Gioachino Rossinis one act opera Linganno Felice is categorized as a farsa, as it is a melodrama with buffo elements. The work, which features libretto by Giuseppe Maria Foppa, was an instant success after its premiere in 1812. This production, directed by Jochen Schonleber, was recorded at the Rossini in Wildbad Opera Festival in the summer of 2015. This particular performance received international acclaims, due to stellar directing by Schoenleber and the stars Lorenzo Regazzo and Silvia Della Benetta.
Il Vaggio a Reims was an occasional piece composed for the festivities surrounding the coronation of Charles X. It was the first opera that Rossini composed when he transferred his activities to Paris in the mid 1820’s. At that point in time he was at the height of his powers and this is reflected in the inventive score that resulted. It seemed that he could do just about anything in what was his final opera set to an Italian text. Since the music was of such high quality and given the fact that the plot glorified the coronation a monarch who had the potential to be very unpopular, Rossini withdrew the score after only a few albeit successful performances and incorporated some of it’s best numbers in Le Comte Ory, his French comic masterpiece of several years later.
For someone who tends to be quite verbose with the review process I will be “relatively” short. Plus given the large and diverse cast required for this piece things could quite easily mushroom in an exponential fashion. So to be succinct lets just say that Naxos has indeed done it again by giving us another first rate recording of a large scale Rossini opera. This is definitely worthy of many of the other offerings in their Rossini series and in many ways it is one of the best.
The main competition comes from two earlier recordings under the direction of Claudio Abbado. Abbado was a great Rossini conductor, but in the case of Il Viaggio a Reims he tampered with the score at various points. Without going into greater detail suffice it to say that Maestro Fogliani presents the score uncut and follows the critical edition more closely and that includes some updates not available to Abbado. Plus with his vast experience in conducting Rossini Folgliani need not fear any comparison with the late maestro. It is worth noting that a piano is employed for the secco recitatives as opposed to the anachronistic harpsichord in the versions under Abbado.
While Abbado’s two casts include some of the great Rossini singers of the recent past not all are natural Rossinians and as a result there are some rough edges to their vocalism. The cast on Naxos might not have garnered the fame of some of those older singers, but all are competent, consistently perform at a reasonable level, work well together as a team, and are well schooled in the manner of the most recent Rossini scholarship. Consequently there is quite a bit of appropriate embellishment to the vocal parts. Only at one point during the “Gran pezzo concertato a 14 voci” that concludes the second part does one “emendation” elicit a raised eyebrow. However, given the context and the fact that it is so well executed, I am quite sure the Maestro from Pesaro would have smilingly approved!
While the voices involved might not all be first-string players, given their commitment and enthusiasm they more than hold their own. As such the sum of the production is much more than that of its individual parts with the result that this is definitely a prime contender for the best audio recording among those currently available. Plus the sound has more impact than either of the earlier recordings which in their own right are quite fine to begin with. The orchestral and choral contributions are first rate as well.
It should be noted that the set is spread over three CD’s, instead of the usual two, with each disc conveniently corresponding to each of the three sections of the piece. However, given the low price this is not a drawback. In addition, given that this is a live performance stage noises are at a minimum as is the amount of applause. However, the performance will leave the listener applauding long after the final chords and applause have faded from one’s speakers. So much so that I almost wished that more applause was included at the conclusion of the piece. Highly recommended.
This video of a production from the Wildbad festival in July 2013 and competes videos from the recent Pesaro Festival and from the veteran 1981 La Scala production.
I decided to buy this after hearing the new Pesaro production on Decca, which I found unsatisfying despite some attractive features. More about that later.
The Wildbad production is from a smaller festival with a smaller budget and stage, but the opera is set in a small, poor Swiss village several hundred years ago and the scale here works well. Rossini wrote this as a Grand Opera for Paris, but it focuses on a small group of people and their relationships, plus some wonderful music.
The opening section of the overture is played as a private concert for Gesler and Mathilde on stage, followed by some silent pantomime to the rest if the overture, which fills in some gaps in the libretto. The orchestra is well recorded as set in the space of the theatre, which is not as detailed as the Decca multi-miked blu-ray sound but matches the sound of the scale of this production, an excellent clear stereo sound that contains within it plenty of ambient information. If you have a 5.1 sound system, your amplifier already has a good 5.1 decoder that can process this stereo signal and often provides a more realistic result than a 5.1 soundtrack. The basic stereo signal is excellent on its own.
Hearing the voices singing together in the space adds significantly to the experience. While I might not hear every last detail as clearly, after a few minutes I get the feeling of being at the opera and am able to relax and engage more fully.
Because body mics are not used as far as I can tell, we get to hear the voices in the space, and we actually get to hear them singing together! The Decca video relies on body mics (partly because Florez’ voice is rather lean) which leaves the impression that the singers are in different spaces. Body mics pick up the voice from inches away, a big voice needs a resonant space to blossom and combine with others.
And Michael Spyres has a great voice, a lyric heroic tenor that is better suited to this role than is Florez’, and he can ACT!
There’s also the matter of acting – these singers are fully involved in their roles and interact with each other, which really involves the audience (us) and that’s vital especially in a long opera. They were able to hold my attention for much longer than did the Decca – and since we’re at home we have the luxury of breaks at will.
The ballet sections seemed shorter because they were done so well, supporting the plot and including some folk dances, plus schuhplattler and a Iittle interpretive dancing. It is Rossini’s music and adds to the show when well done.
I hated the “ballets” on the Pesaro disc. Inappropriate, immature and brutal.
The level of singing on this production was surprisingly high, but Wildbad is in the center of the Stuttgart/Strasbourg/Zurich/Freiburg area, and tucked away in the Black Forest.
I watched and thought about this for several weeks after buying it – because I find that Amazon’s crony reviewers are just feeding their greed in their panic to publish – and found that this Wildbad with Spyres was the most satisfying production, with the highest levels of singing, acting and playing and presented that was presented with dramatic integrity.
I found that the Decca/Florez might be more theoretically “perfect” but it didn’t hold my attention intellectually and emotionally and tell the human story in depth, and that was Rossini’s real goal.
This new recording of “La gazza ladra” is a delight from start to finish. This is hardly a surprise as it’s conducted by the renowned Rossini scholar Maestro Alberto Zedda. In his introductory notes, Maestro Zedda describes the work as a “rescue piece” in which the oppressive feudal aristocracy is replaced by an arrogant official. In this case, he’s the local mayor who amorous advances the heroine has rejected. This tone of the piece is at its most serious in the magnificent judgement scene in the second act and carries through into the finale.
I followed the recording with the piano-vocal score based on the critical edition prepared by Maestro Zedda. There are a few welcome excisions in the secco recitatives and a cut of the repeat of Fernando’s second act cabaletta. The cut in the cabaletta isn’t something I regret as it’s the least interesting piece in the opera. In the finale, the verses for Fernando and the Podesta were reversed. I presume this was due to the differences in registers that Maestro Zedda speaks of in the critical notes in the score.
The performance is superb. Maria Jose Moreno copes with the very demanding role of Ninetta most successfully. The range is all over the place – sometimes in mezzo, sometimes in soprano territory — but this is no problem for this artist. Her coloratura is agile and her characterization is touching. Kenneth Tarver as the hero, Giannetto, matches her agility and sings with a lovely tone that I find most appealing. Indeed, all of the cast are excellent, as are the orchestra and chorus. This sound of this recording is particularly clear and spacious, which has not always been the case with live recordings from the Wildbad Rossini Festival.
On the whole, this is one of the most satisfying opera recordings I’ve heard in a long time, and it’s at a bargain price! Highly recommended.
Performed for the first time in its original uncut version, this four-plus hour-long production of Guillaume Tell was the jewel in the crown of the 25-year history of the ‘Rossini in Wildbad’ opera festival. Rossini’s final, great, operatic masterpiece, based upon the libretto by Victor Joseph Etienne de Jouy and Hippolyte Louis Florent Bis after Friedrich Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell and Claris de Florian’s Guillaume Tell, is a story of liberation, the oppressed Swiss attaining their ideal of emancipation by hounding the tyrannical Habsburgs out of their country. Although it was composed for the complex demands of the Paris Opera, numerous dances, choruses and arias were dropped for reasons of practicality. These are restored in the present recording which also includes the stunning finale of the shorter 1831 version of the opera, to be found on Disc Four. Recorded live at the Trinkhalle, Bad Wildbad, Germany over the course of four days in July, 2013 by the combined forces of the Camerata Bach Choir, Poznan and the Virtuosi Brunensis, conducted by Antonino Fogliani. Soloists include baritone Andrew Foster-Williams as Tell, tenor Michael Spyres as Arnold Melcthal and soprano Judith Howarth as Mathilde.
This is likely the first hearing of this work since 1836 when it was premiered in Paris. Mercadante wrote it for the same four singers whom history has dubbed ” the Puritani Quartet.” They were the same singers who sing the premiere of that great work as well as “Marin Faliero” by Donizetti. Each of the three composers had been invited by Rossini to write works for the Theatre Italen where he was Music Director. The story is based on the same Schiller play, Die Rauber, that Verdi was to use a decade later as the basis for his I Masnadieri. Needless to say, the music is very difficult, especially for the tenor, who has an entrance scena that finally takes him up to a high E Flat. The tenor here, Ivan Mironov, doesn’t disgrace himself, but the difficulties are not easily handled. He improves markedly as the performance proceeds. Much the same can be said for the soprano and the baritone. All of that said, is there a “Puritani Quartet” in today’s opera world ? I think not. So let us be grateful for the yeoman efforts of these young voices to let let us finally hear this beautiful and moving work from that incredible period of operatic productivity. For those whose who love the works of that period this a must-have album.
I fell in love with this opera the first time I heard it years ago on the old Decca set with Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne. Since then, I’ve been waiting for a completely satisfying recording of this score. I’ll have to continue to wait, but this recording is nearly there. This performance uses the critical edition prepared by Philip Gosset and Alberto Zedda. As a point of comparison, it plays nearly an hour longer than the edition Richard Bonynge prepared for his wife. A piano vocal score based on the critical edition has not yet been published. I followed the recording with a copy of the Royal Edition piano vocal score edited by Arthur Sullivan and J. Pittman, published in the late 19th century. (A reproduction of this score is printed by Kalmus). The version performed appears to be substantially the same as the vocal score, only with a few recitatives that were deleted from the published score. All the singers take some tasteful variations in their repeats. I chose the word “variation” rather than “ornamentation” deliberately. There are a few extra notes added, but, for the most part, the repeated passages are sung with a somewhat simplified vocal line.
This is my first experience of the voice of Alex Penda. Having listened to the recording twice, I’m still puzzling over my reaction to it. I think “exciting” is the best word, even if excitement comes at a price. Sometimes the sound is not pretty and occasionally the coloratura may owe more to intent than to execution, but she hurls herself in to the part with an abandon that’s quite thrilling. Her extensive use of chest voice may not be wise, though it certainly creates a powerful effect. Whilst listening to her Semiramide, I was often reminded of the way in which the young Elena Soulioutis attacked the part of Verdi’s Abigaille. I hope Miss Penda’s career will be of greater length than that of Miss Soulioutis.
Marianna Pizzolato is a fine Arsace, but no one will ever erase my memories of Marilyn Horne in this role. (I had the pleasure of seeing her perform this part on stage many years ago.) John Osborn dashes off the part of Idreno with both limpid tone and panache. The two basses have all the notes and lots of presence. I found the tone of Lorenzo Ragazzo (Assur) to be a bit dry and vibrato-laden. Andrea Mastroni’s voice is juicier and more pleasing in the part of Oroe.
Orchestra and chorus are both good. The conducting is best described as reliable. The sound quality has the same boxy constriction I’ve noticed in other recordings form the Rossini in Wildbad series. It may be a limitation of the acoustic of the theatre.
The only other recording I’ve heard that uses the critical edition of the score is the now-deleted Philips recording curiously conducted by Ion Marin. This boasts an excellent cast that includes Cheryl Studer’s fine rendition of the title role, as well as Jennifer Larmore, Samuel Ramey and Frank Lopardo. However, it suffers from erratic conducting and an odd sound. Philips recorded this in “4D” sound — an effort that was soon abandoned just had Decca had tried and dropped “quadraphonic” sound 40 years ago. The result is that at times some of the voices get consigned to the background when played on conventional stereo equipment or on headphones.
I see that a recording from the Vlaamse Opera, conducted by Alberto Zedda, has recently been released. I presume this, too, uses the critical edition, but I have yet to hear it. I probably won’t wait too long. In the meantime . . .
The recording under review receives my qualified recommendation. I certainly enjoyed it and I know that I’ll listen to it many more times. So, give it a try. At the bargain price, you won’t be out much if you don’t like it.
This recording of Rossini’s revision of his 1820 Neapolitan opera Maometto Secondo as the 1826 French Opera Le Siege de Corinthe is the real deal. The most readily available recordings have been those that feature Beverly Sills in bastardized and heavily cut versions sung in Italian translation as L’Assedio di Corinto as concocted by conductor Thomas Schippers where the tenor role of Neocles is recast for a mezzo-soprano and the soprano part is reworked and amended for Sills’ high coloratura voice… These exist in two versions the 1969 live broadcast recording of Sills’ debut at La Scala and a later EMI commercial recording which more or less represents how the opera was performed for Sills’ MET debut. The former includes interpolations from Rossini’s Maometto Secondo some of which were never intended to be part of Le Siege. The later includes interjections from not only the 1820 version of Maometto, but also the 1822 Venetian version… not to mention a snippet from Rossini’s 1812 Ciro in Babilonia… plus a cabaletta by Giovanni Paccini from his obscure opera Amazilia composed for Naples that deals with warring Indian tribes in Florida! In the Nineteeth Century Giuditta Grisi (sister of the more famous Giulia Grisi) interpolated the piece into the second act of the opera. In Schipper’s edition it appears as the penultimate number of the third act. So hardly anything Rossini would have recognized!!!! Still, there is much outstanding singing preserved on those discs and accordingly they can be considered for inclusion in any collection of those who love great singing even if with the caveat that it is emphatically NOT how one should interpret Rossini!!!! Indeed it was a need for some corrective action to those very performances which triggered the scholarship that has led to the many critical performing editions for subsequent Rossini revivals since those “dark ages”… a backhanded compliment if there ever was one!
In fairness tinkering with the score of Le Siege began as early as the 1820’s with the first Italian edition of the score published by Ricordi. For that publication the tenor role of Neocle was rewritten for a mezzo-soprano, the ballet was eliminated, and an alternative cabaletta was composed for the second act duet as a replacement for Rossini’s more unconventional choral conclusion to the scene. The person responsible was none other than Gaetano Donizetti! So it can be argued that Schippers was only following “tradition”… even if a bad tradition.
Regarding the original French edition of Le Siege, there is a live recording from Genoa of a somewhat cut version of the score that is more or less decently performed on the Nuova Era label. However, this is at best a stopgap type of performance. As a result this new Naxos release is most welcome and especially since a bit of scholarship has been involved in producing a performing edition to which the composer would be able to relate. As with many Rossini operas there are several variants that can be considered and the edition performed here makes mostly sensible decisions.
The shorter version of Mahomet’s opening scene is utilized, which consists of chorus, recitative, chorus, and cabaletta. The alternative version omits the recitative and replaces it with an aria that was imported from Maometto Secondo. The recitative is so noble sounding with its imposing brass interjections that even though the aria is lost somehow less becomes more. Incidentally, Schippers completely destroys the contours of this scene as after the opening choral movement he abruptly cuts to the concluding cabaletta. (One can hear the French “aria version” of this scene on the recording of the “Rossini Bicentenial Birthday Gala” currently available on EMI/Virgin.)
Again a shorter version of Pamyra’s second act scene is employed. This eliminates the opening allegro section… This is not present in any score of Le Siege that I have seen (the critical edition of the piece has not been published) but it is said to have been part of the original score. This is one place where Schippers gives us more as it can be found on both Sills’ recordings not to mentions recordings of the original Maometto. Unfortunately at La Scala Schippers omits the concluding cabaletta and on EMI replaces it with the snippet from Ciro in Babilonia… Don’t ask why as it’s too complicated for the scope of this review!
In addition, the stretta or closing section of the finale to the second act is performed complete for the first time on records. Unfortunately the third act trio is performed in a shortened version which eliminates Neocles’ opening stanza. There must be some justification for this as this cut appears as an option in the aforementioned Ricordi score. Not surprisingly it is also followed by Schippers… but not in the Nuova Era recording, the only place where that recording gives a bit of extra music. Still, a note in the accompanying booklet states that the edition used was based on the first Parisian performance… so that is perhaps the source of the choices.
Regarding the musical quality of the performance at hand, soprano Majella Cullagh has a number of Rossini operas under her belt so she knows the style even if her voice tends to be over bright with an unfortunate tendency towards brittleness. While she is a feisty Pamyra, she is best in her softer singing and in that regard she almost rivals Sills. Still, her singing would have been more pleasant to the ear if she would hold back a bit and not force her basically lyric instrument. Tenor Michael Spyres follows his successful assumption of Rossini’s Otello (also a Naxos release) with his dramatic portrayal of Neocles. He is certainly one of the prime contenders for the more heroic Rossini tenor roles before the public today. As Mahomet, Lorenzo Ragazzo is quite authoritative. Marc Sala’s bright sound brings a sense of style to the second tenor role of Cleomene. Matthieu Lecroart is effective in the heroic bass role of Hieros. Chorus, orchestra, and conducting are all satisfactory and are in tune with Rossini’s large scale and weighty conception. Incidentally, the recording features one of the finest renditions of the overture I have ever encountered. It alone is almost worth the price of admission! In addition, the sound is big, bold, lively, yet naturalistic. I just love the way the bass drum is recorded which adds quite an impact to the recording’s sonic quality. If only a few more cue points where included on the discs, but that is a minor quibble.
In summary, this is the best recording to date. If one already has a recording of the 1820 version of Maometto Secondo many of variants not performed on this recording can be heard… albeit in their original Italian form. Perhaps in the future the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro will issue a recording of the piece with some of the alternative choices… Then we will have the best of all worlds… However, until then for the true lover of Rossini this Naxos recording is the best way to go!