Gioachino Rossini is one of the three Bel Canto masters whose music has been performed regularly over the years. However, unlike Bellini or Donizetti, Rossini has gotten the reputation for being a composer of comedy and sometimes his opera seria has been overlooked in favor of such masterpieces as “Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” “Le Comte Ory,” “La Cenerentola” and “Il Turco in Italia.” In celebration of his birthday on Feb. 29, 1792, OperaWire will take a look at five of Rossini’s Opera seria which need to be part of the standard repertoire.
In the past few years, Rossini’s final Italian opera has had a renaissance thanks to Joyce DiDonato performing it around the world. Additionally, such sopranos as Eromenla Jaho, Angela Meade, Salome Jicia, among others have also performed it to great success. But the work is often revived once and left out for many years. “Semiramide” is a work of complexity and seamlessly showcases the composer’s dramatic abilities with his love for complex coloratura passages. Its central characters also have some of Rossini’s most memorable melodies and showcases the intricacies in his use of the voice often times work compare to those of Bellini in “Norma.”
It’s a shame that Rossini’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s play came before Verdi composed his because it has gotten lost thanks to Verdi’s briefer and masterful adaptation. But Rossini’s version, which has been performed of late at La Scala and in San Carlo as well as with the Loft Opera, is a work which delves deeper into the racism that Verdi left out in his adaptation. And it also gives Desdemona more complexity making her a much more central figure. Rossini’s melodies are also unforgettable, particularly the willow song and the finale, which is among the composer’s most dramatic operatic writing.
Matilde di Shabran
Juan Diego Flórez gave this work some life when he broke out in Pesaro. The work was presented numerous times and even got a Royal Opera House premiere. But since the tenor retired the role, it has also left the repertoire. The work is known to have one of the most challenging tenor roles in the repertoire and it is also known for its lengthy four-hour runtime. But nonetheless, its intricate ensemble work matches that of “Il Barbiere” or even “Guillaume Tell.” And for sopranos who want to show off their vocal fireworks, this piece gives them enough chances. Additionally, while it is an opera seria, it does have many comic moments and also a happy ending.
Maometto Secondo / Le siège de Corinthe
Rossini experimented a lot with form and music and this piece, which was recently performed at the Canadian Opera with Leah Crocetto and Luca Pisaroni, is one example. While not widely performed now, the work showcased new structures. For example, while Act one lasts 90 minutes, it only contains five sections, one of which is the “terzettone,” which lasts 25 minutes and includes “the temporary departure of two principals, intrusive cannon fire, an outbreak of popular dismay, and a prayer.” For those seeking invention in the Bel Canto style this is a work that needs to be heard more often.
Most will say this is already part of the repertoire but it is performed rarely and it requires a massive cast. Its length can also scare some opera companies but in all honesty, if Wagner’s massive operas can remain part of the standard repertoire, this epic is one that should be performed more often. Just look at the choral music, the epic overture or the incredible vocal line and you get arguably Rossini’s finest work and most definitely his most mature.