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Ralph V Lucano
American Record Guide, March 2011

Most listeners will not be worried about musicological issues as the opera bubbles along from start to finish. There are…wonderful arias and ensembles here—too many to mention.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Robert Hugill
MusicWeb International, February 2011

In an age when there is a strong urge to investigate all corners of Rossini’s repertoire, no matter how remote, the neglect of his comic opera La Gazzetta is somewhat puzzling. It was written in 1816, coming between Il Barbiere di Siviglia and La Cenerentola. These two latter were written for Rome; La Gazzetta was written for Teatro de’ Fiorentini, Naples, where Rossini was contracted to produce serious operas for the San Carlo. Not only was La Gazzetta comic, but it had a leading role written in Neapolitan dialect.

It was based on Goldoni’s comedy, Il matrimonio per concorso, a play which had already been given the operatic treatment twice before. So strong was the Goldoni link that contemporary Neapolitans persisted in calling Rossini’s opera Il matromonio per concorso. The opera was popular in Naples, but critics found the libretto vulgar and the music weak. It doesn’t help that the music textual history is complex. Significant chunks of the end of Act 1 are missing from the manuscript; possibly because Rossini removed the music as he re-used it in La Cenerentola. Philip Gossett, in his critical edition, reconstituted one missing scene and this recording includes the remaining scenes reconstructed by Stefano Piana, using material from La Cenerentola. The results are more dramaturgically consistent.

In terms of plot, there is nothing in the libretto which might seem to make the piece problematic. We cannot do better than quote Philip Gossett himself describing the plot:—

In this comedy, two Italian merchants (Pandolfo and Anselmo), during the course of a visit to Paris, seek to marry off their daughters (Lisetta and Doralice) in order to increase their wealth or improve their social status. The colorful and crooked Pandolfo tries the expedient of advertising his daughter’s availability in the local newspaper (as an “Avviso al pubblico”), while the more traditional Anselmo seeks to arrange an advantageous match privately. Needless to say, the young women themselves soon fall in love with young men of their own choosing (Filippo, an Italian innkeeper, and Roberto, another Italian merchant). After a series of delightful comic situations, disguises, and unexpected events, love triumphs and the fathers must be reconciled to the choices of their daughters. (Philip Gossett)

More difficult perhaps is the way Rossini re-used material. He was a great re-worker of material, but took care to make sure that he only re-cycled in operas written for different venues. As La Gazzetta was the first (and only) opera he wrote for the Teatro de’ Fiorentini, he was free to borrow at will. Some items are lifted wholesale with new words fitted, from Il Turco in Italia and La pietro del paragone, neither of which had been performed in Naples. But the majority of material is re-worked for the new situation, much as Rossini would re-work the material for Elisabetta’s entrance in Elisabetta Regina d’Inghilterra (written for Naples in 1815), for Rosina’s first aria, Una voca poco fa in Il Barbiere di Siviglia (written for Rome in 1816). Modern commentators still have something of a problem with composers’ re-use of material, no matter how creative, and this has had something of an effect on the reputation of La Gazzetta.

It is tricky when listening to this recording to assess how La Gazzetta would come off in the theatre. It is still so unfamiliar. As with Rossini’s other comedies, there is a lot of recitative, and comic business. Though Naxos have provided the Italian libretto in pdf form on their web-site, there is no English translation and the plot summary is by no means enough to assess comic viability.

The recording was made live at the Rossini in Wildbad Festival. Naxos have issued a number of these recordings and their quality can be a little variable; usually creditable but not always library-shelf material. Here an excellent cast has been assembled and they give a performance of great élan with many musical virtues, making the CDs a highly enjoyable experience.

Marco Cristarella Orestano is impressive as Don Pomponio Storione, with a fine rich baritone and a nice way with Rossini’s music. Not being familiar with Neapolitan, I have no way of knowing whether his delivery of the text is idiomatic or not. In the play, the roles of Pomponio and Anselmo are reasonably balanced, but Rossini emphasises the comic ridiculousness of Pomponio in the tradition of his many other richly comic baritone roles. Orestano rises to the challenge.

Judith Gauthier has an attractive lyric voice as his daughter Lisetta. As with many of his other operas, Rossini is sparing with his arias, so that Lisetta only gets one plus duets with Filippo and Pomponio; no character gets two arias; duets, trios and ensembles are in the majority. Gauthier makes her mark with the care and attention that she gives to Rossini’s vocal line; she is altogether a delight. As her love interest Filippo, Giulio Mastrototaro has a positive tour-de-force of an aria towards the end of Act 2 and Mastrototaro makes the most of this.

To these three principals must be added a fourth, the Alberto of Michael Spyres. Alberto is by no means a principal role, though he does get an aria, but the quality of Spyres’ tenor is such that you listen to him whenever he sings.

With these four artists we have a very fine, balanced group of Rossini singers at their peak. Any performance would be proud to have them and they make this recording one to listen out for.

The remaining cast are creditable rather than wonderful, but contribute to the strong ensemble feel. Rossella Bevacqua’s Doralice is inclined to smudge her passage-work in her runs, but she is characterful in the recitative. Maria Soulis as Madama La Rose also smudges her runs and sings with a fruity, but rather unfocused mezzo-soprano. Vincenzo Bruzzaniti’s Don Anselmo rather tends to get lost in the mêlée.

Christopher Franklin and the Czech Chamber Soloists, Brno, deliver a crisply attractive account. Franklin keeps things bowling long as befits this sort of operatic farce.

This is a charmingly effective recording; one which doesn’t need excuses made for it. If someone picks this up, not knowing Rossini’s comic operas, then they certainly won’t wonder what all the fuss is about; in fact they might well be entranced.

Robert J Farr
MusicWeb International, January 2011

Rossini’s pre-eminence among his contemporaries was widely recognised after the success of his opera seria Tancredi and comic opera L’Italiana in Algeri in Venice in 1813. The composer was summoned to Naples by the impresario Barbaja and offered the musical directorship of the Royal Theatres, the San Carlo and Fondo. The proposal appealed to Rossini for several reasons. First, his annual fee was generous and guaranteed. Secondly, and equally important, unlike Rome and Venice, Naples had a professional orchestra. Rossini saw this as a considerable advantage as he aspired to push the boundaries of opera into more adventurous directions and did so in the nine opera seria he composed during his seven year stay in the position. Under the terms of the contract, Rossini was to provide two operas each year for Naples whilst being permitted to compose occasional works for other cities.

The composer tended to push the limits of his contract in respect of composing for other theatres. In the first two years he composed no fewer than five operas for other venues, with Il Barbiere di Siviglia being the most successful. This pace of composition and presentation of operas was necessary for a composer to enjoy a decent standard of living. There was also the fact that an opera success in a city far away, at least by the standards of the day, allowed an element of self-plagiarisation. Why waste good tunes—even when a work has been a failure—although this was sometimes taken to excess with straight lifts of music with the words simply altered.

After his first trip to Rome, and the massive success of Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Rossini returned to Naples to find the San Carlo theatre burned down. He composed a cantata for a ceremony to celebrate the wedding of the royal princess. Rather than proceeding with the two operas he was contracted to write for Naples, Rossini then proceeded to enjoy himself around town rather than composing. This led to Barbaja writing a formal letter of complaint to the theatre management about the delay in production, whilst the local papers were scathing. At last, much delayed, the first of the two contracted operas, La gazzetta, (The newspaper), was premiered at the small Teatro dei Fiorentini, Naples on 26 September 1816. It was Rossini’s eighteenth opera and was to be the only comic opera that he wrote for the city. Having given time to the production of Tancredi during the rehearsals of La gazzetta, it was no surprise that Rossini completed the work in a hurry and used music that was well known in Rome and elsewhere and some which would be used again in the near future in La Cenerentola. This is fact, although in the booklet essay with this issue the writer contends that the hand-written score of La gazzetta shows evidence of much care. Being popular with the local audience if not with the local press, it had twenty-one performances. The work was soon withdrawn and not seen again until revived in Rome one hundred and forty years or so later.

The action of La gazzetta takes place in a Parisian inn where several guests are staying. Don Pomponio, a local big mouth, extols the virtues of his daughter and has advertised the fact in the local papers as he seeks to marry her off. To cater for local tradition at the Teatro dei Fiorentini the role of Don Pomponio was written in Neapolitan dialect and is sung here by a native of the city Marco Cristarella Orestano. I cannot vouch for the veracity of his Neapolitan patois but he certainly enters into the spirit of his character. Whilst not being the most mellifluous of baritones his quick patter is delivered with good Rossinian taste and skill (CD 1 Trs. 4–6). Don Pomponio is unaware that his daughter, Lisetta, is in love with Filippo, owner of the inn. Judith Gauthier sings this high role with warm tone, pleasing vocal purity and characterisation (CD 1 Tr. 8). In the duets with her father (CD 1 Tr. 14) and her lover (CD 2 Tr. 4) she characterises the role particularly well. Her lover, Filippo, is sung by Giulio Mastrototaro, one of a clutch of more than adequate lower-voiced males who appear in the cast. Whilst not being outstanding they play a vital part in making the opera truly comic.

Of the other pair of lovers the warm-tones of Sicilian soprano of Rossella Bevacqua contrasts nicely with those of Doralice (CD 1 Tr. 12). Alberto, in search of a wife confuses her with the lady advertised in the ‘Gazzetta’ and which confusion is all part of the improbable fun. While not written to feature any of the high-voiced tenors that Barbaja had under contract in Naples, the role has high tessitura as well as a low dramatic requirement. In this performance it is sung by American Michael Spyres. The following year at Bad Wildbad Spyres sang the role of Otello, written for the great Andrea Nozzari famous for his florid singing and powerful lower notes. Spyres has the range, with a strong baritonal patina, however, whilst being ardent he lacks security and easy divisions in the coloratura in the more florid writing (CD 2 Tr. 6). As Madama La Rose, Maria Soulis’s mezzo is rich and flexible (CD 2 Tr.2).

The enjoyment of this typically Rossinian froth depends so much on the cast and the conductor being sympathetic to the idiom. This is the case here with Christopher Franklin on the rostrum drawing a vibrant performance from orchestra, chorus and soloists. In what is obviously an updated staging proceedings are interrupted by warm applause at the end of most set numbers. The tracks are generous allowing for those who want to get rid of the extensive recitative; personally I do not find this troublesome—at least not in this lively performance. There is some stage noise.

The booklet has a good track-related synopsis as well as an informative essay on the background to the opera, both in English and German. There are artist profiles in English. The background essay addresses the problem of the composition of the Act 1 quintet (CD 1 Tr. 10) and whether Rossini himself composed it. Listen and see if you recognise the music. Rossini enthusiasts will want to pursue the research and solution carried out by Gossett and Scipioni and which is discussed at length in the former’s Divas and Scholars (Chicago, 2006).

If you like Rossini’s music for his comic operas you will enjoy this performance and have the somewhat naughty pleasure of identifying the music he borrowed and from where—a hint do not always look to what he had composed before La gazzetta. A full libretto, in Italian can be accessed at the Naxos site.

Robert Croan
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 2010

Rossini composed “La Gazetta” in 1816, after “The Barber of Seville” and before “La Cenerentola.” This delightful opera buffa, about a pompous merchant who offers up his daughter’s hand in marriage (for a price, of course) via a newspaper advertisement, got lost in the shuffle between those two successful comic masterpieces. The score, which survives incomplete, has been reconstructed, and after more than a century of total obscurity, this sparkling work has had several performances and recordings, including an engaging production on DVD from Barcelona’s Teatro Liceu.

The present performance, superlatively conducted by Pittsburgh native Christopher Franklin, was recorded live in Bad Wildbad, Germany, in 2007. It’s musically crisp and comically vivid, even without a visual element—just following the detailed synopsis in the program booklet. When pressed for time in composing an opera, Rossini often borrowed from himself, and “La Gazzetta” contains music from his earlier “The Turk in Italy” and “The Barber of Seville.” The “Gazzetta” overture, in turn, became the now-familiar overture to “La Cenerentola.”

Opera lovers will find surprisingly familiar moments, like old friends, but it is the little-known opera itself that gives the most pleasure. Just about every number is a gem. Italian speakers will find extra amusement in the part of the father Don Pomponio, written in Neapolitan dialogue, and brilliantly rendered by baritone Marco Cristarello Orestano. The names of the singers are unfamiliar, but they are all excellent, with special mention going to Michael Spyres, a promising tenore leggero as the romantic lead Alberto; and Rossella Bevacqua, wife of the conductor, who delivers her solo moments with a winning combination of pathos and insouciance.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2010

With his deadline looming, the young Rossini resorted to borrowing from his existing scores, and then sold La gazzetta as a new opera to the small Fiorentini theatre in Naples. It was a comedy based on a play by Carlo Goldoni where the father of one of a quartet of lovers decides to marry his daughter to a person of his choice. So the trouble starts, further complicated by the father of the other girl who advertises in La gazzetta for a good husband for his Lisetta. The story goes through the usual misunderstandings and intrigues before the four lovers eventually gain the blessing of their fathers. Throw in a Turkish masquerade scene, and you have the final ingredient for a happy evening. Music travelled slowly in those days and Rossini was careful to recycle from operas that had not hit the headlines in Naples, and ‘got away with it’. It did not stay in the repertoire and after Rossini’s death there were problems with the score, part of which was missing and is here replaced by Stefano Piana using material from other Rossini comic operas. You will instantly recognise the overture, though it was original and was reused by Rossini for the later opera, La Cenerentola. The opera as we now have it is engaging and often funny and well worth our attention. It comes from the 2007 Rossini in Wildbad Festival, and has a very good team of soloists, the tenor, Michael Spyres, as Alberto, taking on music that goes into the stratospheres. The perky voice of the French soprano, Judith Gauthier, is an admirable Lisetta, with Marco Cristarella Orestano a suitably bluff Don Pomponio—Lisetta’s father. The young Rossella Bevacqua, as Dorlice—the fourth member of lovers—tackles the vocal acrobatics with enthusiasm. You will also find familiar patter songs that were purloined for later operas, but it is well worth hearing them again in La gazzetta. The is good, and the American conductor, Christopher Franklin, keeps the action moving at a brisk pace. The engineers have got the measure of the theatre, producing a constantly good balance. Not much stage noise, and all we needed was an audience who don’t applaud so often. A delightful product.

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