In Parma, where audiences are considered the most discerning in all Italy, the benchmark for vocal artists is set traditionally high. Operagoers here are intimately familiar with the works of their favourites, from Rossini to Puccini, and know every tricky corner by heart. God forbid any singer who fails to accomplish the task without due seemliness Unsurprisingly, then, this performance attempts no directorial experiments. The main setting for this realistically inspired production both indoors and out is Rosinas house, which is converted as required into its constituent parts.
An opera buffa, a comedy, a masterpiece of intrigues, lies and love! 'Il Barbiere di Siviglia' (The Barber of Seville), an opera in two acts by Gioachino Rossini, from the Teatro Regio di Parma. The production stars Dmitry Korchak as Il Conte d'Almaviva, Ketevan Kemoklidze as Rosina, Luca Salsi as Figaro and Giovanni Furlanetto as Don Basilio. The aging Doctor Bartolo longs to marry Rosina; but with the aid of the energetic and enterprising barber Figaro, the Count succeeds in gaining entry to Bartolo's house disguised first as a soldier then as a music teacher…
Countertenor performances of 19th century opera are a historical and, ultimately, true novelty. This said, for those who love the sound of the countertenor voice and want to give it a try, there are several factors that recommend this release by countertenor Franco Fagioli, with the small orchestra Armonia Atenea under George Petrou. First is that castrati were still around in Rossini's time, although on the decline, and the composer was reportedly intrigued by their voices. Second, Fagioli, unlike the vast majority of other countertenors, studied bel canto singing rather than Baroque repertory exclusively, and a certain distance present in the work of other countertenors is absent here. And third, and most important, is Fagioli's voice itself. Of the countertenors active today, he's the one with the range, the power, the attitude to make you suspend disbelief and think for a moment that you're actually listening to a castrato. He enters into the various Rossini roles represented on this recording, several of which were mezzo-soprano "pants" roles; this adds to the layers of identity-switching happening, and the parts hit Fagioli's vocal sweet spot. A bonus is that several of these are from Rossini opere serie that are little played or recorded.
Following his triumphant visit to Vienna in 1822, when several of his operas were extremely well-received, international success beckoned for Rossini. First performed at La Fenice, Venice in 1823, Semiramide was Rossini’s last Italian opera, written at the height of his creative powers. Its subject is Greek tragedy for which librettist Gaetano Rossi drew on an adaptation by Voltaire. Instrumentally sophisticated and classically structured, the opera remains one of the most remarkable examples of Rossini’s cultivation of bel canto. “This new Semiramide rivals Pesaro standards thanks to Fogliani’s ever-alert and lively conducting. His cast includes singers who challenge this long and wonderful opera’s most famous interpreters on disc…this is an unmissable bargain.” - Sunday Times
La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie) marked a culmination of the convergence of serious and comic elements in Rossini’s work. The result is an ideal hybrid: a tragic opera with a happy ending that rises to the status of true opera seria. With its outstanding dramatic and musical qualities it remains one of Rossini’s greatest and most successful operas, a constant presence in the repertoire since its triumphant 1817 première in Milan. This performance is conducted by Alberto Zedda, who made his conducting début in 1956, produced the first critical edition of La gazza ladra, and is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost authorities on the operas of Rossini.
The great writer Stendhal wrote of Il viaggio a Reims that “this opera is a feast”. The plot is a contemporary farce tailor-made for a particular occasion—the coronation festivities of Charles X—though Rossini valued the music so highly that he reused at great part of the score three years later in the opera Le Comte Ory. With a cast of ten principal and eight smaller rôles, this sparkling work is heard complete for the first time and in accordance with the critical edition prepared by the Fondazione Rossini and Casa Ricordi.
Otello (Naples 1816)…has a strong cast, headed by Carreras's searingly noble Moor. The Desdemona is Frederica von Stade: chaste and as luminous as a sculpture in Carrara marble. The set also displays casting in depth. In Rossini's day Naples was awash with great tenors, a situation that nowadays creates prodigious difficulties. Yet both the Iago, Gianfranco Pastine, and the Rodrigo, Salvatore Fisichella, emerge with honour, barely bloodied and never for a moment bowed by Rossini's terrible arsenal of vocal effects. ''They have been crucifying Otello into an opera,'' wrote Byron in 1818. Well, yes and no. By all means treat Acts 1 and 2 as flashy rodomontade, but Act 3 is glorious, inspired enough and sufficiently close to Shakespeare to have been a near fatal deterrant to what Verdi called his own ''chocolate project''. I thrilled to it afresh—off-stage Gondolier and all—in these brilliant new CD transfers. (Richard Osborne, Gramophone)
After its successful premiere, Rossini’s opera “Armida” was quickly forgotten, only to be triumphantly revived by Maria Callas in 1952, and ever since it is considered a masterpiece. This performance with primarily Italian forces, has all the wit, charm, beauty and sparkle that any Rossini opera can wish for. Some big names here: Cecilia Gasdia, Chris Merritt,William Matteuzzi and Ferruccio Furlanetto. Great addition to the Brilliant Classics Opera Collection. Armida is today considered one of Rossini’s greatest operas, but following its premier in Naples in 1817 it quickly faded from the standard operatic repertoire. Its plot of knightly duties, love and supernatural worlds (foreshadowing Weber in places) inspired the composer to write some of his most original and inimitable music, with unusual combinations of instruments and some beautiful extended solos for cello and violin.The love music is undeniably heartfelt and sincere; Rossini’s inspiration may have been assisted by his romantic involvement with the soprano Isabella Colbran, a major star of the time and the first to perform the title role.
The splendidly florid music, and amazing opportunities for bel canto vocalism make up for it. This recording, using the critical edition, is outstanding on the vocal front. The stunning Bulgarian mezzo-soprano Vesselina Kasarova has a rich, full tone and clean, accurate runs. She is well partnered by Eva Mei, whose bright but effective soprano carries a good characterization of a dramatically rather thankless role. Tenor Ramon Vargas nails his coloratura and possesses a ringing tone. They are well supported by the secondary principals, Muenchen Rundfunkorchester and the men of the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, all superbly conducted by Roberto Abbado. As an added bonus, the listener can choose between the original happy ending and the dramatically more viable tragic conclusion with which Rossini later revised the opera. –Sarah Bryan Miller