Rossini: La Pietra Del Paragone / Marchi, Bienkowska, Et Al
Naxos has brought a sadly neglected Rossini opera back into currency. La pietra del paragone is early Rossini, but all the stylistic elements that characterize his better-known opera buffas are in place: the crescendo, the rhythmic drive, the frenetic act I finale, the abundance of effervescent melodies. There is some borrowing from his earlier works, but later scores owe a debt to La pietra. The overture was used again for Tancredi, the storm was reused for Il barbiere di Siviglia. The tune that was to become Di tanti palpiti is first heard in La pietra, and shortly after act II opens, there is a delightful sextet reminiscent of the sextet from Cenerentola, the one with the rippled Rs. There is an incredible wealth of melody and inspiration in La pietra del paragone, and the story is delightful, too.
Three women want to marry the Count Asdrubale, but he suspects they are fortune hunters interested in his wealth. He receives a message that he is now poor. The message is a trick: he sent it himself. Asdrubale then disguises himself as an African chieftain to see what the ladies think of him now that they believe he is poor. Clarice proves to be the one who really loves him.
The opera was so highly regarded at its premiere it earned Rossini a military exemption. So why have its fortunes dwindled? Most of Rossini’s operas fell into public disfavor for well over a century and are now in the process of being rediscovered. If you like Rossini’s operas, discover this one. It’s a gem.
La pietra has not been recorded as often as Rossini’s major comedies and a few of his serious works have been. In 1972, Vanguard issued a studio-recorded album conducted by Newell Jenkins that featured José Carreras in one of his first recorded roles. It appeared on CD 20 years later and sadly seems to be out of circulation. The other three recordings were made in performance. A Nuova Era album, a co-production of the Teatros Comunale di Modena and Ferrara, is also unavailable at this time (May 2004), and a performance on Bongiovanni is listed as “Special Order.” This new Naxos album is more than likely the only La pietra to be found in the bins.
It was recorded in July 2001 during the Rossini In Wildbad Festival at Kurhaus, Bad Wildbad, Germany. The cast features a number of young singers whose talents range from good to very good. There may not be a young Marilyn Horne or Luigi Alva waiting in the wings, but all deliver performances that do the score justice. There is no one in the cast that will make you wince or reach for the mute button. Conductor Alessandro de Marchi moves the score along nicely. His tempos are somewhat swifter than those of Jenkins on Vanguard, but never sound rushed like Desderi’s occasionally do on Nuova Era.
The recorded sound is acceptable, but not ideal. The singers occasionally seem remote, and the acoustics of the theater lack warmth. Stage noises are minimal and applause following the arias is not intrusive. The libretto gives the Italian text only, but a detailed plot synopsis ties the action to the CD track numbers. A recommendation? If you can find the Jenkins on Vanguard, grab it; otherwise this new Naxos will do very nicely.
David L. Kirk, FANFARE
Catalog Number: 8660093-95
Composer: Gioachino Rossini
Conductor: Alessandro de Marchi
Orchestra/Ensemble: Czech Chamber Chorus, Czech Chamber Soloists Brno
Performer: Agata Bienkowska, Alessandro Codeluppi, Anke Herrmann, Anna Rita Gemmabella, Dariusz Machej, Gioacchino Zarrelli, Raffaele Costantini, Teru Yoshihara