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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Ricciardo e Zoraide. Opera in two acts. (1818)
Agorante, King of Nubia unrequited lover of Zoraide, Sergei Romanovsky (ten); Zomira, wife of Agorante and jealous of her husband’s infatuation with Zoraide, Ruzil Gatin (mezzo); Ircano, the powerful ruler of a region of Nubia, Nicola Ulivieri (bass); Zoraide, daughter of Ircano, in love with Ricciardo, Pretty Yende (sop) Ricciardo, a Christian paladin who in turn loves Zoraide, Juan Diego Flórez (ten); Ernesto, an envoy of the Christian camp and Ricciardo's friend, Xabier Anduaga (ten); Fatima a confidante of Zoraide, Sofia Mchedlishvili.  Elmira, Zomira's confidante, Ruzil Gatin (mezzo); Zamorre, Agorante's confidant, Ruzil Gatin
Coro del Teatro Ventidio Basso
Orchestra Sinfonica Della Rai/Giacomo Sagripanti
Stage director: Marshall Pynkoski
Set designer: Gerard Gauci
Costume designer: Michael Gianfrancesco
Lighting designer: Michelle Ramsay
Choreographer: Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg
Video Director: Arriella Bender.
rec. 2018, Adriatic Arena, Pesaro
Picture, Filmed in HD 1080i. Aspect ratio 16:9. Sound Formats, DTS-HD MA 5.1 PCM 2.0.
Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, German, French, Japanese and Korean,
Booklet languages, English, German and French
C MAJOR Blu-ray 752704 [176 mins]

In the spring of 1815, at the age of 23 with the opera seria Tancredi and the buffa work L'Italiana in Algeri to his credit, Rossini was summoned to Naples by Domenico Barbarja, the impresario of the Royal Theatres of that city, the Fondo and the mighty San Carlo. Barbarja contracted Rossini to compose two operas each year for Naples. The contract allowed Rossini, supposedly occasionally, to compose works for theatres in other centres. Barbarja's proposals appealed to Rossini for several reasons. Most importantly, the San Carlo had a professional orchestra, unlike the theatres of Rome and Venice, for example. The composer saw this as a considerable advantage, as he aspired to push the contemporary boundaries of his own, and opera composition in general, into more adventurous directions. The San Carlo theatre was also scheduled to undergo refurbishment to include unequalled back stage facilities. Rossini established himself in Naples and presented the first of nine opera seria works he was to compose for the city on 4th October 1815. Between the first of those contracted operas, Elisabetta regina d’Inghilterra, his fifteenth operatic work, premiered on October 4th1815, and his thirty third and last for Naples, Zelmira, premiered at the san Carlo on 16th February 1822, Rossini free-lanced at the expense and frustration of Barbarja, deserting him altogether after a successful season of his works in Vienna. During that season in Vienna, Rossini visited Beethoven who told him never to compose anything other than comic operas like his Il barbiere di Siviglia, premiered at Rome’s, Argentina on 20th February 1816. In fact, between the first and last compositions under his contract with Barbarja, Rossini composed no fewer than seventeen operatic works, albeit that he sometimes re-cycling some music along the way. Maybe Beethoven had it right, as the Il barbiere di Siviglia is the only one of the composer’s works never to have been out of the repertoire.

Ricciardo e Zoraide is no. 26 in the Rossini operatic oeuvre and the fifth in the sequence of nine Naples opere serie that he composed under his contract with Barbarja. History reports that Ricciardo e Zoraide was enthusiastically received at both its premiere on December 18th 1818, as well as at its productions in Paris, Lisbon, Munich and Lisbon and elsewhere in Italy. Of the work, Stendhal wrote that “the style, as a whole, is impassioned and full of oriental splendour” (Rossini. Gaia Servadio. Carrol and Graf 2003. p76). It was regularly performed until 1846 when it fell from the repertoire until it was revived at Pesaro in 1990. This recording is derived from that presented at the bicentenary of the first performance and given at the Annual Rossini festival held in Busseto each year to celebrate the composer’s life.

The plot of the opera concerns the love between a Christian paladin and an Asian princess. It is set in the Nubian Desert where the local overlord has captured and imprisoned the princess, wishing to make her one of his wives, despite his already being married to Zomira and against her vehement wishes. Ricciardo, her Christian suitor, suitably disguised, comes to rescue her and is imprisoned before being rescued by her father, himself a rebel of her imprisoner. Unlike many a drama seria, it ends happily.

Rossini wrote the roles for the particular vocal skills of the San Carlo singers including Isobel Colbran and Giovanni David, whose coloratura skills and variety of vocal colouring were renowned. In the Colbran role of Zoraide, Pretty Yende gives a performance of tonal variety and histrionic skill. This is well evidenced in the final scene as Zoraide pleads for the lives of her father's lover before they are liberated (CHs.45-49). In the high tessitura role of Ricciardo, written for one of the San Carlo greatest wonder tenors, Giovanni David, Juan Diego Flórez is back in the Fach that has brought him worldwide fame after a dalliance with more lyric roles in Verdi and the like. He is spot on with his coloratura seemingly as effortless as ever up to his characteristic pinging high C. I suggest that he gives one of his best performances on record in this his eleventh Rossini role. Well done, Pesaro, in tempting him back.

All the Naples opere serie used the glorious roster of the house tenors to the full. The vocal demands on Agorante, sung by Sergei Romanovsky, are as considerable as those made on the role of Ricciardo, but demanding a greater strength of voice lower down the tenor range. Sergei Romanovsky is sometimes called a baritenore because of the dark tone of his voice. Nonetheless, he attacks the coloratura demands with some aplomb, if not quite with the ease and facility of Flórez - but then, who else but the recently emerged Javier Camerano can? - even if the latter’s tone is not sufficiently baritonal for the role in this opera. The third tenor is the role of Ernesto, friend of Ricciardo and costumed as a Christian minister. In this performance it is taken by the recently emerged Xabier Anduaga whose vocal fluency, and capacity to create a role, promises a significant future. As Zomira, the scheming and frustrated wife of the unfaithful Agorante, Ruzil Gatin sings with evenness and a wide variety of tonal colour (CHs. 34-37): it is a pity the role does not call for a solo aria, as she deserves one and I will look out for her in the future. As Zoraide's father Ircano, Nicola Ulivieri is tonally sonorous and steady and portrays the character well. The comprimario roles are without weakness whilst Giacomo Sagripanti’s conducting makes the most of Rossini's inventive and adventurous score, supporting the singers and moving the drama forward in exemplary fashion.

As to the production by Marshall Pynkoski, wonder of wonders in this age of concept and Regietheater, the staging and costumes are in period. More than that, they are decorous and meaningful for the emergence of the story. The only divergence from what Rossini might have seen is the presence of ballerinas who decorate the proceedings from time to time without, I hasten to add, marring any dramatic intent in the music, or staged proceedings, and without undue distraction from the emerging complex story.

Robert J Farr

Previous review (DVD): Chris Ramsden

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