Giacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Demetrio e Polibio – Dramma serioso in two acts (1812)
Demetrio / Eumene – César Arrieta (tenor)
Siveno – Victoria Yarovaya (mezzo-soprano)
Polibio – Luca Dall'Amico (bass-baritone)
Lisinga – Sofia Mchedlishvili (soprano)
Camerata Bach Choir, Poznan, Virtuosi Brunensis/Luciano Acocella
rec. Königliches Kurtheater, Bad Wildbad, Germany, 17 and 22 July 2016
Booklet notes and synopsis in English and German
Italian libretto available online
NAXOS 8.660405-06 [64:23 + 48:06]
This is where it all began for Rossini in respect of his conspicuously successful and prolific operatic career that would culminate some 22 years and nearly 40 stage works later with Guillaume Tell in 1829. Although Demetrio e Polibio only reached the stage for the first time in May 1812, after five other operas by the composer had already been premiered, its composition pre-dates those by a few years. It was commissioned by the tenor Domenico Mombelli, who ran a small touring opera company with his family, and was probably composed in 1807, although Mombelli seems to have given a helping hand in at least some numbers. Even so, the opera bears the hallmarks of Rossini’s mature musical style: lyrical and crisp vocalism, lucid accompaniments, and structurally fluid numbers which often blend solo with ensemble voices or chorus, building up with an impressive acceleration to a thrilling climax.
Some of the melodies in Rossini’s first operatic essay are almost memorable, and indeed Stendhal thought of the Quartet near the beginning of Act Two that “it is impossible to convey the mystic sweetness of love with greater delicacy, or with less poignant sadness”. Certainly it is nearly worthy of Mozart in the way that it serves the dramatic dictates of the plot (which comprises only four named characters in any case) as different combinations of voices spar with each other.
In this recording of a live performance from the Rossini in Wildbad Festival, none of the cast quite achieves perfection in terms of intonation, or vocal acuity, but it is telling that they cohere very well in the aforementioned Quartet; it is the only occasion when all the characters sing together in what it is more or less a chamber opera in scope. But other than that, Luciana Acocella’s account for Naxos is generally relaxed and easeful, to the point that it lacks dramatic tension at times. The opening Adagio of the Overture exudes solemnity at the expense of some forward pace, and the succeeding faster section lacks some sparkle, although the solo bassoon contributions are beautifully realised. Several of the subsequent vocal numbers lack the necessary urgency to drive the drama on, although the Virtuosi Brunensis provide a finely poised orchestral background for the singers to take centre stage, for example in the way that Lisinga and Siveno’s chains of thirds in the melody of their Act One duet Questo cor ti, giura amore is deliciously spun over the accompaniment of horns and the strings’ pizzicato triplets.
Luca Dall'Amico is Polibio, the King of Parthia, who finds himself at war with the Syrian king, Demetrio, when the latter demands the return of Siveno through his emissary Eumene. The latter turns out to be not only Demetrio in disguise but, as such, Siveno’s true father. Dall’Amico lacks the requisite authority for the role with his somewhat loose, broad-voiced vibrato which only sounds approximately correct at times, and he make heavy weather of his big musical gestures in the opening scena of Act Two.
Victoria Yarovaya makes a greater impression in the trouser role of Siveno, Polibio’s adoptive son whom he intends to marry to his daughter Lisinga, as the two are in love, which situation causes some of the wrangling that obstructs the willing return of Siveno to Demetrio. Yarovaya sings persuasively, with confident embellishments of the bare vocal line as notated. Although she maintains a noble beauty of tone in her later aria Perdon ti chiedo, o padre—accompanied by a mellow woodwind sonority that is redolent of Rossini’s musical idol, Mozart—she sounds a touch squally on her trills and fast lines here. Sofia Mchedlishvili’s Lisinga is more consistently accomplished in that regard, focused and radiant at one moment, and at another singing her coloratura music with a fruity yet light timbre that brings Edita Gruberova to mind. Indeed, Lisinga’s Act Two aria Superbo, ah! Tu vedrai is reminiscent of the playful musical fireworks which Mozart composed in his music for his sister-in-law to be, the soprano Aloysia Weber. César Arrieta sings decently enough as Demetrio / Eumene, but he is also rather nasal of tone and not always square on the notes.
Both an earlier recording on Dynamic CD with Massimiliano Carraro conducting Dalmacio Gonzales, Giorgio Surjan, Sara Mingardo, and Christine Weidinger, and a staged performance on DVD probably feature better musical readings of this score. The directorial concept of the latter production, however, might render it unwelcome to some opera enthusiasts, and the more expensive and less easily obtained Dynamic version may put off others. That is why this Naxos release affords an opportune means by which to become acquainted with a charming work. But for more discerning fans of opera generally, and of Rossini in particular, either of those two previous accounts are likely to be preferable.