BARGAIN OF THE MONTH
Giovanni PACINI (1796-1867)
Il convitato di pietra (The Stone Guest)- Opera buffa in two acts (1832)
Don Giovanni - Leonardo Cortellazzi (tenor); Donna Anna - Geraldine Chauvet (mezzo); Zerlina - Zinovia Maria Zafeiriadou (soprano); Masetto - Ugo Guagliardo (bass); Duca Ottavio - Giorgio Trucco (tenor); Il Commendatore - Ugo Guagliardo (Bass); Ficcanaso - Giulio Mastrototaro (baritone)
Transylvania State Philharmonic Choir, Cluj Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim/Daniele Ferrari
rec. live, Kursaal, Bad Wildbad, Germany. 1-2, 4 July; 4 July 2008; Jubilee 20th Rossini in Wildbad Festival (edition by Jeremy Commons and Danielle Ferrari)
NAXOS OPERA CLASSICS 8.660282-83 [44.55+47.28]
You might look at the cast and roles and wonder what, if any, is the relationship this opera had with the one by Mozart, or others, relating to the same or similar story. Mozart’s librettist, Da Ponte, based his libretto more or less on Molière’s original play Don Juan, whilst Dargomyzhsky, in his The Stone Guest, used Pushkin’s derivation. Not many had heard of Pacini’s work until this performance was heard at Bad Wildbad in 2008. No wonder, as the performances were the first since the work was premiered, and then at a private family occasion, not in a theatre.
Giovanni Pacini was born eighteen months before his compatriot Donizetti. His father, Luigi, was a singer who created Geronio in Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia. The young Giovanni studied singing and composition from the age of twelve and his second opera was staged in 1813 when he was seventeen. He continued to produce mainly comic operas over the next few years with the speed of a typical primo ottocento composer and very much in the Rossini style. The latter quality perhaps helped when he was called upon to assist the great man with three numbers for Matilde di Shabran, premiered in Rome in February 1822 (Review). By then Pacini had made an impact in Milan and San Carlo in Naples. Donizetti had had to earn his spurs in Naples at the small Teatro Nuovo with his opera La zingara of 1822. An invitation to write for the San Carlo arrived and Pacini went straight to the top with his Alessandro nell’Indie, which,after a rocky first night, (29 September 1824) had a resounding success (see review).
As Jeremy Commons explains in his detailed note, like all ottocento composers Pacini lived an itinerant life composing rapidly wherever and whenever opportunity arose. Having established himself in Viareggio he gathered his family and wrote this work for a performance by them in the private theatre of his sister’s husband, a wealthy doctor. Strangely, given the vocal demands of his writing, only his father was a professional, albeit retired, with the creator of the role of Masetto being one of his students who doubled as the Commendatore. The work calls for a small orchestra and a small male chorus.
The major differences from Mozart are in the designated vocal register of some of the characters. Don Giovanni is a high tenor role, whilst Zerlina is the prima donna and a high soprano. Donna Anna is designated mezzo, whilst Ottavio has no aria. Leporello has become Ficcanaso. There are many similarities with the well-known Mozart such as a catalogue aria; with this Don having mistresses in Peru in addition to those Da Ponte gave for Mozart’s Leporello to list (CD 1 Tr.10). Also a duet between Giovanni and Zerlina (CD 1 Tr.8) might be likened to La ci darem in Mozart’s opera with a contrite Zerlina in act two (CD 2 Tr.6), and so on.
In this performance the tenor Leonardo Cortellazzi as Don Giovanni is pleasing in tone and encompasses the demanding tessitura with vocal surety (CD 2 Tr.2). The light coloratura Zerlina is sung by the Greek soprano Zinovia Maria Zafeiriadou with equally pleasing tone albeit a little thin at the very top of her voice. She has a good range of expressiveness and vocal presence (CD 2 Tr.10). Also particularly pleasing to my ear is the warm-toned singing of the mezzo Geraldine Chauvet as Anna, particularly in the long act two duet with the steady bass Ugo Guagliardo as Masetto (CD 2 Tr.6). Anna’s suitor Ottavio gets little to sing whilst the Giulio Mastrototaro relishes Ficcanaso’s Catalogue Aria (CD 1 Tr.10). The small band is excellently conducted by Danielle Ferrari and the chorus of young singers are suitably vibrant. The acoustic of the small Kursaal Theatre at Bad Wildbad seem ideal. There is periodic appreciative applause.
Pacini’s longevity gave him a great advantage over his many compositional rivals. He took the opportunity after the failure in 1834 of Carlo di Borgogna to withdraw from composition for five years and rethink his ideas of dramatic theory and structure. His return to the theatre saw some of his finest works, the likes of Sapho (1840), La findanzante corsa (1841), Maria Regina d’Inghilterra (1843) and Medea (1857) are quoted in this context by Dr. Jeremy Commons’ in the brief introduction. Pacini’s last opera, Berta, was staged a mere seven months before his death in 1867, the year of the premiere of Verdi’s Don Carlos in Paris. Between the first and last of Pacini’s operas, compositional styles changed immeasurably. The Opera Rara issue Pacini Rediscovered (see review) explores something of the breadth of his creativity. It must be heard in the context of the changes that took place during even that part of Pacini’s life.
Giovanni Pacini wrote some 74 operas. This is not only the first recording of Il convitato di pietra, but also the first ever-public performance. It was originally written for private performance in 1832. As explained by Jeremy Commons in the booklet essay the manuscript score and original performing parts, as well as the partially preserved hand-written libretto, were used as the basis for reconstructing the entire work.
There is an excellent track-related synopsis and welcome artist profiles. A full libretto, in Italian, is available from Naxos online.
Robert J Farr
A different take on a well-known story is accompanied by a Pacini’s sure composition and an enjoyable first public performance.