About this Recording
8.223346 - RESPIGHI: Astuzie de Columbina (Le) / La pentola magica

Ottorino Respighi (1879–1936)
Ottorino Respighi’s Leonidov Ballet Trilogy • La boutique fantasque, on themes by Rossini, a ballet commissioned in 1919 by Sergey


La boutique fantasque, on themes by Rossini, a ballet commissioned in 1919 by Sergey Dyagilev, was to become Ottorino Respighi’s most successful work in this genre. It also initiated a series of ballet-pastiches by Respighi and other composers, including music of charm and wit of which Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and Le baiser de la fée and Britten’s Soirées and Matinées musicales are excellent examples.

The Ileana Leonidov Company was established in Italy, its name that of the prima ballerina, an extremely beautiful but not too talented Russian dancer, we are told. Their impresario, Dr. Aldo Molinari, commissioned three scores from Respighi, performed for the first time in November, 1920, at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome. The music was to be pastiche, in the manner of La boutique fantasque, allowing the composer to display his remarkable skill in instrumentation with material from various periods and countries and in various styles. Respighi described his task as just a favour for Mme Leonidov and nothing more.

The three ballet scores commissioned for the Leonidov Company, here recorded for the first time, are of more than historical interest, offering material too for dancers and choreographers. There is, after all, a demand among dancers for music that is danceable, from an age later than that of Coppélia and Swan Lake, but nevertheless offering straightforward melodies and rhythms.

Respighi himself in his later career decided not to allow further performances of his three Leonidov ballet scores and it was not until some ten years after his death that Sèvres and La pentola magica were handed over to Ricordi for publication. Le astuzie di Colombina remains in manuscript. It must be said that Respighi’s sole original and magnificent ballet, Belkis, Regina di Saba, completed in 1934, remains to be rediscovered for the stage, now that the concert suite derived from it is arousing renewed interest.

Le astuzie di Colombina

Le astuzie di Colombina, also described as “Scherzo Veneziano”, has a very simple plot involving the usual characters of the traditional Commedia dell’arte. Three Venetian wives plot together against their husbands, with the help of Colombina (Columbine) and her friend Arlecchino (Harlequin). Colombina disguises herself as a lady in order to seduce the three husbands, who have decided to go out to amuse themselves without their wives. In the second tableau, set in the Piazza San Marco, the three husbands, jealous of each other as they seek the favour of the mysterious masked lady, fight a duel: the lady reveals herself as Colombina. The three unfaithful husbands are finally forgiven and everyone joins in a boisterous Furlana.

Le astuzie di Colombina contains an almost indecent variety of styles and musical forms, ranging from the Baroque to what one hopes is a parody of the style of the symphonic poems of Richard Strauss. It is difficult to identify all the popular Venetian tunes used by Respighi, the most obvious of which must be the Gondoliera, with a Venetian dialect text, sung by a tenor behind the orchestra at the beginning of the first scene. Here a girl is taken by her lover on a gondola, the rocking motion of which sends her to sleep. The score also contains two themes that reappear from time to time in the form of leit-motifs, even in a brief first act climax in the manner of Pini di Roma. Since Le astuzie di Colombina is not in a strict musical number form, any cue list would be too long for quotation, particularly since only two of these cues have titles. Apart from four short cuts suggested by the composer, the ballet is here presented in its entirety.

Sèvres de la vieille France

A shorter and less noisy work than Le astuzie, Sèvres may be considered a remarkable discovery. The score is based on themes from seventeenth and eighteenth century France, charmingly orchestrated. It opens with a Menuet d’Exaudet-Gavotte Louis XIII, followed by a Tambourin, a Bergère and finally by an extended Gavotte. After the curtains have been opened by a Moor and his two little assistants, porcelain statues of famous dancers and ballerinas are revealed. They come to life and join in a game of blind-man’s buff, before the Moor makes them return again to their pedestals. The grand finale is reserved for the famous Mademoiselle Camargo and her entourage, as she once appeared before Louis XV at Versailles.

Originally the first Menuet was performed also with a singer, the text based on an old French poem, but the manuscript of this is now lost. Once again Respighi’s orchestration is witty and striking, in the final Gavotte nodding acknowledgement to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.

La pentola magica

In La pentola magica (“The Magic Pot”) Respighi pays tribute to a group of less well known Russian composers, including Grechaninov (Prelude), Arensky (Entry of the Tsar with the Bridegrooms), Pachulski (Scene of the Tsarevich), Anton Rubinstein (Dance of the Tartar Bowmen) and Rebikov (Finale). The remaining numbers, all original compositions by Respighi, are partly based on Russian popular themes and, as in the other ballets, a song is included, this time a vocalise for a boy treble. The Dance of the Tartar Bowmen is nothing more than a new and better orchestration of ballet music from Rubinstein’s opera Demon, with its middle section omitted. The theme and orchestration of the piece derived from Pachulski could equally well be a homage to Elgar. Unfortunately the libretto of La pentola magica seems not to have survived.

The three Leonidov ballets use an orchestra that includes, in addition to the usual strings, an oboe, a bassoon, pairs of flutes, clarinets, horns and trumpets and three trombones. The ensemble is completed by a harp, a celesta and a percussion section of drums, cymbals, glockenspiel and triangle, with a bird-scarer in Le astuzie. Sèvres makes no use of trumpets and trombones, with a percussion section confined to triangle and glockenspiel.

Edited by Keith Anderson

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