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8.660087-88 - ROSSINI: Equivoco stravagante (L')
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Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
L'equivoco stravagante

It is not certain when the Rossini family settled definitively in Bologna. Already in the spring of 1805, in any case, we find the thirteen-year-old Gioachino registered for the courses in cello, piano and counterpoint at the newly established Liceo Filarmonico; in the autumn came his stage début as a singer, a treble, in an opera by Paër; the following year he has the title of Philharmonic Academician and is starting busy activity as a harpsichordist in various institutions in the city. In 1810 came his unexpected début in Venice as a composer of opera, the one-act farsa La cambiale di matrimonio (‘The Bill of Marriage’), the success of which opened the final doors for him in Bologna; he was entrusted with the following season at the Teatro del Corso, where he would perform two operas by others and a third new work of his own composition. On 26th October 1811 L'equivoco stravagante was born, the first of the seven great opere buffe that were to ornament his twenty-year operatic career.

Notwithstanding the favourable reception of the work by the public, the opera was the victim of a series of problems with the censors: the librettist Gaetano Gasbarri had overdone the use of suggestive situations and many double entendres were too obvious; the diligent state official had then imposed not a few cuts and modifications, yet without taking account of certain allusions that might be passed over in reading but became clear in Rossini's setting, which underlined rather than concealed them. It so turned out that after three performances the opera was banned, and there are no certain records of later performances throughout the nineteenth century (the opera staged in Trieste in 1825 under the same title was in fact a patchwork of music by Rossini on another subject), so much so that Rossini himself went on to plunder the score extensively, distributing various ideas and even whole pieces in later operas, from La pietra di paragone (‘The Touchstone’) to Tancredi, from La scala di seta (The Silken Ladder) to Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra (Elisabeth, Queen of England).

The libretto, indeed, was not simply rubbish and had been written more than a century earlier. It is a licentious work, to be sure, but linguistically refined, written by a well-read author, skilled in those plays on words that are its distinctive feature and that make the text much more modern than the date of its original registration would suggest. It is a continuing parody of Metastasio, with the ironic quotation of complete lines; Dal dono imparo il donator qual sia (From the gift the donor learns in a measure), in the recitative after Ernestina and Buralicchio's duet, comes directly from the great librettist's Didone; and Rossini underlines it, as he would, with the particular figuration of the basso continuo throughout the opera; here he satirises his nouveaux riches who, having passed on from the hoe to philosophy, have turned themselves into masters of a learned vocabulary that is ill understood, with consequent verbal exaggerations: 'enti' (beings) or 'mortali' (mortals) rather than simply 'persone', the Arcadian 'pupille tenere' (tender eyes) that becomes 'pupille elastiche' (flexible eyes), and so on, and they reduce rules of etiquette to their own image and likeness with amusing results (to compliment a person the form of salutation becomes the excessive 'The meadow has not such turnips, / the garden has not such pumpkins / as great as my compliments / with which I complimentarily compliment you').

Linguistic subtleties are used to obtain a broadly comic effect, therefore, not least in the denunciation of a social problem very prevalent at the time, yet transformed by the comic element around which the whole action centres, the strange misunderstanding of the title: the arrival of the troops of Napoleon in Italy (and this was still during the period of total occupation) among many innovations had imposed a ban on the castration of boys, a practice carried on for more than a century in the pursuit of a career in opera. Fallen into disgrace as artists, by this time held in derision by public opinion, for such young and no longer young men, who, notwithstanding the mutilation, had not succeeded in finding employment in the field of music, it remained only to lurk on the margins of society, wearing women's clothes. So the leading characters in our opera pretend, in jest, but the apparent joke must refer to a number of actual people. If it is considered that the comic turn of events persuades the female heroine, believed to be a eunuch (or 'musician', as was the euphemistic description of the time), to dress in her turn in men's clothes, the clear result is to drive to an extreme the sexual ambiguity of the text.

The music of Rossini, then barely nineteen, is already fully mature, particularly in ensembles, so that it is in no way inferior to analogous parts of subsequent masterpieces: the capacity to drive the action forward in music, without the music slowing it down, or the action and the necessarily intelligible words affecting adversely the flow of the music, is already the distinctive mark of writing as complex as that of the Quartet (No.6, CD 1 [12]), the Quintet (No.15, CD 2 [8]) and the two act Finales (No.10, CD 1 [20] & [21], and No.19, CD 2 [15]), and greater than might be found in the comic scores of contemporary composers. There is even a certain rhythmic and melodic mechanical skill that will make the fortune of memorable operatic passages to follow already perceptible in ensemble passages such as 'Mi brilla l'anima - Per il contento' in the first Finale.

The whole opera centred on the figure of Marietta Marcolini, revealed as a mainstay of the first part of Rossini's career, playing leading rôles in La pietra del paragone, Ciro in Babilonia, L'italiana in Algeri, and Sigismondo, later replaced, in art and perhaps in his heart, by the still more pervasive presence of Isabella Colbran, the composer's future wife. The more typical opera buffa rôles of the period revolve around the contralto prima donna, the young tenor who aspires to the girl's hand, contrasted with the different plans of two buffo basses (here the father and the future husband). The happy ending is naturally assured.

Marco Beghelli

The Present Edition

Notwithstanding the fact that the opera was virtually still-born, a series of contemporary manuscript scores can be found today in the music libraries of Europe and America, while the autograph draft of Rossini seems to be lost. The surviving sources provide two versions that are substantially different enough: one, more complete, with the verses and whole sections that the censors wanted either to cut out or to modify, probably represents the original version; the other, characterized by new verses and typical cuts in the interest of brevity but also with instrumental passages simplified with respect to the other version, reflects, very probably, the version actually staged in Bologna in the only three performances in 1811.

On the occasion of the revival of the opera at the Rossini in Wildblad Festival in July 2000, the new edition prepared for the Deutsche Rossini Gesellschaft, which follows an earlier attempt at reconstruction of the score in 1965, vitiated by clumsy revisions unacceptable today, is therefore put forward as a reconstruction of the version directly staged by Rossini, with the last minute cuts and changes. >One exception is the reinstatement of a short section in the first act Finale (the 'foot scene'), evidently cut by Rossini not for artistic reasons but by the censorship for obvious reasons of good taste; to omit here the pure comedy of such a passage would have seemed a disservice to Rossini, who willingly accepted it and set it to music.

Marco Beghelli - Stefano Piana

Synopsis

CD 1

The action passes in a place and at a time unspecified, outside and inside the house of Gamberotto, a peasant who has made money, and of his daughter Ernestina, who, in accordance with the new family situation, passes the time putting herself in the position of the more noble literary characters, whose language and attitudes she foolishly imitates. She does not yet know that she is loved by Ermanno, a penniless young man who spends his time lingering around her house, hoping to meet her, with the help of Frontino and Rosalia, the crafty servants of Gamberotto (No.1 Introduction to Act I) [2].The agreement between the three is interrupted by a noisy group of peasants, followed by the master of the house, in one of his usual exhibitions of arrogance. Frontino takes the opportunity of introducing Ermanno as Ernestina's new tutor: Gamberotto welcomes him willingly [3], not only for his knowledge but also for his fine appearance which will not fail to please his daughter.

The first step has therefore been taken to bring about the meeting of the two young people; now Buralicchio, Ernestina's intended husband, as rich as he is conceited, must be removed from the scene. Presenting himself as an irresistible Don Juan (No.2 Cavatina) [4], all too confident [5], he meets his future father-in-law [6], vying with him in ceremonial and affectation [7].

Meanwhile Ernestina, bored in the house library, admits to her literary friends that she has an incomprehensible desire within herself (No.4 Cavatina) [8]: perhaps it is due to the lack of love [9]; and they busy themselves searching her books for the most suitable solution for her hypochondria (No.5 Chorus) [10]. The unexpected entrance of Ermanno and Buralicchio [11], introduced at the same time by Gamberotto (No.6 Quartet) [12] immediately raises the spirits of the girl, who feels herself attracted by both: she will keep her body for her betrothed, her spirit for her tutor. But Ermanno does not know how to restrain himself from profiting from his unhoped for proximity and ardently kisses the girl's hand [13], enraging her betrothed, who is with difficulty held at bay by Gamberotto (No.7 Aria) [14].

The action comes to a brief pause for the conversation in which the two servants comment on the real possibility of Ermanno's success [15] and on the impertinent nature of love (No.8 Aria) [16]. [17] Finally the young man manages to find himself alone together with the girl (No.9 Duet) [18], who, still immersed in her literary fantasies, has some little difficulty in understanding his real feelings and remains deeply disturbed by them.

Gamberotto takes the situation in hand again, rebuking Buralicchio for his unjustified jealousy and Ernestina for the little attention she has paid her betrothed [19]: the official courtship starts, therefore, in his presence, beginning with the punishment of the foot, then proceeding further up (No.10 Finale I) [20]. Cut to the quick, Ermanno tries to block these events by staging suicide, to which Ernestina reacts with the greatest apprehension; the consequent anger of Gamberotto and Buralicchio, who chase the tutor from the house, persuades them all, with such a disturbance, to seek the intervention of the forces of law and order [21].

CD 2

When the curtain rises again, Frontino discusses what has happened with the country people of the district (No.11 Introduction to Act II) [1], and reveals to Rosalia that he is ready to put into action a new plan: a strange mistake to help Ermanno (No.12 Aria) [2]. Through a feigned letter that he cunningly allows to fall into the hands of Buralicchio, the wily servant makes him believe that Ernestina is actually Ernesto, the son that Gamberotto had had castrated in adolescence so that he might have a profitable career as a singer and that now, enriched by other means, he keeps hidden in woman's clothing to avoid military service [3]. Dismayed, Buralicchio meets face to face with Ernestina, now finally disposed to accept the engagement, and remains horrified by the masculine traits that he now seems to see in the girl (No.13 Duet) [4]. Determined to take revenge for the insult, he goes to the army commandant to denounce the presumed deserter [5].

Meanwhile Ermanno complains to Gamberotto about the rudeness with which he was chased out of the house, but is reassured that once the marriage has been concluded he will be able to return peacefully to his position as tutor. Alone, Ermanno can only give vent to all his despair (No.14 Scene and Aria) [6]. Seeing him going, Ernestina orders Rosalia to bring him back to her presence: the conversation that starts in funereal tones becomes ever more delicate and intimate, soon interrupted by Gamberotto and Buralicchio, the former outraged at the insults to his daughter, the other now disposed to drop out of the running, in the expectation of imminent revenge (No.15 Quintet) [8]. The army soldiers in fact arrive without delay and arrest Ernestina without offering any explanation. They go, and Frontino laments with Rosalia that the scheme he has organized has ended by further harming Ermanno and Ernestina [9], while Gamberotto abuses Buralicchio for the indifference with which he has received the outrage against his future wife (No.16 Aria) [10].

Ernestina is in prison, saddened by the absence of her books and by her continued ignorance of the reason for her arrest [11]. She is joined by Ermanno, with a soldier's uniform under his arm, to help the girl escape in disguise (No.17 Cavatina) [12]. A little later we find her finally free, hidden amid a squad of soldiers, whom, with her renewed exuberance, she does not fail to exhort to feats of glory (No.18 Scene and Rondo) [13].

The epilogue is set in in Gamberotto's house (No.19 Second Finale), where Frontino reproaches Buralicchio as an informer and advises him to make his escape as quickly as he can, to avoid the anger of Gamberotto, who is looking for him [14]. Ernestina returns, together with her rescuer, promptly mocked by Buralicchio for his ignorance of the facts. The threatening entrance of the master of the house, supported by peasants armed with sticks, persuades the accused to reveal everything: far from being guilty he himself is the true victim and would certainly have been taken in by this castrated son business, if Frontino had not warned him in time [15]. There is mingled hilarity and consternation; Frontino defends himself, explaining that he had acted with the best intentions and Ermanno too finally openly declares to Gamberotto his love for Ernestina. Their enterprise is forgiven, Buralicchio resigns himself to the search for another wife and all ends in happiness and contentment.

Marco Beghelli
(English version by Keith Anderson)


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