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.
The Italian mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli is one of the most charming and talented singers to appear on the scene in recent years, and this collection of Italian songs by three great opera composers–Bellini, Donizetti, and Rossini–is a most deserving bestseller. There are many small pleasures in the selections, which reflect the bel canto predilections of their authors, and Bartoli renders them artfully. Some will be familiar even to casual listeners (Rossini's La Danza, the famous tarantella); others will be new to most, but equally deserving of a hearing. The sensitive and skillful accompaniment is by conductor-pianist James Levine.
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.
Between 1810 and 1812 Rossini composed these five one-act "farces" for the Teatro San Moise in Venice. They may be formulaic–even in their plots, most of which concern a young couple fooling an older suitor, or a young couple trying to find happiness, or a Canadian suitor away from his home turf(!)–but each has something to recommend it and none outstays its welcome. And the last of the group, Il Signor Bruschino, is famous for its overture, in which Rossini asks the violinists to tap their bows against their stands–witty, unusual, and apparently annoying to the conservative Venetians.–Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Il Turco in Italia is one of Rossini‘s wittiest but most neglected works. It is full of ingenious and freshly composed invention. It is Rossini‘s fi rst collaboration with Felice Romani - Bellini‘s librettist - on this opera and Romani understood perfectly Rossini‘s love of pastiche and parody. He provided a commedia dell‘ arte scenario that gave Rossini plenty of opportunity to mock traditions he had helped to cultivate in the first place. The plot is delightfully salcious and among the many jewels in the score, the duet for Geronio and Selim, in which the Turk tries to persuade the ageing husband to sell his wife to him, is widely considered one of the composer‘s masterpieces.
These video recordings all from the Schwetzingen opera festival were recorded in the late 80s and early 90s and originally released on laser disk on the Teldec label.