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.
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.
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.
Rossini’s Tancredi isn’t performed particularly often but it was Stendhal’s favourite opera and it’s not hard to see why both these things are true. It’s got some really lovely music but the plot is pretty thin and it’s hard to cast. It needs a very versatile low mezzo/contralto for the title role and a crackerjack soprano and tenor too. I watched it in a well cast 1992 production from the Schwetzingen festival and enjoyed it despite some frustrations with the staging and the implausibly drawn out plot of the second act. Continue reading →
Emilio Sagi’s 2005 production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia is incredibly elegant and restrained. It looks like something by Robert Carsen. The sets are all constructed and transformed in full view and just about everything is black and white until the final scene. There is a lot of background action and commentary from a talented group of dancers who give a very Spanish feel to the piece. The final scene bursts into vivid, even loud, colour and the finale is just gorgeous to look at. The direction of the actors is well thought out too though they do seem to sing from on top of furniture a lot of the time.