About this Recording
8.660405-06 - ROSSINI, G.: Demetrio e Polibio [Opera] (Mchedlishvili, Yarovaya, Arrieta, Dall'Amico, Poznań Camerata Bach Choir, Virtuosi Brunensis, Acocella)
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Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868)
Demetrio e Polibio

Dramma serio per musica in due atti • Libretto di Vincenzina Viganò Mombelli

Lisinga – Sofia Mchedlishvili
Siveno – Victoria Yarovaya
Eumene – César Arrieta
Polibio – Luca Dall’Amico

Camerata Bach Choir, Poznań • Chorus-master: Ania Michalak
Virtuosi Brunensis (Karel Mitáš, Artistic Director)
Luciano Acocella
Music Assistant and Fortepiano: Achille Lampo

Recorded live at the Königliches Kurtheater, Bad Wildbad, Germany, 17th and 22th July 2016 for the XXVIII ROSSINI IN WILDBAD Festival (Artistic director: Jochen Schönleber)

A Co-production with Deutschlandradio Kultur and ROSSINI IN WILDBAD

Critical edition by Daniele Carnini, edited by Fondazione Rossini, Pesaro in collaboration with Casa Ricordi, Milano.


Rossini’s “Family opera”

The genesis of Demetrio e Polibio has lodged itself in the collective memory of Rossinians primarily as Rossini himself described it to his friend Ferdinand Hiller in September 1855 in Trouville. According to this, Rossini received the commission for specific numbers from the tenor Domenico Mombelli, whom he had previously impressed by having written down from memory a complete opera which he played through himself.

Today, around 200 years later, we can take stock of certain things better than Rossini had remembered them at a distance of more than 45 years. He recounted how the opera had been premièred in Milan without his knowledge. In fact the opera was put on for the first time on 18th May 1812 at the Teatro Valle in Rome. Only ten days later Rossini himself wrote from Venice to his mother in Bologna: “The Rome opera has been well received, for I have read good things about it in the newspaper.” This reaction does not suggest that the performance came as a complete surprise to Rossini. It seems reasonable to suppose that Mombelli who, like Rossini, lived in Bologna, had informed him of this tour.

Shortly afterwards the young composer found himself in Milan where he was to compose La pietra del paragone for La Scala. On 11th July 1812 he wrote home: “Here numbers from my Rome opera are published. My compositions are for the whole world.” The copyist and publisher Giovanni Ricordi did not hesitate to publish excerpts from the opera which had been premièred just two months earlier. After its initial success in Rome the Mombellis presented the work in Faenza and Modena before they reached Milan, where the opera enjoyed further triumphs from 6th July 1813. Ricordi placed a notice in which four arias, a duet and a quartet were advertised. Demetrio e Polibio (usually extended with the addition of two minor rôles) quickly gained currency both at home and abroad. The opera met with the approval of literary figures such as Giovanni Berchet and Stendhal who saw in it an expression of unbridled youthfulness and precocious brilliance.

In old age, Rossini loved to portray himself as a one-time wunderkind, as the apparent backdating of the String Sonatas (which probably date from 1808 and not 1804) shows. He pretended, or believed, that he made the acquaintance of Mombelli as a 13-year-old and that he had written Demetrio e Polibio some four or five years before its première. It also emerges from the conversation with Hiller that Rossini was supposed to have written the whole opera already, even before he commenced his studies with Father Mattei. According to the registers of the Liceo musicale Rossini attended the music school from the 15th April 1806 and from May 1807 he received lessons in counterpoint from Mattei. So, at an outside estimate, Demetrio would have been composed in the spring of 1807. The precise details of his age as thirteen is consistent with this date, the age which he gave of his first getting to know Mombelli, which would have been in the year 1805. If one calculates four or five years back from the date of the first performance (May 1812) which is supposed to separate it from its composition, it follows that, in a perfect world, the work dates from the spring of 1807. Furthermore, his reference to the singing teacher Babini gives support to the dating of 1806–7. An article in a newspaper of 29th June 1806 carried a review of a concert in which Babini and Rossini appeared together, a fact which indicates that at that time Rossini was enjoying singing lessons from the once famous tenor.

At the same time, the Mombellis first took up residence in Bologna in 1808. Domenico Mombelli (1755–1835) was a distinguished tenor who was also active in Vienna. It was there that he appeared with, among others, the soprano Luisa Laschi, for whom Mozart had written the rôle of the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro and whom Mombelli married in 1786. It is possible that the thirty-year old Luisa died in childbirth in 1790. In any event in 1791 Mombelli married for a second time, the then 21-year old dancer Vincenzina, sister of the later famous choreographer Salvatore Viganò, who bore him twelve children. The first was Ester in 1794, followed in 1795 by Anna and in 1796 by Alessandro, all of whom became involved in music. From 1804 to 1807 the family was active mainly in Lisbon. In Bologna Domenico was admitted to the Accademia Filarmonica, which was effectively a requirement for participating in the musical life of the city. The two daughters showed a talent as singers, Ester as a soprano and Anna as a contralto.

It seems that Domenico, along with his two daughters and the bass Ludovico Olivieri, a sort of family factotum, first appeared in Bologna during Lent 1809 at the Teatro del Corso. This is documented in the published libretto of La distruzione di Gerusalemme. Could that have been the opera which Rossini wrote down from memory and so impressed Mombelli? Most probably not. For one thing, we do not know where Rossini was living at this time—at any rate he was not in attendance at the Liceo, which is probably indicative of an out-of-town engagement. Then again La distruzione di Gerusalemme was the work of Pietro Carlo Guglielmi, while Rossini definitely mentioned Portogallo (Marcos António Portugal).

In 1992 Marco Beghelli came to the conclusion that an opera by Portugal was first performed by the Mombellis in the summer of 1810 and that consequently the closer acquaintance with the young Rossini took place at that particular time. In July the Mombellis gave twenty performances of Portugal’s “dramma serio” Omar re di Termagene at the Teatro del Corso, with great success. At this time Rossini was certainly living in Bologna, as is testified by his involvement in two concerts there on 13th July and 9th August 1810. There is yet more. On 13th July a quartet by Rossini was performed by the singers Brida, Malanotte, Babini and Lainer. Babini directs us once more to Hiller’s testimony, and it could well have been on the subject of the quartet “Donami omai Siveno” from Demetrio e Polibio. Even if the performances of Portugal’s opera in Bologna and the concert with the quartet were so close together that Rossini’s story lacked plausibility à la lettre, it seems that the genesis of Demetrio e Polibio is most probably consistent with the year 1810. It might well be that he composed several numbers only in 1811. Another piece attributed to this year was one which Rossini wrote for Ester Mombelli—the dramatic cantata for soprano and chorus La morte di Didone.

Rossini said that he wrote an opera without knowing it. At the very least, the relationship between the numbers could not have escaped his attention. Domenico probably thought quite early on of a “family opera”, for which his wife would serve as librettist and he as composer. In this respect it is probably no coincidence that the material concerned family ties. Vincenzina is not named in the libretto of the first performance, but that is not surprising with a completely unknown name, even more so if it was that of a woman. When the opera enjoyed a success, the woman librettist was named. One may assume that the libretto originated in one go, since it has a clear plot, even if not all the events are convincingly delivered.

As early as 1824 Stendhal mentioned that “Mombelli too had worked on the music”. With reference to the critical edition of the Fondazione Rossini Daniele Carnini has analysed the numbers and sources and summarised the suppositions thus: “Concerning the question of the allocation of tasks we can only guess at what actually happened. Rossini was responsible for Siveno’s first aria, the duet (including that which forms the introduction), the quartet and the first finale. All other numbers are open to debate. The overture is certainly not by Rossini (stylistically and according to several sources which attribute it to Mombelli).”

Although the libretto is not directly modelled on any drama by Metastasio, it does exhibit some structures and forms of his style. So the opera opens with a simple duet, whereas Rossini’s future introductions adopt proportions which act as a foil to the first finale. Immediately following the opening duet with Polibio, Siveno sings his aria. Then Eumene also presents himself in a duet and not actually with an aria on his first appearance (such as Mombelli added only later). It is striking that, in each case, both of the tenor’s big numbers are placed shortly before the finale; Papa Mombelli clearly wanted to have the last word, so to speak, before the general finales. Anna Mombelli, the younger and less promising of the two sisters, has only two small solo arias as Siveno. By contrast Ester has an opening aria, which leads into a short scene and then to a charming duet with Siveno, followed moments later by a big aria with chorus; in the second act she has a similar prima donna number once more. In all the arias for Polibio, Eumene and Lisinga there is an attempt to reinforce the soloistic parts with chorus and small interventions by further singers. So to all intents and purposes Polibio’s aria at the start of act two ends as a duet with Siveno. Finally there is a big quartet which leads initially to a relaxation of the drama then into a new climax. “Donami omai Siveno” was to become the best known number of the opera, held in high esteem by Stendhal and adjudged by Rossini himself as worthy of mention, because “it ends, not with the usual final cadences, but with a kind of outcry by the voices.”

It is worth mentioning that, in this “family opera” right at the beginning of his career, Rossini had the opportunity to set a subject which again and again, right up to Guillaume Tell and beyond, was to inspire him to his most beautiful and most deeply-felt emotions, which were so important for his own life: that of his love for his parents.

Reto Müller
Translation by David Stevens


CD 1

 1  Overture

At the royal court of Polibio, King of Parthia, in the 2nd century BC.

Act 1

Audience chamber.

 2  Polibio explains to his foster-son Siveno that he loves him as if he were a son of his own and wants him to share in the throne. Siveno, conscious of his humble origin, is full of gratitude. Only death can loosen their bond.  3  Polibio asks Siveno to go to the temple. This very day he will marry him to his daughter Lisinga.  4  Siveno is beside himself with joy and hurries away to meet his beloved.

The throne room.

 5  To the sound of a warlike march a delegation from Syria comes before the King of Parthia.  6  Eumene introduces himself as an emissary of the Syrian King Demetrio. He tries to win Polibio’s goodwill with lavish gifts. Demetrio demands the return of Siveno, the son of his former minister Minteo, who at one time meant everything to him. Polibio rejects the request; after all, it is he who has brought up Siveno. Not even Eumene’s threat of war will change his mind.  7  The dialogue escalates. The emissary, sent away by Polibio, threatens him with repercussions. The two men part in a rage.

A magnificent temple.

 8  In the temple the dignitaries of the Parthian empire celebrate the princess and her forthcoming marriage.  9  Lisinga asks the gods for happiness and their blessing for everyone.  10  Bursting with pride and joy at her father’s blessing Lisinga goes to meet her bridegroom.  11  Polibio blesses the young couple at the foot of the altar.  12  Full of warmth, Lisinga and Siveno pledge allegiance to one another in love and eternal fidelity.  13  In spite of their gratitude Polibio’s dejection does not escape the newly-weds’ notice.  14  The King reveals to the pair the danger of the Syrian threat. Siveno is immediately ready to take up arms and Lisinga is willing to follow him into battle.  15  In spite of her inner turmoil Lisinga pretends to be optimistic and sure of victory.  16  Siveno tries to put Polibio in a confident mood.

Night-time in the square in front of the palace.

 17  Eumene’s followers gather in secret in front of Polibio’s palace.  18  Eumene has already bribed the servants and guards. Now he demands boldness from his men to break into the palace from different sides.  19  The fate of the Syrian King depends on them. He asks god to support his plans. If all are truly loyal to him he will be triumphant.

Royal apartment with alcove.

 20  Lisinga sleeps uneasily. Eumene, alone, breaks into the apartment where he assumes that Siveno is sleeping, grabs him and then realises angrily that he has made a mistake. Instead of kidnapping Siveno he will have to make do with Lisinga as a hostage. When she cries out for help, Eumene has his men start a fire. When Siveno and Polibio come running they find their path blocked. Amidst her cries for help and the general commotion in the palace, they have to stand by and watch as Lisinga is abducted.

CD 2

Act 2

A royal room.

 1  In the palace the Parthians mourn for the poor father. Polibio is inconsolable at Lisinga’s uncertain fate.  2  Polibio is at a loss to know how to find her. At the thought of the Syrian emissary he is overcome with rage. Then Siveno comes with the news that he has discovered the hiding place of the abductor. They all head off to rescue Lisinga.

In an isolated area not far from the Parthian capital.

 3  Eumene explains to Lisinga that he wants only the best for Siveno. Then Siveno turns up, followed by Polibio.  4  Eumene seizes Lisinga and threatens that he is ready to kill her with his dagger if Siveno is not eventually handed over to him. Polibio carries out the same threat to Siveno. Both of the young people are prepared to die if only the life of the other is spared. Then Eumene notices a medallion around Siveno’s neck and reveals himself as being his father. Stunned, both sides exchange their hostages. But the demands of the two men for Siveno cause the situation to escalate once more. Eumene snatches Siveno and Polibio draws back with Lisinga.  5  Eumene explains to Siveno that he, not Minteo, is his real father, which he can prove with an identical medallion; once, when Demetrio’s kingdom was under threat, he had handed over his little son to the minister, who took him to Parthia in order to save him.  6  Siveno is moved, but asks his father to understand that he can be happy only once he is reunited with Lisinga.

Audience chamber.

 7  Lisinga is desperate and asks Polibio to be allowed to be put in charge of the operation to release Siveno. Polibio agrees and asks her to proceed with the soldiers. Lisinga asks the soldiers to pledge themselves to go into battle.  8  She already sees the arrogant Eumene fallen, and the soldiers promise to kill him.

An encampment within sight of the city.

 9  Eumene is inconsolable at losing his son once again. He has let Siveno go, since he promised to return with Lisinga. Now he regrets having given in, since it is clear that Siveno will no longer return.  10  Far away from his son, Eumene feels his heart breaking. His followers cheer him up. Suddenly the noise of battle is heard; Eumene sees himself betrayed by Siveno. Lisinga steps forward, wanting to slay the astonished Eumene, but Siveno comes between them. Eumene is so touched by this demonstration of his son’s love that he renounces his demands. All three embrace and go off to meet Polibio.  11  All line up in a march formation and sing a ceremonial chorus. They pause as Polibio approaches them with his followers.  12  Polibio is amazed to see Lisinga and Siveno happily united with the emissary-abductor. To general astonishment Eumene declares that he is none other than Demetrio himself; it was only the fear of not recognising, as king, the true feelings of his son that drove him to disguise himself. Now Siveno and Lisinga shall live together happily and the two kingdoms will be united in ever closer friendship.  13  All feel rejoicing and happiness in their hearts and will remember for ever the blessing of their enduring love.

Reto Müller
Translation by David Stevens

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