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8.660189-90 - ROSSINI: Torvaldo e Dorliska
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Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
Torvaldo e Dorliska

Dramma semiserio in Two Acts
Libretto by Cesare Sterbini

Torvaldo - Huw Rhys-Evans, Tenor
Dorliska, his wife - Paola Cigna, Soprano
Giorgio, castle custodian - Mauro Utzeri, Baritone
Duca d'Ordow - Michele Bianchini, Bass
Ormondo, henchman of the Duke - Giovanni Bellavia, Bass-baritone
Carlotta, Giorgio's sister - Anna-Rita Gemmabella, Mezzo-soprano
Chorus of Servants, Soldiers, Peasants and Grenadiers

ARS Brunensis Chamber Choir (Chorus-master: Dan Kalousek)
Czech Chamber Soloists Brno (Leader: Ivan Matyás)

Alessandro de Marchi, Conductor and Harpsichord


In October 1815 Rossini made his successful début at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples with Elisabetta regina d'Inghilterra. At this time there had already existed for some months an agreement with Rome, as emerges from a letter from Rossini to the librettist Angelo Anelli dated May 1815. Rossini asks Anelli, with whom he had collaborated on L'italiana in Algeri, for the text for a comic opera. Anelli showed himself only moderately interested and offered an old libretto to be given a new setting, which Rossini again declined. In financial respects too they came to no agreement and so Rossini fell back on the young Roman writer Cesare Sterbini, who, at this point, was not very experienced as a librettist. The collaboration, however, appears to have taken a positive course, since only a short time later he wrote the text of Il barbiere di Siviglia, for which Rossini gave him preference over the more experienced Jacopo Ferretti, the subsequent librettist of La Cenerentola. The question of when, through whom and why the decision was made to choose an opera semiseria instead of an opera buffa, can only be the subject of speculation. The plot of Torvaldo e Dorliska goes back originally to the French novel of 1790 Vie et amours du chevalier de Faiblas by Jean-Baptiste de Coudray and was at the time generally known through various operatic settings among others by Luigi Cherubini. The libretto Lodoïska by Francesco Gonella, set in 1796 by Giovanni Simone Mayr, can be taken as the immediate forerunner of Rossini's version.

Torvaldo e Dorliska belongs to the category, stemming from France, of rescue opera, so called from the basic pattern of plot that is common to these pieces, among them Rossini's La gazza ladra as well as Beethoven's Fidelio. The principal character(s), without being guilty of any wrong, fall into mortal danger, mostly through the intrigues of a villain, and are rescued at the last moment.

The group of characters of Fidelio suggest some parallels with those of Torvaldo e Dorliska, with their common narrative content. In both operas the ideal of married love is celebrated, in Beethoven threatened on political grounds, in Rossini through the jealousy of the Duca d'Ordow. The jailer Rocco and the castle custodian Giorgio appear ambivalent, both of them, in spite of moral reservations, are in the service of villains and are drawn into helping them in their dark plans. While Beethoven's Rocco, however, remains largely passive, Giorgio in Rossini becomes a positive hero who takes the side of the lovers against his master and whose clever actions finally bring a positive conclusion to the piece. The subsidiary characters, Giorgio's sister and helper Carlotta as well as Ormondo, the captain of the Duke's soldiers, nearly always overtaxed by his master's orders, provide for more cheerful music, without effectively changing the generally more serious than half-serious character of the opera.

Torvaldo e Dorliska had its first performance in Rome on 26 December 1815 as the opening première of the carnival season. The management of the relatively small Teatro Valle could for this occasion provide a cast of the highest quality, in the first place the two basses Filippo Galli and Ranieri Remorini in the rôles of the Duca d'Ordow and of Giorgio. Then came the tenor Domenico Donzelli and the young soprano Adelaide Sala in the two title-parts.

In spite of good singers the opera could not achieve the success that was expected in Rome from a new work of Rossini, a composer very well-known and liked there. It emerges from the criticisms of the first performance that the public found that Torvaldo was not cheerful enough for the opening of the carnival season. Sterbini had taken pains to write good verse, but failed to bring laughter, it said in one newspaper review. The first performance, however, was no decided failure (as is often alleged in studies of Rossini). This was prevented alone by the presence of Filippo Galli, who came from Rome, yet for the first time in his highly successful career of some fifteen years was appearing at that theatre. Rossini had a very exact idea of Galli's voice when he wrote Torvaldo, since he had tailor-made for him the parts of Conte Asdrubale in La pietra del paragone, of Selim in Il turco in Italia, and of Mustafà in L'italiana in Algeri. Later would follow the parts of Fernando in La gazza ladra, the title-rôle in Maometto II and the rôle of Assur in Semiramide, making Galli the definitive Rossini bass.

Shortly after the first performance, Torvaldo e Dorliska was cut down to one act and played in one evening together with L'inganno felice. Rossini had written the latter a few years before for the Teatro San Moisè in Venice and on that occasion collaborated for the first time with Galli, who in the première took the rôle of Batone, but in later performances in other cities the part of Tarabotto, who in character can be seen as the predecessor of Giorgio in Torvaldo. L'inganno felice was one of Galli's favourite operas and so it may be surmised that the combination with this work had its origin in his initiative. Nor should the responsibility of the singer for the decision for an opera semiseria be excluded. Rossini had already in the letter to Angelo Anelli required him to design the rôle for Galli as an 'exaggerated character' and that of the second bass Remorini as the exact opposite. Already with Mustafà in L'italiana in Algeri he had created the caricature of a tyrant who nevertheless by no means lacked a certain virile charm. The figure of the Duca d'Ordow moves on the other hand on the border between caricature and the threatening, through which the development of the conflict with Giorgio achieves greater importance and Rossini in musical respects has more scope than with the two basses Mustafà and Taddeo in L'italiana in Algeri. In several numbers in Torvaldo the composer sets the two low voices one against the other, particularly effectively at the beginning of the piece: there he presents first a comically angry Giorgio, the counterpart of his master, who subsequently appears in person with his cavatina, wavering between high feelings because of supposedly successful revenge on his rival Torvaldo and sadness and anger over the escape of his vainly beloved Dorliska. The introduction runs into a brilliant stretta, characterized by the parlando music of opera buffa, Si cercherà, si troverà, in which Giorgio has a share, with the Duke, and with Ormondo, a third bass. The Duke's second aria comes as the last solo number before the finale. Stendhal made the following comment on it: 'The tyrant sings a wonderful agitato; it is one of the finest arias for a bass; Lablache and Galli can scarcely miss singing it in their concerts. To console those readers who perhaps do not know this aria, I can tell them that it is none other than the famous letter-duet [between Otello and Iago] in the second act of Otello, Non m'inganno, al mio rivale' - nevertheless in a greatly altered form, it should be added.

In several places in the opera the expert will similarly hear music that is also found in other works by Rossini. The practice of the composer to present old themes in new guises has its own particular charm. This begins with the Overture, the second theme of which is used again in La Cenerentola, but there continued in a completely different way. In Torvaldo's aria in the second act there appears in the first part (Allegro vivace) as accompaniment the same string figure as later in the Podestà's aria in the second act of La gazza ladra and in the finale Rossini uses musical material from the ensemble I voti unanimi from La scala di seta, to name but a few examples. In the reviews of the first performance the terzetto Ah! qual raggio di speranza between Torvaldo (in disguise), the Duca d'Ordow and Giorgio from the first act was rightly mentioned with particular praise. Once more Rossini here skilfully brought together the idioms of seria and buffa. What begins as a serious duet between the rivals Ordow and Torvaldo develops into a thrilling ensemble in which the composer uses a procedure that is characteristic for him, found also, for example, in La gazza ladra or in Il viaggio a Reims: the low male voices sing in parlando and are thus employed almost like orchestral parts. Over this foundation sounds the cantilena of a higher voice, in this case that of the lamenting Torvaldo, who yet in the concluding Allegro links up with the buffo type music of the two basses and thus returns from the private expression of feelings to his disguise.

In other writing on Rossini Torvaldo e Dorliska has always been the object of negative judgement because of the self-borrowings and above all because of the supposed faults of Sterbini's libretto in which the plot and the demands of rescue opera are seldom sufficiently taken into consideration. Stendhal characterized the opera as 'fairly mediocre opera semiseria' which would earn honour for an ordinary composer but made 'no particular contribution to Rossini's fame'. He rightly too brought out the strengths of the opera: the effective numbers for the two basses, Remorini and, above all, Galli, as well as the heartfelt passages for the two lovers Torvaldo and Dorliska, such as the entry aria, wavering between hope and sorrow, in the music of which, at the words Torvaldo, dove sei?, Stendhal perceived 'a cry of suffering', the moving despair of Dorliska at the news of the supposed death of her husband or the short duettino from the second act in which the lovers take their leave of each other.

Martina Grempler
English version by Keith Anderson




Act I

[CD 1 / Track 1] No. 1 Sinfonia

[1/2] No. 2 Introduction: The scene is a wood near the castle of the Duke of Ordow. On one side is seen the castle wall, with a door. The custodian of the castle, Giorgio, seems to be on guard, every now and then looking towards the wood. He suffers under the capricious tyranny of his master, the Duke: if he looks at you, you turn cold; if he speaks to you, you are terrified; if he touches you, heaven help you; if he laughs - worst of all. A storm seems to be brewing. He is joined by the Duke's servants, from the wood, who have found nothing. He had been summoned in the night to search, it later transpires, for Torvaldo and Dorliska, and had heard the assault on Torvaldo. The Duke has attacked Dorliska and her husband Torvaldo on their wedding-day with the aim of taking Dorliska for himself. In the struggle Torvaldo was wounded and, in the belief that he was dead, left lying in the wood. Dorliska, however, was able to escape, as later transpires.

[1/3] No. 3 Cavatina: The Duke enters in some agitation, the dangers he has undergone and his attempted abduction of Dorliska in vain. Giorgio addresses him, and Ormondo and the servants try to calm his fury.

[1/4] No. 4 Recitative: Angrily the Duke tells Ormondo to renew his search, revealing the situation, Torvaldo's apparent death and Dorliska's escape. He himself will take part in the renewed search. He orders Giorgio not to divulge what he supposes he has overheard, before rushing out. Giorgio, with his habitual complaints against his master, unlocks the castle door and goes in.

[1/5] No. 5 Scena and Cavatina: Dorliska comes out of the wood, agitated and afraid, approaching the castle door, thinking to find help there. She knocks at the door, but there is no answer. She tries again, lamenting the absence of her husband Torvaldo.

[1/6] No. 6 Recitative: As Dorliska is about to knock again, Giorgio's sister Carlotta suddenly comes out. Dorliska seeks her help, explaining how she has been separated from her husband, who may now be dead. Carlotta welcomes her. Giorgio, meanwhile, in a room in the castle, has been reflecting on events, and Carlotta brings Dorliska to him, explaining how she had been the victim of an attack in the woods at night. Dorliska tells him that she does not know whether her husband is now dead or alive. Born in Poland, she was married the day before, only for her husband to be attacked by his rival, who had a hundred times sought her hand. Giorgio realises that the attacker was the Duke of Ordow and reveals to Dorliska that she is now in his castle. Giorgio and his sister try to calm Dorliska's obvious distress.

[1/7] No. 7 Scena: The Duke suddenly appears and recognises Dorliska, at first amazed and then delighted. He orders Giorgio and Carlotta away, exclaiming on his good fortune. He tries to reassure Dorliska, who is terrified, and tries to leave. The Duke tells her that the door is locked and that her husband, whom she hopes to find, is far away - among the dead. Dorliska lets out a cry, calls for help, and then turns on the Duke, preferring to join her husband in death. She goes out, followed by the Duke.

[1/8] No. 8 Recitative: Returning, the Duke shuts the door, vowing that Dorliska shall not escape him. He calls out for Carlotta and Giorgio. Ormondo, the Duke's henchman, comes in and is told that the girl has been found. He tells him to cover up all traces of the events of the previous night in the wood and to bury the body. Ormondo unhappily obeys. The Duke calls again for Giorgio and tells him that the woman he has seen is the one he loves, but that she hates him because, the night before, he killed her husband; now he needs Giorgio's help, a service in which he must remain blind and dumb; Dorliska must be watched over by Carlotta and he must try to console her and bring her round. As the Duke goes out, Giorgio resolves to write at once for help from the Governor.

[1/9] No. 9 Scena and Cavatina: Outside the castle Torvaldo approaches, recognising it as the castle of his enemy, where his unfortunate wife must have taken refuge. Having survived the attack against him, he lives now to help her against the wicked tyrant.

[1/10] No. 10 Recitative: Torvaldo exchanges clothes with a passing peasant, planning to save Dorliska. Giorgio appears, having sent his message, and Torvaldo introduces himself as a woodcutter from a neighbouring village, bringing a letter to a certain lady who has come to the castle. Giorgio tells him that the only lady there is his sister, at which Torvaldo, in agitation, bursts out in anguish at the loss of his Dorliska, his wife. Giorgio tells him that, while his master is a villain, he himself is a man of honour, amazed now to realise that this is Torvaldo, alive not dead. Wounded by the Duke and left for dead, he had been helped by a shepherd and had planned to gain entry to the castle with the letter. Giorgio has a plan to save her, to Torvaldo's delight. The Duke comes out, calling for Giorgio, who takes the letter from Torvaldo and hands it to the Duke. Torvaldo explains how an unknown gentleman, mortally wounded, had given him the letter for his wife, from whom he had been separated in the wood. The Duke takes and reads the letter, in which Torvaldo bids his wife farewell, assuring her that the bearer can tell her of his last hours; he pardons his killer and tells her to pardon him and resign herself to her lot.

[1/11] No. 11 Terzetto: The Duke sees hope in all this, with Torvaldo and Giorgio finding equal hope in their deception. They both assure the Duke that Torvaldo is dead, continuing to express their own thoughts, as the Duke allows the letter to be given to Dorliska. Giorgio, however, sees the bird in the snare. They go into the castle.

[1/12] No. 12 Recitative and Aria: Ormondo approaches, from the country, tired out after his fruitless search for Torvaldo's body. Matters are not good, he realises, quoting various proverbs in support of his feelings.

[2/1] No. 13 Finale to Act One: Duettino: In the castle Carlotta tries to calm Dorliska, with little success, as the latter throws herself down on a chair, in despair.

[2/2] No. 14 Finale to Act One: Terzettino: Torvaldo, Giorgio and the Duke enter, silently observing Dorliska, the Duke with hope, the other two in pity. The Duke approaches her, assuring her of his love. She will not listen to him, and Torvaldo can hardly restrain himself. After a short pause the Duke signals to Torvaldo and Giorgio to approach her, which they do, Torvaldo in some trepidation.

[2/3] No. 15 Finale to Act One: Quartetto: Eventually Giorgio, in an attempt to rouse Dorliska from her misery, shouts in her ear, telling her to read the letter from her husband. Dorliska rises up, looking at Giorgio, but not at Torvaldo. She takes the letter, and faints, to which all react in their own way.

[2/4] No. 16 Continuation and Stretta of the Finale: Torvaldo urges her to be brave for soon her troubles will be at an end. At the sound of his voice she looks up, exclaiming in recognition. Torvaldo tells her to be silent, but the Duke has noticed her reaction, and puts his hand on his sword, furious as he realises that this is Torvaldo. Ormondo enters, with the Duke's men, and the Duke orders them to take Torvaldo prisoner. The latter draws a sword, hidden under his cloak. Dorliska holds the Duke back and Giorgio does the same with Torvaldo, both the combattants now incensed. Giorgio disarms Torvaldo, and Dorliska remonstrates with the Duke, while Carlotta expresses her terror. Torvaldo, however, is now no threat.

Act II

[2/5] No. 17 Introduction: Giorgio, with a lantern in his hand, followed by some of the Duke's men, enters the castle dungeon, where they can talk freely. He tells them that they must rescue the two victims of the Duke and take their own revenge on the villain. The men agree. This time the Duke will not escape.

[2/6] No. 18 Recitative: Giorgio seeks out Torvaldo, assuring him that he can speak freely, that all present are on his side; Dorliska has been told of everything. Sixty grenadiers are on their way and will be there by nightfall; at their arrival the sign will be given, the bells will be rung and the castle gates thrown open for the peasants and soldiers. Torvaldo wants to know what will happen if the Duke tries to kill him, but Giorgio assures him that he will not let the dungeon keys out of his hands and tells him not to worry about Dorliska.

[2/7] No. 19 Recitative and Aria: Torvaldo asks Giorgio to assure Dorliska of his love, as the latter tries to break away, telling him not to be afraid. Giorgio and the men leave.

[2/8] Nos. 20 & 21 Recitative: Elsewhere in the castle the Duke thinks that he will have his way; he has gold, which can do everything. Others may call him a tyrant, a villain, but he is the example of one happy in his misdeeds. He calls to Giorgio to bring Dorliska to him and to make sure the prison stays shut, threatening him; how could he have believed Torvaldo dead and then not recognised him! Giorgio excuses himself, as he had never seen Torvaldo before, and the man was so ingratiating. He brings Dorliska in, accompanied by Carlotta, and the Duke dismisses the two of them. The Duke tells Dorliska that her marriage can be dissolved and if she will be his, he will spare Torvaldo; if not, he dies. Dorliska reproaches the Duke for his cruelty, swearing hatred.

[2/9] No. 21 Aria: Dorliska confirms her undying hatred, calling on heaven to help her in her resolve. The Duke tries to reason with her, but she continues, promising death rather than submission, before retiring to her own rooms.

[2/10] Nos. 22 & 23: The Duke thinks her resistance vain. He summons Giorgio telling him to tell Ormondo to come to him in his rooms and not to let the prison keys out of his hands. Giorgio shows him the keys, at his belt, as the Duke, threatening him again, leaves. He is joined by Dorliska and Carlotta. Dorliska depends on him for his help, but Giorgio assures her that Torvaldo is safely locked up. She begs for a moment with her husband, and Giorgio lets Carlotta have the keys to the dungeon.

[2/11] No. 23 Aria: Carlotta feels hope in her heart. She tells Giorgio that they will soon be back, and tries to comfort Dorliska, barely restraining her own tears.

[2/12] No. 24 Recitative and Duet: Giorgio wonders if he is doing the right thing; all is now ready for his attempt against his master. The Duke has entered, unseen by Giorgio. He has no doubt of his final triumph, while Giorgio tries to steal away. Before he can go, the Duke demands the prison keys, and Giorgio pretends to look for them; perhaps they are in his room or in a cupboard. The Duke prevents him leaving, menacing him with death. Giorgio begs for mercy and eventually admits that his sister has the keys, and the Duke drags him off, threatening every kind of punishment.

[2/13] No. 25 Recitative and Duettino: Dorliska is with Torvaldo in the dungeon, unwilling to leave him, while he is anxious for her safety.

[2/14] No. 26 Recitative and Sestetto: Carlotta urges Dorliska away, fearing the Duke and watching anxiously for danger. Torvaldo tells Dorliska that all will be resolved by sunset. Carlotta calls out, seeing the Duke approaching. He bursts in, dragging Giorgio with him. He is followed by Ormondo and armed men. He accuses them of treachery, all worthy of death. Dorliska seeks to take the blame, followed by Torvaldo, while Giorgio and his sister beg the Duke's mercy. As Torvaldo confronts the Duke, the bell is heard. Giorgio declares that their friends have arrived. The Duke draws his sword to attack Giorgio, but Ormondo rushes in, with his armed men, telling the Duke that he must defend himself: the peasants have risen, threatening to kill the Duke, the servants have opened the doors and a hundred soldiers have entered the castle. The Duke seizes the keys from Carlotta and gives them to Ormondo, rushing out with Ormondo and his men.

[2/15] No. 27 Recitative: Dorliska wonders what will happen to them, comforted by her husband. They are rejoined by Ormondo, who kneels before Torvaldo, giving him the keys and his sabre and seeking assurance of his own safety, which Torvaldo promises. He signals to Giorgio to look after Dorliska, and goes out. Ormondo tells them that the Duke is trying to defend himself in the passage leading to the prison. The voices of the peasants are heard.

[2/16] No. 28 Scena and Aria: The Duke enters, defending himself against Torvaldo and a number of peasants and soldiers who are pursuing him. Torvaldo disarms the Duke, ordering him to be bound, while the crowd call for death for the cruel tyrant. The Duke is in despair, with none to help him: Giorgio has betrayed him and Torvaldo is victorious, his own fate worse than death. He is taken out by the soldiers.

[2/17] No. 29 Finale of the Second Act: Dorliska and Torvaldo, Giorgio and Carlotta, join in rejoicing at the outcome.

Keith Anderson


The Italian libretto is available online at http://www.naxos.com/libretti/torvaldo.htm

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