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Charles H Parsons
American Record Guide, November 2011

This is the opera’s “world premiere public performance and recording”.

This Convitato…is unique.

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

James A. Altena
Fanfare, September 2011

If you rubbed your eyes and did a double-take when looking at the list of dramatis personae in the preceding header, be assured that you read it aright. Yes, Il convitato di pietra (The Stone Guest) by Giovanni Pacini (1796–1867)—occasionally also known by the title Don Giovanni Tenorio—is another opera on the same subject as Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and much of the plot is familiar too, but there the similarities mostly end. Instead of a dramma giacoso, Pacini’s work is subtited a farsa o operetta, and was written in 1832 not for public performance but as a private entertainment for family members and intimates who assumed all the roles themselves. As the composer later recounted in his memoirs of 1865, Le mie memorie artistiche, after the success of his opera Ivanhoe, “I returned once more to my family where, during my stay I occupied myself with a little operetta titled Il convitato di pietra, which was performed by my sister Claudia, by my sister-in-law, by my brother Francesco, by my father, and by young Bilet of Viareggio in the small private home of the Belluomini family.” (Pacini’s brother-in-law, Antonio Belluomini, the husband of Claudia, was a well-known physician.) In short, this work is an intimate, charming divertissement, and the composer likely never envisioned it reaching a public stage.

Pacini never published this family entertainment; the manuscript now resides, along with many others of the composer, in the Biblioteca Communale Carlo Magnani in Pescia, to which they were donated by the composer’s great-granddaughter, Giulia Fantozzi. The present performing edition was reconstructed from both the original musical manuscript and several surviving singers’ parts. In addition to the task of reconciling variants between these, two other difficulties impeded the reconstruction. First, Pacini’s manuscripts are notoriously difficult to read. Second, only act I of the libretto survives, requiring the spoken dialogue for act II to be realized from parallel passages of da Ponte’s libretto for Mozart. (No librettist is identified here.) The present set presents the world premiere public performance as well as the first recording of the work.

While the action parallels that of Mozart’s masterpiece, there are several differences. Don Giovanni is a high-lying tenor role, and Donn’ Anna a contralto, while the other parts are cast for more or less the same voice registers as with Mozart. Leporello here is renamed Ficcanaso; the character of Donna Elvira is omitted, though aspects of her persona are subsumed into Zerlina, who is the prima donna here. (Most notably, in act II the Don attempts to seduce Zerlina instead of Donna Elvira’s maidservant, and Ficcanaso has no one he needs to lead away while disguised as his master.) The characters of Masetto, Duca Ottavio, and Donn’ Anna are of secondary importance and retire from the action early in act II (there is no concluding grand ensemble), which also allows the same singer to assume the roles of both Masetto and the Commendatore. The modest orchestration is for strings and a pair of flutes, one doubling on piccolo. There are some self-borrowings from earlier operas; Zerlinia’s aria “Sento brillarmi il core,” the most virtuosic number in the score, originated in one of Pacini’s earliest efforts, Gli sponsali de’ silfi, an opera buffa from 1815, while Don Giovanni’s serenade “Luna conforta al cor de’ naviganti” was extracted from Il talismano of 1829. In general, the musical style is that of second-drawer Bellini and Donizetti, with something of the ingratiating melodic ease of the former and comic liveliness of the latter but lacking the inspiration and memorability of either.

This set is the latest in an ongoing series of Naxos recordings from the Rossini in Wildbad Festival in Bad Wildbad; like its predecessors, it features singing that is generally good but seldom great. As Don Giovanni, Leonardo Cortellazzi evinces a reasonably pleasant light tenor, but is slightly nasal and lacking in sheen; however, his act II serenade is quite well sung and brings to mind “Ecco ridente” from Rossini’s Il barbiere. As Ficcanaso, Giulio Mastrototaro has a formidable dark baritone with a burr and a somewhat hard-edged, slightly unsteady top. As Zerlina, Zinovia-Maria Zafeiriadou is initially small-voiced and reedy, the poor man’s Erna Berger; when she first began to sing I thought for a moment that I was hearing a boy chorister from England or Austria. She improves greatly in the second act, however, and dispatches her showpiece aria with credit. In the supporting roles, Giorgio Trucco as Duca Ottavio wields a typical comprimario tenor, somewhat nasal and slightly strained at the top. Geraldine Chauvet as Donn’ Anna is a capable contralto; Ugo Guagliardo as Masetto produces a firm, slightly dry baritone, similar in timbre to that of Ficcanaso but a shade lighter, but as the Commendatore displays a fine, warm, steady bass.

Recorded in live performance, the acoustic has greater presence, warmth, and resonance than in preceding issues in this series. The booklet notes are by Jeremy Commons, the scholar who has done so much to unearth early 19th-century bel canto repertoire and restore it to public attention. Photos and brief overviews of each of the cast members also are provided, as is a detailed plot summary; per standard Naxos practice, the libretto is now available only online, and in this case in Italian only. As a decidedly minor-league effort, this work creates no urgent need to be added to anyone’s collection, but those with time and money to spare and an interest in collecting this repertoire will not be disappointed.

Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, May 2011

Giovanni Pacini was born in Catania in 1796, the year before Gaetano Donizetti, whom he survived by almost twenty years. He was a prolific composer, and also a precocious one. His first opera was produced in 1813, the same year that Rossini had his breakthrough with Tancredi and L’Italiana in Algeri. He had a long career: his last opera was premiered in 1867, the year of Verdi’s Don Carlos. Stylistically a revolution took place during those fifty-four years.

Il convitato di pietra (The Stone Guest) was written for a private performance in 1832 by the Pacini family and was compiled largely from other operas of his. It was not performed in public until 2008 when this recording was made. The story is well known. It’s the same that Mozart used for his Don Giovanni, though Donna Elvira is missing and Leporello is renamed Ficcanaso. Unusually though the title role is here sung by a tenor, moreover with a high tessitura. It is interesting to learn from the liner-notes that the Don who sang the role at the only previous performance was an amateur; certainly he must have been an accomplished singer.

We shouldn’t expect this work to be anything in the vicinity of Mozart’s master-piece but it is attractive even so. In the Singspiel manner—or operetta as it is labelled—there is spoken dialogue between the musical numbers. It is closely recorded which is good for Italian speakers. Too many recordings have the spoken voices placed so distantly that the words are impossible to catch without turning up the volume. There is no overture but a short spoken prologo, delivered by those members of the Pacini family who were to appear in the central roles of Don Giovanni, Donn’Anna and Zerlina.

Pacini’s melodies are agreeable and some of the numbers evince a measure of individuality. The Don Giovanni—Zerlina duet, for instance, the equivalent of La ci darem la mano, here with the wording La man tu mi darai (CD 1 tr. 8). And Ficcanaso’s buffo aria Di tutte le sue belle (CD 1 tr. 10) with the usual patter singing and partly a duet with Zerlina.

Don Giovanni’s romanza (CD 2 tr. 2) is beautiful with plucked strings accompaniment. Zerlina and Masetto have a rather long duet Mio dolce pensiero (CD 2 tr. 6)—one of the finest numbers. The fifth scene in act II, a dialogue with Don Giovanni, Ficcanaso and Il Commendatore, is preceded by a beautiful, melancholy and rather romantic orchestral intro, depicting the moonlit churchyard where the statue of Il Commendatore commands the scene. Finally Zerlina, who carries the heaviest burden of the soloists, gets an aria of her own: a charming address to the audience that all’s well that ends well. There is a long quintet and two extended finales, the second one quite anonymous. It’s as if the ensemble ran out of stamina—the composer too it seems—and just wanted to get it all over and done with.
Don’t let that deter you from lending your ears to this quite charming opera. It isn’t overlong—well, apart from that second finale—and the singing is mostly very good. Greek born Zinovia-Maria Zafeiriadou is an excellent Zerlina, technically impeccable and with beauty of tone to match. Leonardo Cortellazzi’s Don Giovanni is bright-voiced but warm. He sings with honeyed tone in the duet with Zerlina and caresses the melody in his romanza. Giulio Mastrototaro has the vitality for his comic role and Ugo Guagliardo’s Masetto is a worthy partner for his Zerlina.

The production is quite noisy but the recording per se is excellent, detailed and with good balance. I’m sure I will return to this opera for pleasure now and then, if only to confirm that Mozart still reigns supreme. Again the masterly is the enemy of the merely good.

Derek Greten-Harrison
Opera News, May 2011

Although his name is no longer familiar to many music-lovers, Giovanni Pacini (1796–1867) enjoyed a prolific career as an opera composer during much of the nineteenth century, despite competition from his contemporaries Rossini and Verdi. In 1832, he composed Il Convitato di Pietra (The Stone Guest), an operetta based on the plot of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, with the idea that his own family would perform it—a remarkable concept, considering that the characters are required to sing music of considerable technical difficulty. The work was not professionally performed until July 2008, when the Rossini in Wildbad Festival mounted the reconstructed version featured here. Naxos’s recording, captured during dress rehearsals and in performance at the Festival, finds both singers and orchestra in predominantly fine form.

Most satisfying is soprano Zinovia-Maria Zafeiriadou, happily unfazed by Zerlina’s high tessitura. She is particularly impressive in her Act II solos and the lyrical quintet, in which she beautifully succeeds in finessing two strings of consecutively repeated high Cs. Although she briefly falls short in agility in the Act I duet with Giovanni—her passagework there is inexact—overall Zafeiriadou gives a superb performance of this challenging role.

It is rather startling to hear the character of Don Giovanni sung by a tenor, particularly if one has heard Mozart’s rogue sung with the deep, suave tones of Cesare Siepi. Here, tenor Leonardo Cortellazzi makes a valiant effort to tackle Giovanni’s high-lying music, and he largely succeeds; his sensitive pianissimos are particularly lovely. On the down side, his voice also has a tendency to become somewhat rough and nasal in the role’s most challenging moments, causing his portrayal of the Don to lack refinement.

Pacini also recast Donna Anna from a Fach standpoint, electing to make her a contralto instead of Mozart’s soprano. In this role, mezzo-soprano Geraldine Chauvet is quite enjoyable; her warm, dusky voice is rich without sounding excessively mature. Giulio Mastrototaro sings with vigor as Ficcanaso—a character analogous to Mozart’s Leporello—and excels at conquering the patter challenges sprinkled throughout the score. His singing occasionally sounds constricted in his upper range—a trait shared by bass Ugo Guagliardo, in a dual role as Masetto and the Commendatore, and by tenor Giorgio Trucco as Duca Ottavio—but is on the whole resonant and powerful.

Microphone placement is well judged with the exception of the opera’s final scene, in which Giovanni should have been recorded more closely. The orchestra’s elegant contribution, however, is always in perfect focus, and stage noises and applause are never bothersome. The lack of an English translation is annoying—the booklet contains only a synopsis, with an Italian libretto available online—but the omission is almost forgivable due to the familiarity of the story. In conclusion, though undoubtedly lightweight and rarely hinting at the darkness, drama or danger inherent in Mozart’s immortal version, Pacini’s Il Convitato di Pietra makes for a pleasantly tuneful listen.

Robert J Farr
MusicWeb International, March 2011

You might look at the cast and roles and wonder what, if any, is the relationship this opera had with the one by Mozart, or others, relating to the same or similar story. Mozart’s librettist, Da Ponte, based his libretto more or less on Molière’s original play Don Juan, whilst Dargomyzhsky, in his The Stone Guest, used Pushkin’s derivation. Not many had heard of Pacini’s work until this performance was heard at Bad Wildbad in 2008. No wonder, as the performances were the first since the work was premiered, and then at a private family occasion, not in a theatre.

Giovanni Pacini was born eighteen months before his compatriot Donizetti. His father, Luigi, was a singer who created Geronio in Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia. The young Giovanni studied singing and composition from the age of twelve and his second opera was staged in 1813 when he was seventeen. He continued to produce mainly comic operas over the next few years with the speed of a typical primo ottocento composer and very much in the Rossini style. The latter quality perhaps helped when he was called upon to assist the great man with three numbers for Matilde di Shabran, premiered in Rome in February 1822. By then Pacini had made an impact in Milan and San Carlo in Naples. Donizetti had had to earn his spurs in Naples at the small Teatro Nuovo with his opera La zingara of 1822. An invitation to write for the San Carlo arrived and Pacini went straight to the top with his Alessandro nell’Indie, which,after a rocky first night, (29 September 1824) had a resounding success.

As Jeremy Commons explains in his detailed note, like all ottocento composers Pacini lived an itinerant life composing rapidly wherever and whenever opportunity arose. Having established himself in Viareggio he gathered his family and wrote this work for a performance by them in the private theatre of his sister’s husband, a wealthy doctor. Strangely, given the vocal demands of his writing, only his father was a professional, albeit retired, with the creator of the role of Masetto being one of his students who doubled as the Commendatore. The work calls for a small orchestra and a small male chorus.

The major differences from Mozart are in the designated vocal register of some of the characters. Don Giovanni is a high tenor role, whilst Zerlina is the prima donna and a high soprano. Donna Anna is designated mezzo, whilst Ottavio has no aria. Leporello has become Ficcanaso. There are many similarities with the well-known Mozart such as a catalogue aria; with this Don having mistresses in Peru in addition to those Da Ponte gave for Mozart’s Leporello to list (CD 1 Tr.10). Also a duet between Giovanni and Zerlina (CD 1 Tr.8) might be likened to La ci darem in Mozart’s opera with a contrite Zerlina in act two (CD 2 Tr.6), and so on.

In this performance the tenor Leonardo Cortellazzi as Don Giovanni is pleasing in tone and encompasses the demanding tessitura with vocal surety (CD 2 Tr.2). The light coloratura Zerlina is sung by the Greek soprano Zinovia Maria Zafeiriadou with equally pleasing tone albeit a little thin at the very top of her voice. She has a good range of expressiveness and vocal presence (CD 2 Tr.10). Also particularly pleasing to my ear is the warm-toned singing of the mezzo Geraldine Chauvet as Anna, particularly in the long act two duet with the steady bass Ugo Guagliardo as Masetto (CD 2 Tr.6). Anna’s suitor Ottavio gets little to sing whilst the Giulio Mastrototaro relishes Ficcanaso’s Catalogue Aria (CD 1 Tr.10). The small band is excellently conducted by Danielle Ferrari and the chorus of young singers are suitably vibrant. The acoustic of the small Kursaal Theatre at Bad Wildbad seem ideal. There is periodic appreciative applause.

Pacini’s longevity gave him a great advantage over his many compositional rivals. He took the opportunity after the failure in 1834 of Carlo di Borgogna to withdraw from composition for five years and rethink his ideas of dramatic theory and structure. His return to the theatre saw some of his finest works, the likes of Sapho (1840), La findanzante corsa (1841), Maria Regina d’Inghilterra (1843) and Medea (1857) are quoted in this context by Dr. Jeremy Commons’ in the brief introduction. Pacini’s last opera, Berta, was staged a mere seven months before his death in 1867, the year of the premiere of Verdi’s Don Carlos in Paris. Between the first and last of Pacini’s operas, compositional styles changed immeasurably. The Opera Rara issue Pacini Rediscovered explores something of the breadth of his creativity. It must be heard in the context of the changes that took place during even that part of Pacini’s life.

Giovanni Pacini wrote some 74 operas. This is not only the first recording of Il convitato di pietra, but also the first ever-public performance. It was originally written for private performance in 1832. As explained by Jeremy Commons in the booklet essay the manuscript score and original performing parts, as well as the partially preserved hand-written libretto, were used as the basis for reconstructing the entire work.

There is an excellent track-related synopsis and welcome artist profiles. A full libretto, in Italian, is available from Naxos online.

Frank Behrens
Art Times, February 2011

Any lover of Mozart’s masterpiece “Don Giovanni” will be most interested if not fascinated, as I was, with a Naxos 2-CD release of Pacini’s “In convitato di pietra”—not “The Stoned Guest” (as PDQ Bach put it) but “The Guest of Stone.”

Back in the 1830s, composer Giovanni Pacini (1796–1867) decided to work on an opera to be performed by his family and a friend or two. He asked a librettist, Gaetano Barbieri, to provide the lyrics and spoken dialogue. Barbieri, following an honored tradition of the times, reworked three previous treatments of the Don Giovanni legend and used Da Ponte’s script to shape his own version. He disposed of the character of Dona Elvira, giving a good deal of her part of the action to the peasant girl Zerlina, kept Dona Anna and her useless fiancé Ottavio, and then dropped them entirely in Act II.

Pacini made the Don into a tenor and turned out a score that is certainly nowhere in the same league as Mozart’s but is very well done and satisfying on its own terms. Don Giovanni’s serenade (here to Zerlina) reminds one of Donizetti’s serenade in “Don Pasquale.” The Quintet in Act I is charming, while the final sequence with the Stone Guest is good of its kind—if one can forget the sublime treatment of the same material by Mozart. A small male chorus shows up only twice for a very short time—but this is true in the Mozart opera also.

Given all this, Jeremy Commons and Daniele Ferrari decided a few years ago to restore, with a good deal of reconstruction, this interesting work and perform it for the first time in public. Since the spoken dialogue for Act II had never been published, the two used the Da Ponte libretto to fill things in, added a scene for a virtuoso aria for Zerlina, and made several other changes and guesses that are touched upon in the program notes.

What is heard on these Naxos CDs was taken from rehearsals and performances, and things do bubble along under the baton of Daniele Ferrari, who conducts the Zudwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim. The soloists are having a wonderful time with this all but forgotten work, and it is well worth the consideration and the hearing.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2011

Giovanni Pacini was one of the most prolific composers of Italian comic opera, freely admitting that his output was entirely based on Rossini. Born in Sicily in 1796, his success, following the Milan performance of an opera written at the age of 17, was meteoric. By his early twenties his output was prolific, and he was appointed director of the important Teatro San Carlo. Realising, in his mid-thirties, that his brand of comedy had run its course, he took a sabbatical, after which he reinvented his career writing ‘serious’ operas which became the forerunner of the Verdi era. Il convitato di pietra was a pasticcio opera using music composed for his previous operas, and seemingly originated to amuse his family. The story is basically that used by Mozart for Don Giovanni, though it omits the role of Don Elvira, while Leporello becomes Ficcanaso. If that infers a score of substance, you will be disappointed, for Pacini, like the leopard, was unable to change his spots, his arias having the feel of opera buffo. Yet it does need singers of quality, the role of Don Giovanni requiring a very high tenor, and Zerlina must have the weight of a major character in the story. Resurrecting the opera for this modern world premiere needed considerable research, and when that was exhausted much licence was employed in creating the spoken text for the second act, and in rebuilding a major Zerlina area. For this we have to thank Jeremy Commons and Daniele Ferrari. A neglected masterpiece? Not really, but Pacini was a composer who could write catchy tunes, though they often seem at odds with the story. So, sit back and enjoy a talented provincial cast and chamber orchestra in performances recorded at the 2008 ‘Rossini in Wilbad’ festival. The voice of Zinovia-Maria Zefeiriadou’s makes a pretty Zerlina; a plucky tenor, Leonardo Cortellazzi, tackles Giovanni, and the robust voice of Ugo Guargliardo doubles as Masetto and the Commendatore. Stage noises and interjecting applause are present, but balance between voices and orchestra is realistic.

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