)
Madama La Rose – Maria Soulis (mezzo)
Monsu Traversen – Filippo Polinelli (baritone)
Tommasino – Emmanuele Capissi (spoken)
Ugo Mahieux (harpsichord continuo)
San Pietro a Majella Chorus, Naples
Czech Chamber Soloists, Brno/Christopher Franklin
rec. live, Kurhaus, Bad Wildbad, Germany, 14, 19-20 July 2007
NAXOS 8.660277-78 [69.48 + 59.53]

In an age when there is a strong urge to investigate all corners of Rossini’s repertoire, no matter how remote, the neglect of his comic opera La Gazzetta is somewhat puzzling. It was written in 1816, coming between Il Barbiere di Siviglia and La Cenerentola. These two latter were written for Rome; La Gazzetta was written for Teatro de’ Fiorentini, Naples, where Rossini was contracted to produce serious operas for the San Carlo. Not only was La Gazzetta comic, but it had a leading role written in Neapolitan dialect.

It was based on Goldoni’s comedy, Il matrimonio per concorso, a play which had already been given the operatic treatment twice before. So strong was the Goldoni link that contemporary Neapolitans persisted in calling Rossini’s opera Il matromonio per concorso. The opera was popular in Naples, but critics found the libretto vulgar and the music weak. It doesn’t help that the music textual history is complex. Significant chunks of the end of Act 1 are missing from the manuscript; possibly because Rossini removed the music as he re-used it in La Cenerentola. Philip Gossett, in his critical edition, reconstituted one missing scene and this recording includes the remaining scenes reconstructed by Stefano Piana, using material from La Cenerentola. The results are more dramaturgically consistent.

In terms of plot, there is nothing in the libretto which might seem to make the piece problematic. We cannot do better than quote Philip Gossett himself describing the plot:-

In this comedy, two Italian merchants (Pandolfo and Anselmo), during the course of a visit to Paris, seek to marry off their daughters (Lisetta and Doralice) in order to increase their wealth or improve their social status. The colorful and crooked Pandolfo tries the expedient of advertising his daughter’s availability in the local newspaper (as an “Avviso al pubblico”), while the more traditional Anselmo seeks to arrange an advantageous match privately. Needless to say, the young women themselves soon fall in love with young men of their own choosing (Filippo, an Italian innkeeper, and Roberto, another Italian merchant). After a series of delightful comic situations, disguises, and unexpected events, love triumphs and the fathers must be reconciled to the choices of their daughters. (Philip Gossett)

More difficult perhaps is the way Rossini re-used material. He was a great re-worker of material, but took care to make sure that he only re-cycled in operas written for different venues. As La Gazzetta was the first (and only) opera he wrote for the Teatro de’ Fiorentini, he was free to borrow at will. Some items are lifted wholesale with new words fitted, from Il Turco in Italia and La pietro del paragone, neither of which had been performed in Naples. But the majority of material is re-worked for the new situation, much as Rossini would re-work the material for Elisabetta’s entrance in Elisabetta Regina d’Inghilterra (written for Naples in 1815), for Rosina’s first aria, Una voca poco fa in Il Barbiere di Siviglia (written for Rome in 1816). Modern commentators still have something of a problem with composers’ re-use of material, no matter how creative, and this has had something of an effect on the reputation of La Gazzetta.

It is tricky when listening to this recording to assess how La Gazzetta would come off in the theatre. It is still so unfamiliar. As with Rossini’s other comedies, there is a lot of recitative, and comic business. Though Naxos have provided the Italian libretto in pdf form on their web-site, there is no English translation and the plot summary is by no means enough to assess comic viability.

The recording was made live at the Rossini in Wildbad Festival. Naxos have issued a number of these recordings and their quality can be a little variable; usually creditable but not always library-shelf material. Here an excellent cast has been assembled and they give a performance of great élan with many musical virtues, making the CDs a highly enjoyable experience.

Marco Cristarella Orestano is impressive as Don Pomponio Storione, with a fine rich baritone and a nice way with Rossini’s music. Not being familiar with Neapolitan, I have no way of knowing whether his delivery of the text is idiomatic or not. In the play, the roles of Pomponio and Anselmo are reasonably balanced, but Rossini emphasises the comic ridiculousness of Pomponio in the tradition of his many other richly comic baritone roles. Orestano rises to the challenge.

Judith Gauthier has an attractive lyric voice as his daughter Lisetta. As with many of his other operas, Rossini is sparing with his arias, so that Lisetta only gets one plus duets with Filippo and Pomponio; no character gets two arias; duets, trios and ensembles are in the majority. Gauthier makes her mark with the care and attention that she gives to Rossini’s vocal line; she is altogether a delight. As her love interest Filippo, Giulio Mastrototaro has a positive tour-de-force of an aria towards the end of Act 2 and Mastrototaro makes the most of this.

To these three principals must be added a fourth, the Alberto of Michael Spyres. Alberto is by no means a principal role, though he does get an aria, but the quality of Spyres’ tenor is such that you listen to him whenever he sings.

With these four artists we have a very fine, balanced group of Rossini singers at their peak. Any performance would be proud to have them and they make this recording one to listen out for.

The remaining cast are creditable rather than wonderful, but contribute to the strong ensemble feel. Rossella Bevacqua’s Doralice is inclined to smudge her passage-work in her runs, but she is characterful in the recitative. Maria Soulis as Madama La Rose also smudges her runs and sings with a fruity, but rather unfocused mezzo-soprano. Vincenzo Bruzzaniti’s Don Anselmo rather tends to get lost in the mêlée.

Christopher Franklin and the Czech Chamber Soloists, Brno, deliver a crisply attractive account. Franklin keeps things bowling long as befits this sort of operatic farce.

This is a charmingly effective recording; one which doesn’t need excuses made for it. If someone picks this up, not knowing Rossini’s comic operas, then they certainly won’t wonder what all the fuss is about; in fact they might well be entranced.

Robert Hugill

Charmingly effective … you might well be entranced.

see also review by Robert Farr