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Chris Mullins
Opera Today, November 2007

Between the efforts of recording companies Naxos and Opera Rara, Rossini-philes have been living in a golden age.

Operas that had middling (or less) success during the composer's lifetime have been recorded, with music that often strikes the ear as quite familiar, since Rossini, understandably, employed the scores as a sort of treasure chest to draw from for later projects.

And so in the Naxos recording of Torvaldo e Dorliska, the second theme of the overture will surely evoke smiles from many listeners, who may search their musical memories before identifying the tune from its use in Cenerentola. Torvaldo e Dorliska, however, is no comedy. Instead, Martina Grempler, in the booklet essay, argues that the precedent for the opera is Beethoven's Fidelio - a rescue drama centered on marital fidelity. Let that suffice for a description of the plot - historical commentary referenced in the essay indicates that the weakness of Cesare Sterbini's libretto doomed the opera. Naxos does provide a detailed track-by-track synopsis for those who want to follow every melodramatic twist and turn.

For the rest of us, the reward here is purely aural, as Rossini's score, while no lost masterpiece, possesses the style and creative energy of the master. Arias, duets, trios, quartets - the music streams by in rippling variety, with Rossini's orchestration skills, particularly with winds, always evident. Each of the title leads has a fine solo number in the first act. Soprano Paola Cigna (a good soprano name!) delivers her "Tutto è vanno" with energy and precision, with the runs precisely articulated in the cavatina. Occasionally, higher tessitura brings some acid into her tone; the middle is attractive enough. Tenor Huw Rhys-Evans (no reward for guessing his nationality) has an even more pleasing voice, all the way through a secure and ringing top. His scena, "Tutto è silenzio," is more sweet than potent, and it would be an excellent choice for any artist (think Juan Diego Florez) searching out rarer but rewarding arias.

The bad guy role, Duca d'Ordow, goes to a bass. Michele Bianchini has no big solo scene, but his sonorous voice has ample opportunity to sneer and threaten in various ensembles. His subordinates, who end up betraying him and helping the title characters, are well sung by baritone Mauro Utzeri (Giorgio) and bass-baritone Giovann Bellavia (Ormondo). Giorgio even gets the last aria leading into the joyous finale. In the small role of Giorgio's sister Carlotta, Anna-Rita Gemmabella finds herself in the spotlight as the drama thickens (at least supposedly) in act two - rather like Berta's bouncy number in the very different Barbiere. Gemmabella's warm mezzo suits the number, "Una voce lusinghiera," very well.

Conducting from the harpsichord, Alessandro de Marchi leads the Czech Chamber Soloists in a secure, detailed performance sensitive to the ostensible drama while pressing forward. Naxos compiled the recording from three performances dates during the 2003 Rossini in Wildbad Festival. The sound is fine, with little distracting stage noise.

Sooner or later Opera Rara may turn to this opera, but if they do, the performance had better employ superstars who can clearly outshine the more than capable singers on this Naxos set. For at budget price, this Torvaldo e Dorliska can be recommended to anyone with an affection for Rossini, or the lost glories of bel canto.

David L Kirk
Fanfare, January 2007

It [Torvaldo e Dorliska] has lots of good music, some of which we discover in Rossini’s later operas.

The singing is generally quite good. Huw Rhys-Evans (Torvaldo), Mauro Utzeri (Giorgio), and Anna Rita Gemmabella (Carlotta) especially stand out. Paola Cigna (Dorliska) has a lovely voice; she’s very supple in the passagework… © 2007 Fanfare Read complete review

Richard Osborne
Gramophone, December 2006

Torvaldo e Dorliska is a two-act, semi-serious "rescue" opera which attempts, not entirely successfully, to revisit the world of Rossini's first acclaimed essay in the genre, L 'inganno felice (Venice, 1812). Completed in December 1815 for Rome's Teatro Valle, it is, strange to relate, the work of the selfsame team which eight weeks later gave the world II barbiere di Siviglia.

The plot concerns the murderous Duke of Ordow and his designs on Dorliska, wife of the young knight, Torvaldo. When we first encounter Torvaldo, some 40 minutes into the limply written first act, he has entered the castle in disguise bearing a letter for Dorliska. Rossini's music up to this point is dull and formulaic. With confrontation in the air, things begin to look up: first, in a grandly written trio for Torvaldo, the Duke and the castle custodian Giorgio, then in the Act 1 finale, where Dorliska blows Torvaldo's cover with a sudden shriek of recognition. With hero and heroine now in the villain's grasp, the rather more fluently written second act concerns the rescue itself, engineered by the genial Giorgio

Despite being a semi-serious "rescue" piece, the opera is best when closest to comedy. The duet in which Giorgio unavailingly tries to deny the Duke access to the keys of the prison is an obvious highlight. The solo numbers Rossini provides for Torvaldo and Dorliska are not without merit. Better still is their exquisite short duettino in the brief Act 2 prison scene. Of the more serious numbers, Rossini was sufficiently enamoured of the Duke's defiant final aria to reuse part of it in the vengeance duet in Otello.

The 2003 "Rossini in Wildbad" production team serves the opera just about as well as it deserves. The two basses are key. The buffo Mauro Utzeri is an agreeable Giorgio, Michele Bianchini an imposing if rather too cavernous sounding Duke (his is the only voice which the closely miked live theatre recording finds it difficult to focus). Huw Rhys-Evans is a mellow-sounding Torvaldo, Paola Cigna a not too soubrettish Dorliska, and there are strong performances from the two comprimarios.

Robert Levine, October 2006

Torvaldo e Dorliska was Rossini's 16th opera, premiered in Rome in December, 1815, two months after Elisabetta... and two months before Barbiere. It has an odd tone--it's a so-called "rescue opera". The plot concerns the eponymous hero and heroine, who are married. The evil Duke loves Dorliska and attacks the couple on their wedding day and leaves Torvaldo for dead. Dorliska runs away but winds up (unknowingly) taking refuge at the Duke's castle and is imprisoned. When Torvaldo finds his way there he attempts to rescue her, but he also is taken prisoner. The Duke's embittered henchman, Giorgio (a comic role), helps the couple. The villagers rise up and the Duke is punished, while our heroes live happily.

The opera is not in the top 10 of Rossini's great output--it breaks no new ground--but it's quite enjoyable despite being neither serious nor comic. Torvaldo has a couple of fine arias, as does Dorliska, the first-act finale is excellent, and even the basses and baritones have some good, if not altogether memorable, music.

This performance is very good indeed. Taped live in Bad Wildbad in July, 2003, stage noises do not interfere and there are precious few problems with ensembles, missed notes, etc., perhaps because there were patch-up sessions. Paolo Cigna and Huw Rhys-Evans are our heroine and hero and they're both up to the task. The former has plenty of high-flying and florid music and she sings it all accurately and with the right emphasis, while Rhys-Evans' very light, sweet voice copes well enough without the word "virtuoso" (or "Blake" or "Florez") coming to mind.

Michele Bianchini as the Duke exhibits a good-sized voice that may lack heft in the middle but that otherwise is a pleasure to hear. Mauro Utzeri, as the villain-turned-good guy Giorgio, sings with great character and a light tone (he's billed as a baritone); his duet with the Duke is a high spot. The rest of the cast is just fine.

Alessandro de Marchi leads a tight performance, one in which neither recitatives nor slower passages drag, and he keeps up with the singers nicely. Even a superb conductor would be unable to make the music of our villain, the Duke, sound villainous (this is Rossini's shortcoming in this opera), but he gives the work a respectable amount of drama nonetheless and his orchestra and chorus are excellent. No libretto is supplied but the track-by-track synopsis is very helpful.

There is another live recording of this opera, from Radio Switzerland in 1992 and starring tenor Ernesto Palacio (on Arkadia), but I haven't seen it in years--and at any rate, this Naxos set is better. Calling all Rossinians--who will also enjoy spotting bits and pieces of some of the composer's other operas sprinkled throughout.

Robert J Farr
MusicWeb International, August 2006

Researching for my Rossini conspectus, published in two parts by Musicweb-International in November 2005 (Part 1 )and (Part 2 ) I could find no extant recording of Torvaldo e Dorliska, Rossini’s 16th opera. Charles Osborne in The bel canto Operas (Methuen 1994) mentions an LP version under Alberto Zedda with a fine cast including Cuberli, Valentini-Terrani, Dara and Nimsgern, but this seems never to have made it onto CD. Knowing that the opera had been performed at Bad Wildbad, known as the Pesaro of the North, in 2003 and that Naxos had previously recorded from there, Musicweb approached the company for me. Naxos confirmed they had it in the can and I can now welcome its issue as yet another addition to the burgeoning list of Rossini operas readily available on either CD or DVD.

Rossini had already agreed to compose a work to open the Carnival Season at Rome’s Teatro Valle on 26 December 1815 as he prepared his first opera seria for Naples, Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra. This was enthusiastically received at its premiere on 4 October 1815. On his arrival in Rome to rehearse Il Turco in Italia a month later he did not like the libretto prepared for him by Angelo Anelli, the librettist of L’Italiana in Algeri. Instead of turning to the more experienced Jacopo Ferretti he instead commissioned a young but well-read civil servant, inexperienced as a librettist, Cesare Sterbini. He produced a semi-seria libretto that essentially belongs in the category of a ‘rescue opera’ of which the outstanding example is Beethoven’s Fidelio.

The opera is set in and around the castle of the Duke of Ordow (bar). The evil Duke is in love with Dorliska (sop), the wife of the knight Torvaldo (ten). The Duke had attacked the couple on their wedding day with the intent of taking Dorliska for himself. In the struggle Torvaldo was wounded and left for dead. Dorliska having escaped arrives at the castle and seeks shelter not knowing it is the home of the Duke. At first she is given shelter by Giorgio (bass), the castle guardian, and his wife Carlotta (mezzo) but is discovered by the Duke. Torvaldo, who has not been killed, arrives at the castle in disguise to rescue her but she inadvertently reveals his identity and he becomes a prisoner. Giorgio declares that he is an honourable man and with the aid of his wife and disaffected villagers tired of their tyrant Duke, Torvaldo and Dorliska are rescued.

Rossini did not try to import the musical and dramatic initiatives of his Naples opera to Rome; rather he presented a traditional structure with recitative interspersed between the musical numbers. Although there are self-borrowings in places the music has impetus and drama with significant demands on the principal singers. Bad Wildbad has a reputation of giving up-and-coming singers opportunities in this repertoire together with more experienced colleagues. The bass Mauro Bianchini as the Duke, who has sung widely in Italy, the USA and Australasia, has a sonorous big voice. I thought at first (CD 1 tr.2) that the middle of his voice was too low for the role and he had trouble maintaining a legato line. However, his voice warms and his flexibility improves to the benefit of his characterisation. He is a villain one can believe in and his vocal timbre is distinct from the lighter tone of Mauro Utzeri as the good guy Giorgio in their scenes together (CD 2 tr.12). Utzeri has appeared at the Pesaro festival as well as leading Italian houses including La Scala. His lean clear-toned baritone singing is incisive and he brings the character to life. As Torvaldo the Welsh tenor Huw Rhys-Evans hasn’t quite the heady top to his voice of the ideal Rossini tenor. His is a light lyric tenor voice with a metallic edge and rather white tone. Nonetheless his singing is expressive and musical and his hero is believable (CD 1 tr.9). As his wife Dorliska, Paola Cigna is a little stretched at the top of her lyric voice (CD 1 tr.5) but colours and covers her tone well to give a very convincing portrayal. As Ormando and his sister Carlotta, essential to the plot, Giovanni Bellavia (CD 1 tr.12) and Anna-Rita Gemmabella (CD 2 tr.11) are vocally distinctive and sing and portray their roles well.

The Naxos booklet gives a detailed track-listing, an excellent track-related synopsis, artist profiles and an introductory essay, all in English and German. A full libretto in Italian is available on the web. With excellent conducting by Alessandro de Marchi of the skilled orchestra and chorus, this performance from Bad Wildbad fills a gap in the current availability of Rossini operas on record. Like many live recordings there is the intrusion of applause, which can disturb the dramatic flow. However, another characteristic of Bad Wildbad is that the applause is encouraging and never overdone. I never know if the performances are in concert or staged. There are no obvious stage noises although once or twice the balance indicates a singer moving off mike.

Whilst Rossini was preparing Torvaldo e Dorliska for its premiere on 26 December 1815, as the first opera of the Carnival Season at the Teatro Valle in Rome, the composer signed a contract with the rival Teatro Argentina to compose a comic opera for later in the season. With little time for the composition he again turned down a libretto by Ferretti as unsuitable. Instead Cesare Sterbini the apprentice librettist of Torvaldo e Dorliska provided the verses for the work of which Verdi said ‘I cannot help believing that, for abundance of ideas, comic verve and truth of declamation, Il Barbiere di Siviglia is the most beautiful opera buffa in existence’. It was premiered on 20 February 1816. Although Torvaldo e Dorliska has not the musical invention of its successor it does not deserve the neglect it has had in performance or on record. The work is being performed in Pesaro in 2006 with a cast including Michele Pertusi, Bruno Pratico and Francesaco Meli among others. Given the quality of this performance and recording I would not wait with bated breath to see if a recording emerges and would recommend all lovers of Rossini’s operas to investigate this performance.

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