Rossini

COMPOSERS: Rossini
LABELS: Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: La pietra del paragone
PERFORMER: Laura Brioli, Marie-Ange Todorovich, Raúl Giménez, Marco Vinco, Paolo Bordogna, Pietro Spagnoli; Teatro Real Chorus & Orchestra/Alberto Zedda; dir. Pier Luigi Pizzi (Madrid, 2007)
CATALOGUE NO: OA 0987 D
La pietra del paragone has always been more admired than performed. Written for Rossini’s all-important debut at La Scala in 1812, it demands a heroine in Clarice, who is a contralto with a lyric top to the voice, while the tessitura for Count Asdrubale, the man she loves, is just as impossible – a bass to lyric baritone. Adding insult to vocal injury, Rossini then demands high wire vocal callisthenics. In Pier Luigi Pizzi’s production for Madrid’s Teatro Real, Marie-Ange Todorovich and Marco Vinco are admirable in every respect – and touching, too; for Pizzi these lovers are flesh and blood, not comic cardboard cutouts, and Asdrubale’s final scena and aria, ‘Cessa… lasciam, amico’ is crammed with real regret when he fears he has lost Clarice.

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Pizzi has a sharp eye for hypocrisy as well. Updating the comedy to a modern holiday villa in the Romagna, hidden among tall, cool pine trees, we have a cast of venal freeloaders lounging round the pool, snacking off endless trays of food and slurping the count’s best vintages. Paolo Bordogna’s Pacuvio, the poet, is all peacock, and Pietro Spagnoli as the journalist, Macrobio, oozes charm at every vocal pore as he lets on how easily his good opinion can be bought. Only the other women chasing the count and his fortune are stock figures. Alberto Zedda keeps both plot and music bubbling along deliciously.

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Christopher Cook