Yes, there is a Rossini opera with a Canadian character. Well, OK it’s a bit ambiguous whether he’s Canadian or American and the librettist doesn’t seem quite sure that they aren’t the same thing. Anyway, likely the earliest of an appearance of a Canadian in opera unless one counts the Les sauvages d’Amérique section of Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes. The opera is the early one act comedy, La cambiale di matrimonio. It’s a bit of a one trick pony. An English merchant has contracted to marry his daughter to the Canadian, Snook, but she’s already unofficially engaged to another. After much faffing about Snook makes the contract over to the other suitor and makes him his heir. The joke, such as it is, is that all this is carried out in the language of commercial contracts. For example, when Snook minds out that Fanny is engaged he considers the “merchandise” to be “mortgaged” and so on. Still it provides a back drop for some showy singing and the usual rapid fire Rossini ensemble numbers.
Michael Hampe’s production for the 1989 Schwetzingen Festival is, well, very Hampe. It’s all set in one elegant room with a view of London through the windows and, of course, it’s raining. Snook, when he appears, wears furs and a plaid shirt and carries a musket. Everybody else looks like they have stepped out of a Merchant Ivory adaptation of Jane Austen. It’s brisk and efficient, even if there’s a fair bit of singing direct to the audience.
The singing is decent, though not as distinguished as the Barber I reviewed a few days ago. The best probably comes from Alberto Rinaldi as Slook who is very solid and shows fine control, particularly in one aria where he has to manage some tricky slow runs. John Del Carlo blusters around nicely as the father, Tobia Mill, and Janice Hall makes a decent fist of the daughter. David Huebler, as the suitor Milfort, sounds sweeter toned than on some other recordings I’ve heard. There are nice cameos from Carlos Feller, as the cashier Norton, and Amelia Felle, as the maid, Clarina. Gianluigi Gelmetti conducts the Radio-Sinfonienorchester Stuttgart and keeps everything moving along and in synch.
Claus Viller directs for video and it’s clean and straightforward. The video quality is “made for TV” 1980’s (4:3 aspect ratio) but it copes well enough with the well lit. compact stage. The DTS surround sound and the CM stereo are perfectly OK (there’s also Dolby surround for the .001% who have a surround set up that can’t decode DTS). The booklet contains a track listing, essay and synopsis. Subtitle options are English, Italian, French, German and Spanish.
Strange as it may seem, this disk actually has competition on DVD with more recent versions from Württemberg and Bolzano. I’m not about to seek them out! This one is currently available separately or, at time of writing, as part of a five disk set of early Rossini operas, all directed by Michael Hampe and all recorded at Schwetzingen in roughly the same period.