Following on from Massenet’s dreamlike, ambiguous Cendrillon I took a look at a fairly recent recording of Rossini’s much more straightforward, if somewhat moralising, opera buffa on the same theme La Cenerentola. There’s no magic here. The fairy godmother is replaced by the prince’s tutor Alidoro who engineers Angelina’s trip to the ball. There’s no stepmother either but rather a stepfather and it’s unclear what has happened to either of the mothers one imagines must have been involved.
So here’s another Rossini one act farsa from Schwetzingen. It’s a 1990 La scala di seta in, inevitably, a production by Michal Hampe. It’s predictably pretty to look at and well constructed dramaturgically. The Paris background is a nice touch. There’s some fine singing and energetic fooling from Alessandro Corbelli as the servant Germano. The principal quartet of lovers; Luciana Serra, David Kuebler, Jane Bunnel and Alberto Rinaldi backed up by David Griffith as the girls’ guardian are stylish and toss off the various quick fire ensembles with aplomb. Gianluigi Gelmetti and the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart round things out with an equally accomplished reading. So there it is, straightforward Rossini in a typical Hampe production pulled of nicely in Scwetzingen’s elegant rococo theatre.
There are two girls and two guys. The guys are not who they appear to be. Nobody is sure who is pairing off with who and there’s a scheming servant. And we are in Naples. You know the opera of course. It’s Rossini’s L’occasione fa il ladre. It’s one of Rossini’s early one act farsi for La Fenice and it’s quite good, if very silly. There are plenty of musical high jinks with fast paced ensembles and some wicked coloratura. And it has an unambiguously happy ending. You will also likely recognise some of the music as, in best Rossini fashion, he used chunks of it in later works.
One rather gets the feeling that the 2016 Glyndebourne production of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia was built around the lady of the house. It makes a lot of sense. There may have been better singers in the role of Rosina but I doubt there has ever been a better mover than Danielle de Niese. She’s matched move for move, eye candy for eye candy by the guys; Björn Burger as Figaro and Taylor Stayton as Almaviva. There’s more mature comedy from the always fantastic Alessandro Corbelli as Bartolo and the irrepressible Janis Kelly as Berta.
There are some seriously obscure Rossini operas and Il signor Bruschino is one of them. It’s scarcely an opera at all really. It’s a one act farsa running about an hour and a quarter. By the time he wrote this one at age twenty Rossini has already had several hits in the genre and knew how to pull out a crowd pleaser but oddly Il signor Bruschini was a colossal flop. The plot was too convoluted and the music too advanced for the tastes of the farsistas. If one wanted to think about the plot one went to a proper opera house like La fenice rather than the fairly obscure Venetian theatre where the work premiered. It even offended the critics by, horror of horrors, asking the second violins to tap on their music stands with their bows during certain passages of the sinfonia.
Once in a while one comes across an opera DVD that’s so “ordinary” that it’s extremely difficult to write about it. The 2002 Cagliari recording of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale is one such. Stefano Vizioli’s production is set in 1750s Rome and plays the piece about as straight as a madcap comedy can be played. The singing is rather good and, if the acting is a bit Brian Rix farce that’s hardly inappropriate. At the heart of the piece is Alessandro Corbelli who must be close to being the ideal Pasquale. He gets good support from Eva Mei as Norina and Antonino Siragusa as Ernesto. Roberto de Candia is also quite good as Malatesta but he’s not Mariusz Kwiecien. The chorus is a lot livelier than the average Italian chorus and the orchestra, from Bologna, might be a bit thin on string tone but isn’t bad at all and Gérard Korsten’s conducting is perfectly OK.
Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur isn’t performed very often and, when it is, it’s usually because some great diva of the day wants to do it. That’s the case with the 2010 Covent Garden production which was created by David McVicar for Angela Gheorghiu. Actually I am a bit surprised it’s not done more often. It’s not a great masterpiece but it’s no worse than a great many commonly done pieces and, if the plot is a bit implausible, it’s not as offensive as half of Puccini’s output. I would have thought it would have great appeal to that opera middle ground to which I don’t belong.
Laurent Pelly’s 2007 production of Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment was a coproduction of the Royal Opera House, The Metropolitan Opera and the Wiener Staatsoper which one make expect to produce a stodgy snoozefest. It’s not. It’s a fast paced, energetic and funny production. There’s nothing especially cleverly conceptual about it but its well designed, well directed and well played. If one were to be hyper critical it would be that the humour in Act 2 is rather laid on with a trowel but it’s not too seriously overdone. The setting is updated from the wars of the first Napoleon to something vaguely WW1 like. In some ways this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but it does provide a visual “Frenchness” that’s probably easier for modern audiences and, anyway, the libretto as originally written is about as historically accurate as the average piece of bel canto fluff. Best not get into serious military history buff territory and get on and enjoy the show.
I managed to get my hands on the DVD of the Gianni Schicchi that formed the second half of the evening’s entertainment with The Miserly Knight that I reviewed yesterday (Glyndebourne 2004). It’s the same creative team of Jurowski and Arden and they reinforce the end on a corpse, start on a corpse symmetry by using the aerialist Matilda Leyser as the corpse in Schicchi. Both Jurowski and Arden stress the dark side of the work in interviews but to be honest it comes off here more as a madcap comedy. Perhaps that was inevitable when following the very dark and enigmatic Rachmaninov piece. It’s set around the time of the work’s composition and a unit set with balcony and bed and a cupboard to stuff the body in serve throughout. It’s workmanlike and effective. The blocking is very precise and effective. After all there are at least eight characters on stage throughout this piece. Arden moves and groups them with precision and my only beef is that (surprise) we miss much of her careful work because of closeupitis.
The performances are excellent. Alessandro Corbelli is superb in the title role confirming my opinion of him as one of the great comic baritones. The acid aunt Zita is wonderfully played by the seemingly timeless Felicity Palmer and the rest of the family back her up strongly with excellent ensemble work. Sally Matthews as Lauretta and Massimo Giordano as Rinuccio are the romantic interest and they are both good. Matthews manages a version of O mio babbino caro that is lovely to listen to and spectacularly insincere. She also acts very well and looks the part. Giodarno has a lovely Italianate tenor voice, acts well and is also most pleasant to listen to. Jurowski handles the score well building to some impressive climaxes where required, for example in the scene where the family are imagining all the good things the monks will get to eat from Buoso’s legacy.
The video direction isn’t as egregious here as in the Rachmaninov but it’s still annoying. The scene where Schicchi is preparing to impersonate Buoso is particularly irritating. Technical details and standard of execution are the same as for the Rachmaninov. The interviews with Jurowski, Arden and Corbelli are also equally good. I could listen to Jurowski talk about music and its relationships to other art forms and social developments for a long, long time. Just a reminder that this is also available as a double bill with the Rachmaninov on Blu-ray as well as separately on DVD.
It will be interesting to see how this compares to the upcoming COC production which will be paired with the very dark Eine florentinische Tragödie by Zemlinsky from Wilde’s play. It has a starry cast, Sir Andrew Davis conducting and Catherine Malfitano directing so we may be in for a treat.