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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 - 1868)
La gazza ladra - melodramma in two acts (1817)
Paolo Bordogna (bass) - Fabrizio; Kleopatra Papatheologou (mezzo) - Lucia; Dmitry Korchak (tenor) - Giannetto; Mariola Cantarero (soprano) - Ninetta; Alex Esposito (bass-baritone) - Fernando; Michele Pertusi (bass) - Gottardo, il Podestà; Manuela Custer (mezzo) - Pippo; Stefan Cifolelli (tenor) - Isacco; Cosimo Panozzo (tenor) - Antonio; Vittorio Prato (bass) - Giorgio; Matteo Ferrara (bass) - Ernesto / Il Pretore; Sandhya Nagaraja (spoken role) - La Gazza
Prague Chamber Choir, Orchestra Haydn di Bolzano e Trento/Lu Jia
rec. Rossini Opera Festival, Pesaro, August 2007
Synopsis enclosed
DYNAMIC CDS 567/1-3 [3 CDs: 69:23 + 66:36 + 55:19]

Many non-specialists probably know only the overture to this opera, and no wonder: it is a brilliant piece of music characterised by the use of snare drum and thus lending the music some warlike atmosphere. There are also some really dramatic moments towards the end of the opera when Ninetta is sentenced to death for theft and her father is taken to prison. There is a happy end to this Mellodramma in due atti, but we are almost despairing when the music turns into a funeral march. Fairly unusual for Rossini some of the music of the overture is also used in the second act. Whether that was planned or was just Rossini’s way of making the job easier when composing the overture, is difficult to know. Legend has it that the day before the premiere the producer locked Rossini in a room and forced him to write the overture. He then threw out each sheet through the window to the copyists who then wrote out the orchestral parts. Whether we should believe in legends is another question but it seems that Rossini had to work under time-pressure more than once during his hectic career.
Let me say at once that it is not only the overture that is musically valuable in this work. It actually brims over with delectable arias, duets and ensembles. These may not be as immediately memorable as some of the numbers in Barbiere and a couple of other popular works but this is a very listener-friendly music. The production from Pesaro in 2007 was first issued on DVD. I haven’t seen it but from the cover picture it seems rather odd. I have seen some comments that also point in that direction. Approach the DVD with caution and if you are allergic to overly hefty modernisations, stick to the CD-version.
There have been some recordings of this work through the years. The most recent, I believe, was an issue in the Chandos ‘Opera in English’ series. In 1989 Sony recorded the opera in Pesaro under Gianluigi Gelmetti and with the same chorus and chorus-master as on the present set. The starry cast Sony recording was my reference for this review.
The recorded sound is excellent and the overture is a tasty opener with brilliant playing from the orchestra. Lü Jia paces the music admirably and not only in the overture. He also takes beneficent care of the choral music. There is long and enthusiastic applause which tends to last forever. It should have been faded down quickly or been cut completely.
The soloists are rather variable. Several are obviously excellent actors, sing with good feeling for the text and also find fine nuances. The Spanish soprano Mariola Cantarero as Ninetta is one of them. Her cavatina in act I (CD 1 tr. 5) is a fine piece but it is partly ruined due to her incipient vibrato. The duet Forse un di conoscerete (CD 2 tr. 7) is also delicious and Cantarero shades the music beautifully but again the vibrato is disturbing. Here she is joined by the Russian tenor Dmitry Korchak as Giannetto. He phrases exquisitely, Schipa-like and like his old predecessor the tone is slightly greyish. He has then already shown in the aria Vieni fra queste braccia (CD 1 tr. 10) that he has no problems with florid singing and negotiates the high tessitura splendidly. Kleopatra Papatheologou is a technically accomplished Lucia and she sings with feeling but her tone is rather fluttery. Manuela Custer is a good Pippo, not least in the brindisi Tocchiamo, beviamo (CD 1 tr. 11).
The two basses, Alex Esposito and Michele Pertusi, are experienced Rossini singers and both are genuinely expressive. Sadly neither of them has the focused tone and the true legato of a bel canto singer. Their Sony counterparts, Samuel Ramey and Ferruccio Furlanetto have all this galore, Katia Ricciarelli is the more reliable Ninetta. With Bernadette Manca di Nissa’s Pippo, Luciana d’Intino’s Lucia and William Matteuzzi’s Giannetto the older recording is far preferable.
Göran Forsling 

Previous review (DVD): Robert J Farr