Giovanni Pacini was born in Catania in 1796, the year before
Gaetano Donizetti, whom he survived by almost twenty years.
He was a prolific composer, and also a precocious one. His first
opera was produced in 1813, the same year that Rossini had his
breakthrough with Tancredi and L’Italiana in Algeri.
He had a long career: his last opera was premiered in 1867,
the year of Verdi’s Don Carlos. Stylistically a revolution
took place during those fifty-four years.
Il convitato di pietra (The Stone Guest) was written
for a private performance in 1832 by the Pacini family and was
compiled largely from other operas of his. It was not performed
in public until 2008 when this recording was made. The story
is well known. It’s the same that Mozart used for his Don
Giovanni, though Donna Elvira is missing and Leporello is
renamed Ficcanaso. Unusually though the title role is here sung
by a tenor, moreover with a high tessitura. It is interesting
to learn from the liner-notes that the Don who sang the role
at the only previous performance was an amateur; certainly he
must have been an accomplished singer.
We shouldn’t expect this work to be anything in the vicinity
of Mozart’s master-piece but it is attractive even so. In the
Singspiel manner – or operetta as it is labelled – there is
spoken dialogue between the musical numbers. It is closely recorded
which is good for Italian speakers. Too many recordings have
the spoken voices placed so distantly that the words are impossible
to catch without turning up the volume. There is no overture
but a short spoken prologo, delivered by those members of the
Pacini family who were to appear in the central roles of Don
Giovanni, Donn’Anna and Zerlina.
Pacini’s melodies are agreeable and some of the numbers evince
a measure of individuality. The Don Giovanni – Zerlina duet,
for instance, the equivalent of La ci darem la mano,
here with the wording La man tu mi darai (CD 1 tr. 8).
And Ficcanaso’s buffo aria Di tutte le sue belle (CD
1 tr. 10) with the usual patter singing and partly a duet with
Don Giovanni’s romanza (CD 2 tr. 2) is beautiful with plucked
strings accompaniment. Zerlina and Masetto have a rather long
duet Mio dolce pensiero (CD 2 tr. 6) – one of the finest
numbers. The fifth scene in act II, a dialogue with Don Giovanni,
Ficcanaso and Il Commendatore, is preceded by a beautiful, melancholy
and rather romantic orchestral intro, depicting the moonlit
churchyard where the statue of Il Commendatore commands the
scene. Finally Zerlina, who carries the heaviest burden of the
soloists, gets an aria of her own: a charming address to the
audience that all’s well that ends well. There is a long quintet
and two extended finales, the second one quite anonymous. It’s
as if the ensemble ran out of stamina – the composer too it
seems – and just wanted to get it all over and done with.
Don’t let that deter you from lending your ears to this quite
charming opera. It isn’t overlong – well, apart from that second
finale – and the singing is mostly very good. Greek born Zinovia-Maria
Zafeiriadou is an excellent Zerlina, technically impeccable
and with beauty of tone to match. Leonardo Cortellazzi’s Don
Giovanni is bright-voiced but warm. He sings with honeyed
tone in the duet with Zerlina and caresses the melody in his
romanza. Giulio Mastrototaro has the vitality for his comic
role and Ugo Guagliardo’s Masetto is a worthy partner for his
The production is quite noisy but the recording per se is
excellent, detailed and with good balance. I’m sure I will return
to this opera for pleasure now and then, if only to confirm
that Mozart still reigns supreme. Again the masterly is the
enemy of the merely good.
See also review by Robert