About this Recording
8.660282-83 - PACINI, G.: Convitato di pietra (Il) [Opera] (Cortellazzi, Chauvet, Zafeiriadou, Ferrari)
English 

Giovanni Pacini (1796–1867)
Il convitato di pietra

 

Farsa o operetta in two acts
Libretto by Gaetano Barbieri, drawing on earlier libretti on the same subject
Edited by Jeremy Commons and Daniele Ferrari

Don Giovanni (Francesco Pacini in spoken introduction) – Leonardo Cortellazzi, Tenor
Donn’Anna (Rosa Pacini in spoken introduction) – Geraldine Chauvet, Mezzo-soprano
Zerlina (Claudia Pacini in spoken introduction) – Zinovia-Maria Zafeiriadou, Soprano
Masetto – Ugo Guagliardo, Bass
Duca Ottavio – Giorgio Trucco, Tenor
Il Commendatore – Ugo Guagliardo, Bass
Ficcanaso – Giulio Mastrototaro, Baritone

 

Il convitato di pietra is in one very important respect a work which is unique: it is an opera written by a composer for private performance by members of his own family. As Pacini briefly wrote in his memoirs, Le mie memorie artistiche (Firenze, 1865):

Nel carnevale successivo 1832 composi pel gran teatro della Fenice di Venezia l’Ivanhoe…Dopo il conseguìto successo mi recai di bel nuovo in famiglia, ove durante la mia dimora mi occupai di una piccola operetta intitolata: il Convitato di Pietra, che venne eseguita da mia sorella Claudia, da mia cognata, da mio fratello Francesco, da mio padre, e dal giovane Bilet di Viareggio nel teatrino particolare di casa Belluomini. Nel tempo stesso feci lettura delle opere istrumentali di Beethoven, di Haydn, Mozart…

(In the following carnival—that of 1832—I composed Ivanhoe for the great theatre of La Fenice in Venice…After the success it met with I returned once more to my family where, during my stay I occupied myself with a little operetta entitled: Il convitato di pietra, which was performed by my sister Claudia, by my sister-in-law, by my brother Francesco, by my father, and by young Bilet of Viareggio in the small private theatre in the house of the Belluomini family. At the same time I made a study of the instrumental works of Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart…)

Let us expand this account.

Giovanni Pacini was born in Catania on 11 February 1796 and died at Pescia on 6 December 1867. Together with Verdi, he enjoyed probably the longest career of any nineteenth-century Italian composer. His first opera was produced in 1813, the year of Rossini’s Tancredi and L’Italiana in Algeri; his last (apart from one posthumous work) only seven months before his death in 1867, the year of Verdi’s Don Carlos. It is only necessary to compare these operas by his greater contemporaries to realise the enormous change in musical styles and taste that took place during the fifty-four years in which he was composing.

His family was Tuscan, and came from Popiglio, a village in the hills behind Pistoia. It was, indeed, only by accident that he was born in Catania: the accident that his parents simply happened to be there on tour at the time of his mother’s confinement. His father, Luigi, was a professional singer who, beginning his career as a tenor, ended it as one of the best-known buffo basses of his day. He was Rossini’s first Don Geronio in Il Turco in Italia, and his later rôles included a number in his son’s early operas. His life was one of constant travelling from engagement to engagement, and for much of the time his family would seem to have accompanied him. Indeed if ever there was a composer who grew up backstage at the theatre—with the smell of grease paint constantly in his nostrils—it was young Giovanni.

Like all young composers of his time, Giovanni also began by leading a largely itinerant life. And then, early in 1822, he established himself at Viareggio on the Tuscan coast, where, he tells us in Le mie memorie artistiche, he gathered around him his parents, his brother Francesco, and his sister Claudia (his elder sister Giuseppina having already married and gone to live in Rome). In 1823 Claudia married a well-known doctor, Antonio Belluomini—he was later the physician of Maria Malibran—and the ‘casa Belluomini’ in Viareggio, where Il convitato di pietra was performed in 1832, was almost certainly their home.

The story of the opera will be familiar to us all, for it is that of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Pacini’s vocal distribution is, however, rather different.

Don Giovanni, unlike Mozart’s baritone hero, is here a tenor, and a particularly high Rossinian tenor at that. Francesco Pacini, who took the part, was not a professional singer—he was, or certainly later became, French consul in Viareggio—but he must have been a particularly accomplished amateur to have carried off music as high-lying and as decorated as this. The casting of this rôle is probably the major difficulty facing any modern would-be producer of the opera.

Claudia Pacini Belluomini, who sang Zerlina, must also have been highly gifted, for the part is written not merely for a clear-voiced young soubrette, as Mozart’s Zerlina clearly was: it requires a singer with a wide range and an outstanding coloratura technique as well.

If both these parts call for virtuoso interpreters, so, too, in its way, does that of Ficcanaso, the equivalent of Mozart’s Leporello. Luigi Pacini had by this time retired: he was to die only five years later in 1837. But even if by now elderly, reliant on style rather than on vocal bloom, he could nevertheless still manage a high tessitura—by modern standards the part is more for a bass-baritone than for a bass—and could also deliver pointed declamation and wrap his tongue around rapid patter. Luigi Pacini could clearly still turn in a thoroughly professional performance.

The remaining rôles are less demanding. Masetto, sung by Giovanni Bilet or Billè, who must have been either a pupil of Luigi or Giovanni or a family friend, is another bass; while Donn’Anna, sung by Francesco Pacini’s wife Rosa, is a contralto. While both are reasonably rewarding parts, the construction of the story means that both disappear fairly early in Act II. Giovanni Billè’s participation was actually more substantial than this would suggest, for he also took the part of the Commendatore at the beginning and end of the opera. Duca Ottavio, here a second tenor, was sung by another pupil or friend, Domenico Tonelli.

Fascinatingly there is no Donna Elvira in this version of the story. Her rôle, somewhat awkwardly and with a degree of violence to the psychology of the resulting character, is conflated with that of Zerlina.

The opera also makes use of an all-male chorus, doubtless small in size. The tenor section must nevertheless be strong in terms of musicianship, since their line is frequently divided.

In presenting this recording of Il convitato di pietra from the 2008 Rossini-in-Wildbad Bel Canto Festival, I do not wish to suggest that the opera is an overlooked masterpiece worthy of comparison with Mozart’s setting. Don Giovanni is one of the world’s greatest operas; Mozart one of the world’s greatest composers. Pacini by comparison is a minor figure, once held in considerable regard but now sadly neglected, and Il convitato di pietra is one of his smaller, more curious works. Some comparison with Mozart is inevitable, but if we allow this to be our only focus, disappointment with Pacini will be inevitable. We would do better to look at this opera as a work in its own right: a treatment of the same story, but by a composer of a different nationality, at a different period of musical history, and who wrote in a very different musical style. Pacini himself, it should be pointed out, would not have thought of himself as in any way challenging Mozart. If he was inviting comparison with anybody, it would have been with earlier Italian composers, Gazzaniga and Fabbrizi, who had also treated the story. And though he tells us that in the same summer that he composed Il convitato di pietra he was also studying the instrumental works of Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart, their influence is hardly apparent. He may have studied their techniques, and the manner in which they treat individual instruments, but his own music is written in his own idiom—in the Italian melodic language of the 1830s.

Pacini neither seeks nor achieves the ‘universality’ of Mozart’s work. We do not feel that he is deeply concerned with psychological penetration, with delving psychological ‘truth’ in the way his characters express themselves. He is concerned with more superficial theatrical effect. Writing for members of his own family, his concern was to provide them with music that they would enjoy singing, and with which they could delight and amuse their friends.

The manuscript of Il convitato di pietra is one of many Pacini autographs preserved in the Biblioteca Comunale Carlo Magnani of Pescia. After living in Viareggio and Lucca, the composer finally settled in Pescia, and this archive, one of several in Italy that are essential for a comprehensive study of his music, was presented to the town library many years after his death by his great-granddaughter, Giulia Fantozzi.

Pacini’s manuscripts are notoriously difficult to decipher. One of the reasons, indeed, that so little research has until recently been done on either his music or his letters is that would-be students of his work are daunted by his handwriting. In the case of this opera, however, research is both facilitated and complicated by the fact that virtually all the separate parts used in the performance of 1832 also survive in the Pescia archive. However inaccurate they may be, and however many variants they may reveal when compared with the manuscript, they nevertheless represent the text as it was actually presented. The score used for the present recording was initially compiled from these parts, then checked and corrected against the manuscript.

One of the discoveries made in the course of working on the score is that not all the items were newly and expressly composed for the occasion: several, at least, were ‘self-borrowings’: items taken from the composer’s earlier works. Zerlina’s Sento brillarmi il core, for example, an aria of great brilliance and the greatest single show-stopper in the score, dates from the earliest years of his career: it was originally the penultimate item—the final aria of the heroine, Rosaspina—in the opera buffa, Gli sponsali de’ silfi (Milan, 1815). Alexander Weatherson has pointed out¹ that Don Giovanni’s serenade, Luna conforta al cor de’ naviganti, was taken from Il talismano (Milano, 1829). And although its provenance has not been traced, there is evidence that Donn’Anna’s Care sponde also began life elsewhere. In one of several bundles of Pacini’s ‘foul papers’ in the Biblioteca Comunale of Pescia, there is a copy of this same aria, but for soprano instead of contralto, scored for full orchestra and with a different cabaletta.

As research into Pacini’s music continues, it could well be that still further self-borrowings will be discovered. Since this opera was written for his immediate relatives, it stands to reason that, familiar with all his operas, they would have had their favourites among them, and their chosen items that they enjoyed performing. There is nothing more natural and probable than that they should have asked him to introduce their favourite pieces into the opera he was preparing for them.

The opera is scored for a chamber orchestra of strings and flutes. The orchestra Pacini had in mind would probably have consisted of four first violins, three or four second violins, two violas, two cellos, one double bass, and two flutes, one of whom also played the piccolo. Since, however, he was directing a music school in Viareggio at the time, he may conceivably have increased these numbers to give experience to as many as possible of his students.

The Biblioteca Comunale in Pescia preserves a hand-written copy of the libretto of Act I of the opera, but not of Act II. At first this would seem a loss of major consequence, since the opera consists of sung items linked by spoken dialogues, and this means that the spoken dialogues for Act II no longer exist. The loss is not, however, as irreparable as it may seem. The plot follows the story of Mozart’s opera far more closely than it does those of Gazzaniga and Fabbrizi, and most of the gaps can be made good by drawing on the recitatives that Lorenzo da Ponte wrote for Mozart. The item which poses the greatest difficulties is Zerlina’s Sento brillarmi il core, since it has no equivalent in Mozart. As one of the two editors of the score I was thrown back on my own imagination, concocting a solo scene for Zerlina in order to introduce this item.

Although the single act of the libretto preserved in Pescia does not carry the name of its author, we must again express our thanks to Alexander Weatherson for revealing that it was almost certainly the work of Gaetano Barbieri, the librettist of Il talismano. Although Weatherson’s note in the Donizetti Society Journal does not give any location, he writes that a letter still exists in which Pacini thanks Barbieri both for the part he played in the project and for attending the performance given in Viareggio. His part in the project would have been one of compilation rather than of original composition, for there had already been several libretti written on the story of Don Giovanni. Apart from Da Ponte’s text for Mozart (Prague, 1787), the best-known was Don Giovanni, o sia Il convitato di pietra by Giovanni Bertati, set by Gazzaniga (Venice, 1787). Others were Don Giovanni Tenorio, o sia Il convitato di pietra by Giacomo Pedrinelli, set by Giovanni Fabbrizi (Fano, 1788), and Il convitato di pietra by Giuseppe Foppa, set by Francesco Guardi (Venice, 1802). Any textual study of these libretti becomes extremely complicated, for they are all interrelated. We have only to compare Barbieri’s text for Pacini with those mentioned above to find that it shares Ficcanaso’s opening words, ‘La gran bestia è il mio padrone’, and the words of the sortita of Zerlina and Masetto, ‘Bella cosa per una ragazza’, with the operas of both Gazzaniga and Fabbrizi; while the greater part of those of Ficcanaso’s catalogue aria, Di tutte le sue belle, and those of the Second Finale from the entry of the Commendatore onwards (‘Siedi Commendatore’) are also to be found in Gazzaniga’s opera. The oddest feature of this whole question is that, while Barbieri frequently borrowed from these earlier libretti, he weaves a plot which is far closer to Lorenzo da Ponte’s text than it is to any of the others. In the spoken dialogues he may borrow lines and phrases from Da Ponte, but in the musical items he generally, when he wishes to quote the words of others, prefers those of Bertati and Pedrinelli. The idea though to add a background story in the dialogues (including a prologue) was part of Anke Rauthmann’s Wildbad production.

A chamber work for soloists, male chorus and small orchestra, Il convitato di pietra is suitable for performance in any small theatre. It must nevertheless be emphasized that this is not a work for performance by students. The rôles of Don Giovanni, Zerlina and Ficcanaso are far too demanding to be tackled by beginners. Like Rossini’s music, the music of Pacini requires virtuoso bel canto singing of the highest order.

Jeremy Commons

¹ In a footnote to a review by Charles Jernigan of the 2008 Rossini-in-Wildbad Bel Canto Festival, published in the Donizetti Society Newsletter 105 (October 2008), pp. 18–20.

 

Synopsis

CD 1

Act One

[1] Prologo: The younger members of the family agree to arrange a play for the birthday of their father. The son will play Don Giovanni, his father has to play the servant Ficcanaso.

[2] Introduzione: La gran bestia è il mio padrone (Ficcanaso, Donn’Anna, Don Giovanni and the Commendatore). A disgruntled and supperless Ficcanaso keeps watch outside the house of the Commendatore, waiting for his philandering master, Don Giovanni who, he knows, has let himself into the house by stealth in the hopes of seducing the Commendatore’s daughter, Donn’Anna. These intentions are, however, thwarted, for Donn’Anna appears on a balcony, struggling to free herself from Don Giovanni’s grasp and crying out for help.

[3] Don Giovanni leaps from the balcony into the street, but is there confronted by an irate Commendatore. Swords are drawn and the Commendatore is mortally wounded. Don Giovanni and Ficcanaso make their escape. Donn’Anna, who has fled in search of assistance, returns with her fiancé, Duca Ottavio, but it is only to find her father dead. She tells how an unknown man, whom she had assumed to be Ottavio, had appeared in her room. Until the offender is discovered and apprehended, she declares that she wishes to retire to a convent.

[4] She tearfully bids farewell to her familiar surroundings [Aria con pertichini: Care sponde, che pietose (Donn’Anna, with Duca Ottavio), an aria which, while predominantly a solo, contains a few words or lines for a second character.].

[5] Don Giovanni tells Ficcanaso that he hopes to encounter two young peasants who are about to marry.

[6] The scene changes to the countryside. Zerlina and Masetto enter with their friends [Coro e sortita di Zerlina e Masetto: Bella cosa per una ragazza].

[7] Don Giovanni introduces himself and bids Ficcanaso conduct everyone, including Masetto, to his palazzo, saying that he will follow soon with Zerlina. Masetto’s protests at being separated from his bride are unavailing.

[8] No sooner are they alone than Don Giovanni begins to lay siege to Zerlina, assuring her that she was born to be the wife of a nobleman, not of a country yokel, and offering to marry her there and then himself [Duetto: La man tu mi darai (Don Giovanni and Zerlina)].

[9] But before matters can proceed further, he is interrupted by the arrival of Donn’Anna and Duca Ottavio, who ask him to help them discover the Commendatore’s murderer. Embarrassed, he manages to make his escape, but not before Donn’Anna has recognised his voice. She tells Ottavio that Don Giovanni is certainly the culprit. A further scene-change takes us to a terrace running along the garden front of Don Giovanni’s palazzo. Zerlina tries to justify her conduct to Masetto, but he brusquely reproaches her for abandoning him upon the morning of their wedding. She next tries to appeal to Don Giovanni, but he slips away, leaving her with Ficcanaso, who proceeds [10] to inform her that she is but the latest in a long catalogue of Don Giovanni’s conquests [Aria con pertichini: Di tutte le sue belle (Ficcanaso, with Zerlina)].

[11] Masetto returns, and Zerlina again tries to conciliate him. But before she can make any headway, Don Giovanni is heard giving orders for a great banquet and celebration [12] [Finale primo: Esso vien, io qui celato (Tutti)]. He brings all the country folk out on to the terrance and bids them welcome [‘Su da bravi, ragazzi miei cari’]. Rather than let Zerlina escape, he suggests that she, Masetto and he should conduct all the company indoors and lead off the dancing.

Ficcanaso, decidedly the worse for drink, comes out to take the air [‘Il mio Padrone balla’]. In maudlin fashion he imagines that he is wooing one of the country girls. Donn’Anna and Duca Ottavio approach from the garden, hoping to join the party and apprehend Don Giovanni [‘Voi proteggete, oh Dio’]. As the entire company breaks off dancing and returns to the terrace, Don Giovanni succeeds in waylaying Zerlina and leading her back indoors. Very soon screams are heard from inside. In vain Don Giovanni tries to accuse Ficcanaso of being the culprit, for all realise the truth and join in denouncing him [‘Sul capo tuo già piomba’]. He escapes, however, back into the house, with Anna, Ottavio, Masetto and Zerlina in pursuit. Ficcanaso is left to try to calm the country folk and see them off the premises.

CD 2

Act Two

[1] By night in a street outside the house of Donn’Anna, where Zerlina has taken refuge. Ficcanaso tries to leave Don Giovanni, but is bribed to continue in his service, and indeed to assume his mantle and impersonate him.

[2] Don Giovanni intends that they should play a trick on Zerlina: Ficcanaso must go through the motions of serenading her, while he himself actually sings from the shadows [Romanza: Luna conforto al cor de’ naviganti (Don Giovanni)].

[3] Zerlina, of course, is totally hoodwinked, so that when she descends to the street, thinking that she is joining Giovanni, she is really joining Ficcanaso. Giovanni has already beaten a strategic retreat.

[4] Ficcanaso, half amused, half embarrassed, is soon alarmed to see lighted torches approaching. In one direction he finds his escape cut off by Donn’Anna and Duca Ottavio, in the other by Masetto [Quintetto: Senza il caro sposo amato (Zerlina, Donn’Anna, Duca Ottavio, Masetto and Ficcanaso)]. As all fall upon him, he is forced to reveal his identity, but then manages to take to his heels and escape.

[5] Donn’Anna and Duca Ottavio depart, still intent upon seeking out Don Giovanni, and Zerlina, left with Masetto, at last succeeds in wheedling her way back into his good graces [6] [Duetto: Mio dolce pensiero (Zerlina and Masetto)].

[7] The scene changes to a graveyard, with a statue of the Commendatore. While Ficcanaso complains to Don Giovanni that the mock-serenade almost resulted in his death, a voice is heard, seemingly coming from the statue and prophesying Don Giovanni’s doom. Undaunted, Giovanni orders Ficcanaso to invite the statue to supper [8] [Duetto: Signor Commendatore (Don Giovanni and Ficcanaso)]. To Ficcanaso’s consternation—a consternation which is not shared by a brazen Giovanni—the statue accepts.

[9] A drop curtain descends and Zerlina appears before it, directly addressing the audience.

[10] She assures us that her woman’s wiles have brought her safely to port. Masetto is submissive to her beck and call, and she has nothing further to fear [Aria: Sento brillarmi il core (Zerlina)].

[11] A final change of scenery takes us to Don Giovanni’s banqueting hall. The supper is ready [Finale Secondo: Preparata è già la cena (Don Giovanni, Ficcanaso, Commendatore and Coro)], and musicians play a fandango while Giovanni dines. He is incensed to see that a ravenous Ficcanaso is also helping himself to the provisions, but his rebukes are interrupted by a knocking at the door. Ficcanaso goes to answer, but returns in terror, stammering out that it is the Commendatore. While he takes refuge under the table, Don Giovanni himself goes to admit his guest. The statue of the Commendatore appears. Invited to partake of the supper, he replies that he no longer feeds on common food, but has come to reciprocate Giovanni’s hospitality by inviting him, in turn, to dine with him. As he grasps Giovanni’s hand, the floor opens, the flames of Hell are seen, and voices of demons are heard. Don Giovanni, writhing in agony, is dragged down to Hell, while a terrified Ficcanaso is left clutching to a table leg.

Jeremy Commons


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