Robert J Farr
, July 2008
Gioacchino Rossini was born on 29 February 1792 in the small town of Pesaro, now a beach resort on the Adriatic coast of Italy. Since the 1970s the Pesaro Festival takes place in the town each August. Under the influence of the Fondazione Rossini it is dedicated to performing the composer’s operas, preferably in Critical Editions which it has had, until recently, sole control in collaboration with the publishers Casa Ricordi and under the direction of the scholar Philip Gosset. The Festival, together with the work of the Rossini Foundation, has contributed significantly to the renaissance of Rossini’s operas. This is now solidly underway with a rapidly expanding catalogue of the composer’s thirty-nine operatic works available on CD and DVD. This recording from the 2006 Pesaro Festival extends the availability on record of Rossini’s first staged opera. As well as an audio performance of La Cambiale Di Matrimonio from the same series of performances at Pesaro a previous audio recording is included in the collection of the five San Moise farsi on the Brilliant label and is also available separately (Claves 50 9101). A DVD of an elegantly costumed and staged performance directed by Michael Hampe from the 1989 Schwetzingen Festival is available from Euroarts (2054968).
La Cambiale Di Matrimonio, was premiered at the Teatro San Moisè, Venice, on 3 November 1810. The San Moisè was the smallest of the theatres in that city regularly presenting opera. The audience expected new works and the impresario would commission several comic operas or farsi each season, guaranteeing at least three performances of each. The theatre was run on a shoestring and such farsi required little scenery or staging. The San Moisè had a good roster of singers and an ideal opening arose for Rossini when another composer reneged on his contract. Both Rossini’s parents were musicians. Friends of his family who were members of the San Moisè roster promoted the young Rossini’s virtues and he was offered the opportunity to fill the gap. The resultant La Cambiale Di Matrimonio was the first of five farsi he wrote for presentation at the San Moisè over the next three years. Although it lacks the musical sophistication of the last of those operas, Il Signor Bruschino, it has pace, energy and wit. La Cambiale Di Matrimonio was well received. At age twenty Rossini’s career was off to a cracking start.
The story of La Cambiale Di Matrimo (The Marriage Contract) concerns the attempts of Tobia Mill, an English merchant, to force his daughter Fanny into a marriage with Slook, a rich Canadian merchant who has offered him a large sum of money to find a suitable wife. Mill sees this arrangement as merely an exchange of goods between merchants via a contract. Fanny, however, is in love with Eduardo, a young man of restricted means. When she learns of her father’s intentions, and particularly being treated as goods, she lets Slook know her views. With the help of her chambermaid along with her lover Eduardo, acting as Mill’s cashier, Slook is at first threatened and then converted to the cause of the young lovers. He concedes the contract to Eduardo and generously gives him money so that Mill cannot object to the marriage. Mill relents at the prospect of a grandchild within the year.
Whilst extensive refurbishment goes on at the main theatre in Pesaro many productions are staged out of town. Any limitations of the location are in no way evident in this production using a simple single set of the inside of Mill’s house. His occupation as a merchant is well represented by the swinging hand crane outside the large central window and the passing of bales of goods through the house during the overture. Furnishing and costumes are in period.
The mainly Italian cast are committed actors bringing out the humour of the opera with the musical brio of Rossini’s music well handled from the podium. Paolo Bordogna as the English merchant Mill, and Fabio Maria Capitanucci as Slook, have nicely differentiated vocal timbres, and a pleasing ability for vocal characterisation and acting. Their clear diction is a virtue throughout and particularly in the duet when Slook tries to warn Mill that all is not well with his plans (CH.14). The duet that follows (CH.15) is a real Rossini buffa gem, well delivered and acted. As the goods of the contract, Fanny, Désirée Rancatore twitters well in the vocal stratosphere in her aria Vorrei spiegarvi (CH.16) but is less appealing in her lower voice and lacks a convincing range of colour and legato. I find her performance a little disappointing although she is well applauded by the audience. Désirée Rancatore has sung at some of the best addresses and her performances as Lucia and Olympia have featured on Dynamic DVDs. The singing of the Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu as Edoardo is pleasant without having the ideal head tone required. He makes what he can of his contributions to the proceedings. Presumably the San Moisè roster did not feature a tenor of quality as Eduardo does not have an aria. In her brief aria the Russian-trained Maria Gortsevskaya as Clarina makes little of her brief aria (CH.13), but her acted contribution to the proceedings is better.
The orchestra under the idiomatic direction of Umberto Benedetti Michelangeli plays with verve. The sound is adequate and the video direction is fine. Any intrusions of applause are measured, warm and commendably brief. There is some stage noise. As I noted in my review of the CD of this series of performances, Dynamic have a habit of recording performances for later issue on DVD. However, whilst Dynamic is shown as copyright owners this DVD is among the first to be issued by Naxos in the medium. This seems to me to be wholly appropriate as Naxos is second to none in their promotion of audio recordings of Rossini’s operas, both studio and also of live performances at the Bad Wildbad Festival. If a developing relationship between Naxos and Dynamic brings worthwhile DVD performances by other composers from the various Italian Opera Festivals it will be welcome. This is particularly so in respect of the booklet presentation. This follows the Naxos tradition of including detailed artist profiles, regrettably so often lacking elsewhere, not least with Dynamic CDs and DVDs.