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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868) Demetrio e Polibio - Dramma serio in two acts (1812)
Demetrio, King of Syria, masquerading as Eumene – Yijie Shi (tenor); Siveno, his estranged son - Victoria Zaytseva (mezzo); Polibio, King of Parthia - Mirco Palazzi (bass); Lisinga, his daughter - María José Moreno (soprano)
Orchestra Sinfonica G. Rossini/Corrado Rovaris
rec. live, Teatro Rossini, Rossini Opera Festival, Pesaro, August 2010
Director: Davide Livermore
Video Director: Tiziano Mancini
Sound Format: PCM Stereo, DD 5.1.
Picture Format: 16:9, 1080i Full HD
Subtitle Languages: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean
Booklet languages: English, French, German
ARTHAUS MUSIK 108 061 [115:00 + 15:00 (bonus)]

Although Demetrio e Polibio appears as number one in the sequential list of Rossini’s operas it comes further down in terms of staging. It was premiered on 18 May 1812 by which time three other of his operas had reached the stage, including two of the one act farse he composed for Venice’s small San Moisè theatre (see review). There were times when Rossini claimed to have composed the work as early as 1807 when he would have been only fifteen years old. The booklet suggests it was more likely composed around 1810.
Demetrio e Polibio appears to have been commissioned by Domenico Mombelli who, with his daughters and the bass Lodovico Olivieri, comprised a small touring group. His second wife was responsible for the libretto, possibly derived from Metastasio’s Demetrio (C. Osborne. The Belcanto Operas. Methuen 1994 pp.5-8). The libretto arrived piecemeal and it is probable Mombelli himself composed some of the numbers.
The story involves Lisinga, daughter of Polibio who loves Silveno. Although brought up by Polibio he is in reality the son of Demetrio who, under the name of Eumene, is searching for his son. Each of the two kings claims the boy. The love interest proves decisive in the outcome, typical of any opera seria.
In its thirty-first season, the Rossini Opera Festival at Pesaro is rapidly closing in on having presented all thirty-nine of the great man’s operatic compositions in Critical Editions prepared for the purpose by Daniele Carnini for the Pesaro Foundation. Rossini’s operatic compositions concluded, somewhat prematurely since he was to live for nearly another forty years, with William Tell in 1829. It is a matter of personal regret that this Pesaro enterprise is often marred by the predilection, particularly in recent years, of idiosyncratic productions. As I noted in the recording of another of the 2010 productions, Sigismondo (see review), those in power at the Rossini festival take the view that as a Festival they should offer challengingly different views of the operas presented. Fine, except that for many of these works, including this one, one has few, if any, opportunities to see what the composer might have had in mind when penning the music. The argument and justifications of the Superintendent and Musical Director are to be seen in the bonus as is the explanation, or justification, of the director’s approach by the man himself.
As to the idiosyncrasies, the whole is played out as if by ghosts in the theatre after the curtain has fallen. This leads to the doubling of the singing cast with look-alikes. The same vogue of doppelgangering was also evident in Sigismondo. I suppose it helps the unemployment figures in Italy. It also means that one sees the fire-fighting crew that protect the theatre along with the costumes on rails. The only other props seem to be a rotatable set of steps for the singers, and their doppelganger ghosts to cavort on. Add to this the magic effects of a lighted moving candle and the spontaneous ignition of flames on the hands, as if a prelude for immolation. All in all, the visuals concern more gimmicks than elucidation of the plot presented to the composer way back in 1810. It would have been nice to know, as with Sigismondo, and the various other recent offerings at Pesaro, how the libretto challenged the composer rather than the contemporary theatre director.
As with Sigismondo, the good news is the music and the quartet of soloists. All the singers seem fairly young; I can best sum up my pleasure and admiration by thinking that Rossini singing with all its manifest bel canto demands is safe for at least a generation. The tenor, hailing from Shanghai, Yijie Shi, the mezzo from Russia, Victoria Zaytseva, the soprano from Spain, María José Moreno and Italian-born sonorous bass, Mirco Palazzi, are simply outstanding as Rossini singers as well as committed actors. All manage to create believable characters, despite the distractions of their doubles and the flame effects and without an easily comprehensible setting. Add young Rossini’s music, and even some of Mombelli’s efforts, and the whole goes with the kind of musical fizz that marks out the early farse that the composer presented at Venice’s small San Moisè between 1810 and 1813. In this matter the conductor and his chamber-sized orchestra, along with the chorus, share the musical glories.
The recording is emblazoned with World Premiere. Not so, I suggest. I remember a performance from Martina Franca in 1992 on Dynamic CD and featuring Dalmacio Gonzales, Sara Mingardo, Christine Weidinger and Giorgio Surjan. First time on DVD? Probably, but even then Hardy Classics might have got there first, as I have recently been corrected when following issuers’ self-promoting fluff, or discovered by dint of research in respect of reviewing, on this site, all the C Major label Tutto Verdi series of video presentations as they appear.
Although I do not readily see mention of the fact in either the booklet or on the box, the production was staged, and filmed, in the delightful theatre in Pesaro named after its greatest inhabitant.
Robert J Farr