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NBD0035 - ROSSINI, G.: Overtures (Complete), Vol. 2 (Prague Sinfonia, Benda) (Blu-ray Audio)

Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868)
Complete Overtures • 2


Gioachino Antonio Rossini, one of the most successful and popular operatic composers of his time, was born in Pesaro in 1792. His father, a brass player, had a modest career, disturbed by the political changes of the period as the French replaced the Austrians in Northern Italy. Rossini’s mother was a singer and as a boy Rossini appeared with his father in the pit orchestra and from time to time as a singer with his mother on stage, going on to work as a keyboard player in the opera orchestra. Rossini’s early studies in music were with his father and mother, and with other teachers through the generosity of rich patrons. In childhood he had already started to show ability as a composer and his experience in the opera house bore natural fruit in a remarkable and meteoric career that began in 1810 with the production of La cambiale di matrimonio in Venice.

There followed a series of operas, comic and tragic, ending with Semiramide in Venice in 1823, the last of his operas for Italy. There had been attractive offers from abroad, and successful visits to Vienna and to London, but he now turned his attention to Paris. Under the Bourbon King Charles X Rossini staged French versions of earlier works and in 1829 Guillaume Tell. A contract for further operas came to nothing when the King was replaced in the revolution of 1830 by Louis-Philippe, although eventually, after some six years, Rossini was able to have his agreed annuity restored. With matters settled in France, in 1836 he returned to Italy and in spite of ill health concerned himself with the affairs of the Liceo Musicale in Bologna. The revolutionary disturbances there in 1848, activities with which he had little sympathy, seemed to threaten him and his second wife, Olympe Pélissier, whom he had married in 1846, after the death of his first wife, the singer Isabella Colbran, from whom he had been legally separated since 1837. For his own safety he moved first to Florence, but in 1855, partly in a search for better health, returned to Paris. In that city and a few years later at his new villa at Passy he passed the rest of his life.

Rossini’s opera Maometto II (Mehmed II) was originally written for Naples in 1820 in a version that offered a new structure. Two years later the work had to be revised for performance at La Fenice in Venice, where a more conventional form was expected. The opera is set in 1476, at the time of the fall of the Venetian colony of Negroponte to the Turks. The Venetian governor Paolo Erisso intends his daughter Anna to marry Calbo, but she loves Uberto, whom she had met in Corinth. Uberto turns out to be Mehmed II in disguise. Anna suffers a conflict between duty and love, choosing the former in marriage to Calbo and final death by her own hand as the Turkish forces storm Negroponte. For performance in Venice Rossini substituted a happy ending, with victory for the Venetian soldiers.

The opening Sinfonia for Venice starts with a slow introduction, marked Maestoso and taken from a scene in which Calbo and Paolo Erisso are in the catacombs. It continues with an Allegro that uses themes from the opera. In 1826 Rossini reworked the opera for Paris as Le siège de Corinthe (The Siege of Corinth), the action shifted to a Greek city to fit contemporary political circumstances.

It was in 1813, relatively early in his career, that Rossini wrote L’Italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers) for the Teatro San Benedetto in Venice.

Mustafa, the Bey of Algiers, wishes to rid himself of his wife Elvira, and plans to marry her off to his favourite, the enslaved Italian Lindoro. He tells Haly, Captain of the Algerian corsairs, to find him an Italian girl. Lindoro, meanwhile, is in love with Isabella, who is taken prisoner by Haly, with her elderly companion Taddeo, who now pretends to be her uncle. Lindoro is offered his freedom to return to Italy, if he will take Elvira with him. Isabella and Lindoro recognise each other, and she refuses the advances of the Bey, demanding that Lindoro, as an Italian, should be ordered to stay with her. The Bey tries to persuade Isabella to accept him, promoting Taddeo to a high court position, but Isabella uses trickery, notably the invention of a ceremony of the Order of Pappatici, to which the Bey may be admitted, if he can pass the test of silence. The ceremony is used as a cover for the escape of Isabella and Lindoro, who are finally forgiven by the Bey, now reconciled to his wife, admitting that he has been outwitted by the Italian girl.

The opera, which retains a firm place in international operatic repertoire, has a lively overture, which opens Andante, with plucked strings, accompanying an oboe melody, before an Allegro, its second subject entrusted, as so often, to wind instruments.

La Cenerentola (Cinderella) was first staged in Rome in 1817. In a slightly different form of the fairy tale, Cenerentola shows kindness to the philosopher Alidoro, tutor to the Prince, Don Ramiro, who calls at the castle of Cenerentola’s stepfather, Don Magnifico, Baron of Monte Fiascone, in the guise of a beggar. Alidoro advises Don Ramiro that here is a girl worthy of his hand. The ugly sisters and Don Magnifico are ready to attend a ball at the palace, while it is Alidoro who comes to the aid of Cenerentola and takes her there, after a scene in which Dandini, the Prince’s valet, and the Prince have changed places. Continuing the same imposture, Dandini, as the Prince, greets Don Magnifico at Don Ramiro’s country house, and appoints him court vintner, while the Prince and his valet cannot understand Alidoro’s praise of Don Magnifico’s daughter, seeing only the two ugly sisters. Cenerentola admits that she prefers the Prince’s servant, the real Prince, who now reveals to her his true identity. She gives him a bracelet that matches her own and tells him to find her, once she has gone. Forced by a storm to seek shelter in Don Magnifico’s castle, the Prince recognises Cenerentola, who seeks forgiveness for her stepfather and stepsisters. The opera ends in Don Ramiro’s palace, where Cenerentola is finally enthroned, as she deserves. Rossini is said to have written the opera in three weeks. The overture, borrowed from the recently composed La gazzetta, is a popular concert item. It opens with an introductory Maestoso, leading, as expected, to an Allegro vivace, its second theme introduced by the clarinet, to return in recapitulation with piccolo and bassoon. The movement largely follows Rossini’s usual practice, a modified use of sonata form, a slow introduction, an Allegro with two contrasting themes, the second usually entrusted to wind instruments, a recapitulation and a coda.

Rossini presumably wrote his Grand’overtura ‘obbligata a contrabbasso’ during his student years in Bologna. In spite of the reference to the double bass, the work seems to have no connection with Rossini’s early patron, the amateur double bass player Agostino Triossi, for whom he wrote his String Sonatas. The unusual features of the Overture are fully discussed by Philip Gossett¹, who draws attention to the composer’s attempts at counterpoint. The work, at all events, offers the immediate attractions of lively melodic writing, after the more ominous slow opening.

Matilde di Shabran, ossia Bellezza, e cuor di ferro (Matilde of Shabran, or Beauty, and heart of iron), a two-act melodramma giocoso, was first mounted in Rome in 1821. Matilde succeeds in dominating the misogynist Duke Corradino, entrusted with her care after the death of her father. Corradino’s autocratic behaviour, with the machinations of the Contessa d’Arco, who has designs on him, create complications, which are surmounted once he realises what has really been happening. This leads him to contemplate suicide, from which he is saved by the intervention of the heroine and her companions. The overture, taken from that for Eduardo e Cristina [8.570934], follows Rossini’s usual pattern, its second theme linked to the opera, and, as always, with originality in orchestration and nuances within the structure, its recapitulation tantalisingly introduced.

A witty comedy, La cambiale di matrimonio (The Bill of Marriage) was Rossini’s first opera for the professional stage, seen first at the Teatro San Moise in Venice in 1810. Tobias Mill, a rich English merchant, agrees to marry his daughter Fanny to a Canadian, Mr Slook, whom he has never seen. Fanny, however, has given her heart to the young and impoverished Edward Milfort. The comedy develops when Slook, in colonial garb, with manners to suit, arrives and is confronted by Milfort, who is anxious to prevent the match, and by Mill, who is determined to enforce the contract. All ends well, as Slook makes Fanny over to Milfort. The overture, derived from Rossini’s Overture in E flat of the previous year, is heard with some frequency in the concert hall. It opens Andante maestoso, with a horn solo, followed by an Allegro vivace, its first subject presented by the strings, leading to the second theme, from flute and clarinet, with intervention by the horn in E flat, the unusual initial key of the second subject.

Rossini’s Tancredi, regarded by Stendhal as his masterpiece, was staged in Ferrara soon after the first 1813 performance in Venice, but now, exceptionally, with a tragic ending, following the play by Voltaire on which it is based. Set in eleventh century Syracuse, it deals with the secret return from exile of the knight Tancredi, his love for Amenaide, daughter of the leader of Syracuse, betrothed by her father to another. In the original version Tancredi is victorious against his enemies and united with Amenaide, while in the revised version Tancredi is killed, united with her only on his deathbed. The opening Sinfonia, an exciting introduction, is borrowed from the overture to La pietra del paragone. The slow introduction, marked Andante marcato, duly leads to an Allegro, its first theme initially entrusted to the strings, followed, after a dramatic transition, by the second theme, introduced by flute and clarinet, soon joined by the bassoon. A characteristic crescendo is followed by a recapitulation, the second theme now initiated by the oboe and first violins, leading in due course to the final coda.

Il barbiere di Siviglia remains the most popular of Rossini’s comic operas, providing a witty and lively score to accompany a series of incidents worthy of any farce. The first performance in Rome in February 1816 was unsuccessful as a result of objections made by supporters of Paisiello’s opera of 1782, also based on the first play of the trilogy by Beaumarchais. Originally with the title Almaviva, ossia L’inutile precauzione (Almaviva, or The Useless Precaution), to avoid confusion with Paisiello’s work, Rossini’s opera deals with the plan by Count Almaviva to woo Rosina and win her hand in marriage. With the help of the barber and general factotum Figaro, he carries out his plan to outwit her guardian, Dr Bartolo, who has his eye on his ward’s fortune. The overture was that originally written for the opera Aureliano in Palmira, later modified by Rossini to serve the same purpose for the opera Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra. The E major Andante maestoso introduction to the overture leads to an E minor Allegro con brio, its first theme entrusted to the strings and the second, in G major, to the oboe, then flute and horn. An impressive crescendo is succeeded by a recapitulation and an emphatic coda.

Il Turco in Italia (The Turk in Italy) was first given at La Scala in Milan in August 1814, its humour lying largely in its contrast of manners. The poet Prosdocimo finds the subject for a new comedy in the ill-matched Geronio and his flirtatious wife Fiorilla, prepared, already, to throw her cap at Selim, the Turkish Pasha, once loved by Zaida, a girl who has taken refuge in a gypsy encampment near Naples. Fiorilla entertains Selim, newly arrived in Naples, to coffee, and deals with both Geronio and Narciso. Prosdocimo advises Geronio to manage his wife with firmness, but his attempts at this prove unsuccessful. The principal characters gather at the gypsy camp, seeking their fortunes in one way or another. Selim meets Zaida again and Zaida and Fiorilla confront each other. Selim now suggests that he should buy Fiorilla from Geronio, a proposal the latter rejects. Prosdocimo, eager for a comic outcome, offers a further plan. At a masked ball Geronio should masquerade as Selim, to forestall the real Selim’s planned abduction of Fiorilla. Narciso overhears the plan, and assumes the same disguise, so that there are three Selims at the ball. Matters are finally resolved when the real Selim decides to return home with Zaida, and Fiorilla is left to make the best of the revelation of her fickle behaviour. The overture to the opera, with its effective horn solo in the opening Adagio, has a lively Allegro theme for the strings and, after a tempestuous transition, a second theme introduced by clarinet and bassoon, followed by the trumpet, both making their due return in recapitulation.

The Sinfonia in E flat dates from Rossini’s student days between 1806 and 1809 in Bologna. It is more familiar as the source of the overture to La cambiale di matrimonio, for which it was adapted, to be used again, after further revision, as an overture for Adelaide di Borgogna in 1817.

Ricciardo e Zoraide was first staged at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples in 1818. Agorante, angry at the refusal of Ircano to give him his daughter Zoraide in marriage, ousts Ircano from his kingdom of Nubia and later takes prisoner Zoraide, who has meanwhile fallen in love with the knight Ricciardo. Ricciardo, in disguise, tricks Agorante into allowing a combat between himself and Ircano in which he is victorious, but when Ircano, Zoraide and Ricciardo find themselves prisoners of Agorante, they are saved by the intervention of the Christian knights of Ricciardo’s company, led by Ernesto. Agorante is pardoned and Ricciardo duly united in marriage with Zoraide. Rossini’s opera starts with an overture that suggests later styles of composition in its latent romanticism. In the score it is coupled with the first scene of the opera as Sinfonia e Introduzione. A C minor Largo leads to a Marziale section, followed by an F major Andante. In the opera the Marziale is to return in the Introduzione with the chorus.

Torvaldo e Dorliska, a rescue opera, had its first staging in Rome in 1815. The Duke of Ordow is in love with Torvaldo’s wife Dorliska, who escapes a trap set for her and her beloved Torvaldo in the forest. Dorliska makes the mistake of seeking refuge in the Duke’s castle, where she is welcomed by the comic servants Carlotta and Giorgio, and meets Torvaldo, who has entered the castle disguised as a woodsman. They are both eventually rescued, with the help of the servants and a renegade follower of the Duke, who is overthrown by the rebellious villagers. Rossini’s opera has a lively enough overture, its slower introduction leading to an Allegro vivace in which the second theme is to be used again a year or so later in La Cenerentola.

Rossini’s Armida, with its difficult casting that calls for six tenors, was first mounted in Naples in 1817. Its plot, variously employed by earlier composers, is based on Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata. Armida, in an attempt to deceive the crusaders, seeks help against Idrante, the supposed usurper of the throne of Damascus. Rinaldo, elected leader of the crusaders, kills his rival Gernando in single combat and takes refuge with Armida in her enchanted palace, bewitched. Two of Rinaldo’s comrades arrive and show him his reflection in the polished surface of a shield, an event related in Tasso’s poem. Coming to his senses, he leaves Armida, who is now torn between love and desire for revenge. The opening Sinfonia contrasts two elements, the steady march of the crusaders and a rapid Vivace, the march unexpectedly returning to interrupt the livelier section.

Le Comte Ory, Rossini’s fourth opera for Paris, was first staged at the Paris Opéra in August 1828. Set in thirteenth-century France, the opera deals with the attempts of Count Ory to woo the Countess Adèle, whose brother is away on a crusade. She and her ladies have abjured love in his absence. Ory disguises himself as a hermit, deceiving even his tutor and his page, Isolier. The latter is also in love with the Countess and gains admission to the castle, with Ory, who warns the Countess against him, while absolving her from her vow, only to have his identity revealed by his tutor. In the second act Ory and his men, disguised as nuns, seek shelter from a storm in the castle, where they alternate their behaviour between emptying the wine cellar and an appearance of prayer. Isolier tricks Ory into an assignation that he supposes is with the Countess, but is in fact also with his page, and he and his men make their escape as the husband of the Countess is heard returning. The Introduction is well matched to the plot, its outer sections suggesting the Count’s cunning exploits, with a martial passage at its heart, the returning opening section ending in the plucked notes of the strings.

Bianca e Falliero, a work no longer in general current repertoire, was first performed at La Scala, Milan, in December 1819. Bianca loves the young Venetian general, Falliero, but her father has promised her in marriage to Capellio. She refuses to sign the wedding contract, but Falliero, who has supported her, takes refuge in the Spanish Embassy, thus breaking the law of Venice. He is to be judged by the Council of Three, suggested in the full alternative title of the opera, Il consiglio di tre, Capellio, her father and another official. It is Capellio’s perception of Bianca’s sincerity that leads, in the opera at least, to Falliero’s release and a happy ending. The opening Allegro vivace of the overture uses echo effects, before a solemn minor key Andante intervenes. There is rapider figuration followed by a return of the original Allegro, with its echo effects and a characteristic melody and crescendo, leading to a triumphant conclusion.

Keith Anderson

¹ Philip Gossett, ‘The Overtures of Rossini’, 19th Century Music, iii, 1979–80, pp 25–27

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