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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792–1868)
Sigismondo – Margarita Gritskova (mezzo-soprano)
Aldimira – Maria Aleida (soprano)
Ladislao – Kenneth Tarver (tenor)
Ulderico – Marcell Bakonyi (bass)
Anagilda – Paula Sánchez-Valverde (soprano)
Zenovito – Marcell Bakonyi (bass)
Radoski – César Arrieta (tenor)
Camerata Bach Choir, Poznan, Virtuosi Brunensis/Antonino Fogliani
rec. live, Trinkhalle, Bad Wildbad, Germany, 14, 16 and 24 July 2016
The Italian libretto is available online
NAXOS 8.660403-04 [70:27 + 78:45]

Sigismondo, premiered at La Fenice in Venice on 26 December 1814, was Rossini’s thirteenth opera. He was only 22 at the time but already a veteran. The previous year saw his two break-throughs: the serious Tancredi and the comedy L’italiana in Algeri. Little more than a year later came his greatest success (although it was a failure at the premiere) Il barbiere de Siviglia, still one of the most frequently played of all operas. It was number 7 on Operabase’s ranking list for the season 2015/2016. Sigismondo, on the other hand, is one of the least played of Rossini’s 39 operas. The reason for this neglect is, in the general opinion, Giuseppe Foppa’s libretto, which has been seen as “confused and illogical”. But Foppa was an experienced writer since more than twenty years, much in demand in Italy as well as in Vienna and Lisbon, and he wrote several librettos for early Rossini operas. The basic story is the same as the one for Rossini’s L’inganno felice: “a rejected courtier maligns an innocent wife, whose husband orders that she be put to death. Instead she is rescued by a protector and lives under an assumed name as his daughter. When her husband and the rejected courtier come upon her they are astonished and confused. In the end the truth comes out and husband and wife are reconciled while the villain is punished.” Foppa locates the story to Poland and he begins the libretto towards the end of the story, when the wife (Aldimira) has been living in a forest and the husband (Sigismondo) has gone mad. In the opera his madness is central and Foppa describes his state of mind through verbal irregularity in the verses of some arias, notably Sigismondo’s opening cavatina (CD 1 tr. 4), where Rossini’s music closely follows the text and the result is also irregular. Also the villain, Ladislao, has bouts of mental disorder, which also is mirrored in the music. Possibly could this modernity have been a reason for the hostile reception of the premiere audience. Today we have no problems to appreciate the music.

The overture is one of his longest – nine minutes – the opening adagio is borrowed from Il Turco in Italia, which was premiered less than four months earlier. After a while it gains momentum and fizzes along vividly. It is characteristically Rossinian with obligatory crescendo. During the course of the play jaded Rossinians will recognize some music from other operas as well, but these are not loans, it’s the other way round: since the opera was a flop Rossini picked some plums and reused them in some future works: Elisabetta, Torvaldo e Dorliska, Barbiere, Cenerentola and Adina.

Structurally the opera follows the usual pattern with arias and ensembles knit together by secco recitatives accompanied by fortepiano. The introduction of act I is vivid and dramatic with chorus and soloists and Ladislao has a long virtuoso solo, skilfully executed by Kenneth Tarver. Sigismondo’s cavatina, mentioned above, is interesting, and Sigismondo’s utterances are interrupted by comments from the others. Aldimira also has a long scene and cavatina (CD 1 tr. 6) with a lot of coloratura, and Ladislao’s aria (CD 1 tr. 10) also stands out for its irregularity. There is a beautiful duettino for Sigismondo and Aldimira (CD 1 tr. 12), and the Polish nobleman Zenovito’s aria (CD 1 tr. 14) is remarkable for a brief recurrent quotation from La Marseillaise and a double-bass solo in the postlude. The duetto for Ladislao and Aldimira is good (CD 1 tr. 16) and the act I finale (CD 2 tr. 1) is grandiose.

The introduction to the chorus opening act II (CD 2 tr. 2) was later reused as introduction to the first act of Barbiere. Aldimira and Sigismondo have a second duet (CD 2 tr. 6), which is rather modern. Rossini later replaced it with a more conventional duet. Ladislao’s sister Anagilda has a rondo (CD 2 tr. 8), which requires some virtuoso singing and it is followed by Ladislao’s scene and aria, which is dynamic and powerful, and after a brief recitative Aldimira has a long scene (CD 2 tr. 11). The quartetto (CD 2 tr. 13) with Aldimira, Sigismondo, Ladislao and Ulderico, the King of Bohemia) is long and irregular and has a final crescendo but, against the rule, there is a decrescendo leading over to Sigismondo’s big scene O sorte Barbara – Alma rea!, where Ulderico’s bass is really mighty. The short finale: reconciliation and everything is peace and rejoicing!

The singing is on the whole very good. Margarita Gritskova is a worthy Sigismondo and Maria Aleida as Aldimira sings well and has no problem with the coloratura. Kenneth Tarver sounds a bit worn a couple of times but is up to the mark. Anagilda’s virtuoso rondo is excellently sung by Paula Sánchez-Valverde and Hungarian born Marcell Bakonyi, doubling as Zenovito and Ulderico, has a wett-defined bass-voice.

Antonino Fogliani conducts with style and vitality and the live-recording is worthy of the occasion. The libretto is available on-line but it is in Italian only. The detailed synopsis with cue-points in the booklet is however a very good substitute. The target group is primarily Rossini-lovers, but general opera lovers should also derive a lot of pleasure from this set.

Göran Forsling



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