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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Matilde di Shabran (1821)
Original Rome version
Corradino – Michele Angelini (tenor)
Matilde di Shabran – Sara Blanch (soprano)
Raimondo Lopez – Shi Zong (bass)
Edoardo Lopez – Victoria Yarovaya (contralto)
Aliprando – Emmanuel Franco (baritone)
Isidoro – Giulio Mastrototaro (baritone)
Contessa d’Arco – Lamia Beuque (mezzo-soprano)
Ginardo – Ricardo Seguel (bass-baritone)
Egoldo/Rodrigo – Julian Henao Gonzalez (tenor)
Górecki Chamber Choir, Passionart Orchestra/José Miguel Oérez-Sierra
rec 16, 18 and 27 July 2019 at the Trinkhalle Bad Wildbad, Germany during the XXXI ROSSINI IN WILDBAD Festival
Synopsis included in the booklet. The Italian libretto and notes in Italian may be accessed online.
First recording of the original Rome version.
NAXOS 8.660492-94 [3 CDs: 197:26]

Matilde di Shabran ossia Bellezza, e cuor di ferro (Matilde of Shabran or Beauty and Iron Heart) was the full title of Rossini’s 32nd opera, premiered at the Apollo Theatre in Rome on 24 February 1821. The conductor was the famous violinist Niccolo Paganini. It is a melodramma giocoso (opera semiseria) in two acts with a libretto by Jacopo Ferretti, which in its turn is based on an older libretto. The opera exists in three versions; what we hear on the present recording is the first version and it is a world premiere. There are a couple of previous recordings available of the Naples version from November the same year. It seems that Rossini met with shortage of time and had to ask his younger colleague Giovanni Pacini (1796 – 1867) to compose three numbers in Act II, which Rossini later replaced with versions of his own. The opera was rather successful to begin with but after some time it vanished out of view – a fate that struck many of his works – and it wasn’t until 1974 that it was revived. Since then it has been staged occasionally, but it has never entered the regular repertoire. It is a long opera with a playing time of almost 3˝ hours and with a substantial interval in the middle – absolutely necessary after more than two full hours – it makes for an evening in the theatre of almost Wagnerian length. The story is filled with complications that we needn’t give further details about – the cued synopsis is very informative. A thumbnail blurb can give a hint: Count Corradino has taken a fancy to Matilde and she responded positively, but then she falls in love with one of his prisoners, Edoardo, and the brutal Count condemns her to be thrown down in a waterfalls from a steep cliff. I won’t reveal the outcome of the story, but the information that this is a ‘melodramma giocoso’ may be a clue.

Another clue is, probably, in the overture or Sinfonia: the sombre opening is rather dispiriting, followed by a dramatic and lively section, but the atmosphere is ominous, even though the music becomes livelier and more outgoing. But in the background unease hovers. Towards the end we get a traditional Rossinian crescendo, however, so when the curtain rises the audience should be in fairly high spirits. And the applause confirm that in this live recording.

The drama moves on quite briskly and in spite of the rather oversized length of the work it never becomes boring. Structurally there are few arias but so many more ensembles, duos, trios and grander concerted numbers as well. There chorus is also a lot in focus. Several ensembles are quite extended. The first finale (CD 2 tr. 10 – 17) is about 25 minutes of continuous music and the quintet just before that is almost as long. On the other hand there are several secco recitatives, accompanied on a fortepiano – no doubt a way for the composer to save some time.

The music is well wrought and there are a lot of felicities in the orchestration. Rossini was at this stage in his career a superb craftsman, and while the melodic inspiration didn’t flow as abundantly as ten years earlier there are several high-spots – and there is a profusion of high-octane power throughout the work. If I would pick some personal favourites in this score it would be the end of the quintetto in act one, Ch’io fugga ha giŕ timore (CD 2 tr. 6); the soldiers’ chorus (CD 2 tr. 8); the a cappella ensemble in the first act finale, Oh come mail quell’anima (CD 2 tr. 15) a noble moment of contemplation in the hard-hitting martial music that surrounds it. In act II Matilde and Edoardo (the letter is sung by a mezzo-soprano) have a great duet (CD 3 tr. 15 – 18), which ends with a riveting Ah! Se m’ama il caro bene at breakneck tempo, and Corradino’s Anima mia, Matilde (CD 3 tr. 21) which is followed by a virtuoso cavatina.

José Migual Pérez-Sierra draws excellent playing and singing from his Polish forces and he keeps the kettle boiling throughout the performance. His French horn section, which is lavishly exposed, is worthy of special praise. The solo singing is a bit variable but never less than acceptable. Great singing is however delivered by Victoria Yarovaya in the trouser role of Edoardo, and Sara Blanch in the title role as Matilde. Both have vibrant and expressive voices. Lamia Beuque in the role of Contessa d’Arco has less to do but is also well in the picture. But the real hero – even though the character is far from sympathetic – Michele Angelini as Corradino. Here is a lyric tenor with impeccable coloratura technique, beautiful tone and superb legato. If you want to sample, go to his aria and cavatina near the end of the opera (CD 3 tr. 21-22). You will be hard to please if you don’t get hooked.

The recording is good, there are some stage noises but today we are so used to that so we hardly react. The opera may not be out of Rossini’s top drawer, but there are many good things in his other drawers too and this one is well worth anyone’s money for the singing of the three male characters.

Göran Forsling

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