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.
It’s a bit hard to believe, but, as far as I can tell, the only available video recording of Cecilia Bartoli singing Rosina in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is a 1988 recording made at Schwetzingen when she was 22 years old. It’s pretty typical of Michael Hampe’s productions of that period; traditional, elegant, symmetrical and generally well composed, but nothing terribly insightful. It’s also rather dark and grey in places which taxes the recording technology of the period sorely.
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 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 La Cenerentola takes almost three hours to tell a very straightforward version of the Cinderella story. Generally directors, despairing of the this, either camp it up (for example the Els Comediants production seen, inter alia, in Houston and Toronto in recent years) or they try to find a few more layers of meaning as in Ponnelle’s film version. Michael Hampe does neither in his 1988 Salzburg production, preferring to tell the story as a straightforward morality tale. I guess if one really loves the music and it’s really well sung this could work but, ultimately, I found it rather dull. Continue reading →
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 →