Rossini Opera Festival 2020 Review: La Cambiale di Matrimonio
Carlo Lepore Leads A Fine Young CastBy Alan Neilson
(Photo: Studio Amati Bacciardi)
Despite the restrictions in place caused by the COVID pandemic, the Rossini Opera Festival has managed to put together a reduced festival of outdoor concerts and recitals along with a fully-staged performance of the maestro’s one-act farsa “La Cambiale di Matrimonio” at the Teatro Rossini.
The opera, written in 1810 for the San Moisè in Venice to libretto by Gaetano Rossi, was only Rossini’s second opera and his first to be performed. Although only 18-years-old at the time, and with limited experience, the work is surprising for its degree of maturity, surety of touch and the extent to which the building blocks of Rossini’s distinctive style are already taking shape. His natural facility for comedy is also very much in evidence.
The tale, founded squarely on stereotypical characterizations, concerns the usual nonsense of a young woman in love with a poor man, whose father wants her to marry a rich foreigner, obviously for his gain, but is thwarted by conniving servants and the young couple themselves.
Set in England during the Regency period, and therefore contemporary to the time of writing, it was interesting to note that the Italian idea of England at the time was that everything was for sale, albeit founded clearly based on legal contract, of course, something that is not unrecognizable even today.
Engaging with Comedic Spirit
Setting it in early 18th century England, Laurence Dale, the director, engaged fully with the comedic spirit of the work, playing up to the stereotypes, which also allowed everyone’s role to be immediately and clearly understood.
Aided by Gary McCann’s costume designs, he exaggerated appearances to reinforce their impressions, so that Norton the servant was dressed in dark-colored livery, Fanni the young lady in question, in a refined regency dress and so on. In the case of the rich Canadian, Slook, he arrived on stage dressed as a frontiersman, with his servant-cum-sidekick looking as if he has just stepped out of the Canadian forest, with a grizzly bear in tow.
Comedy was always at the forefront of the presentation, even to the extent of taking advantage of the fact that the actors were not allowed physical contact with each other owing to the COVID restrictions: on being introduced to Slook, an uncouth colonist, the refined Fanni recoils in horror when he tries to embrace her. The bear plays a significant role in the shenanigans; at one point he appears in the kitchen, baking the wedding cake!
The set, also designed by McCann, was a traditional 18th century terraced upper middle-class house that opened to reveal the appropriate rooms. It was functional and did its job.
Center of it all
At the center of much of the comedy, however, even outshining the bear, was the evergreen Carlo Lepore in the role of Tobia Mill, the mean-spirited father.
Lepore needs no coaching in how to get the most from a basso buffo role, comedy is in his blood; every gesture or intonation, every pause or facial expression is timed to perfection. His costumes certainly aided his visual impact which was always suitably over-the-top, comprising either an oriental dressing gown and turban or flowery waistcoat and breeches: he looked every inch the buffoon.
He was domineering and bullying as he strode around the stage with a larger-than-life, supercilious air, but with a cowardly and resigned underbelly, which gained him a sympathetic ear.
He also sang wonderfully. His opening cavatina, “Chi mai trova il dritto, il fondo,” was hammed-up to the fullest as he studies the geography of the globe, without understanding a thing, but it was nevertheless sung with strength and certainty, a presentation which summed up the character to the full.
His articulation was clear and precise, with perfectly placed emphases, which ensured his recitatives were delivered with meaning, and elevated the comedic element.
Slook was played by the Ukrainian baritone Iurii Samoilov. His strong stage presence allowed for a compelling portrait of a virile, unsophisticated, but honest stranger who is bemused by city society.
His voice has an alluring timbre, strength, and flexibility, enabling him to produce a satisfying vocal presentation.
The finale, “Porterò cosi il cappello,” in which Mill acts out the actions of the duel, much to the amusement of Slook who watches on, was well-choreographed, and again focused on the comedic possibilities, and showed off Samoilov’s acting skills well.
Other Major Turns
Giuliana Gianfaldoni made a strong impression in the role of Fanni. With her aria, “Vorrei spiegarvi il giubilo,” she certainly captured the audience’s attention, as she sang of her delight with Slook’s decision to make Edoardo his heir so that they can marry.
Her bright, silvery toned soprano sailed up and down the scale with ease, displaying a light coloratura and pleasing legato, underpinned by vocal flexibility and the precision of her technique. Throughout, she sang with confidence and remained in full control, and her articulation was clear, even at speed. It was a truly beautiful performance, and moreover, one achieved without compromising on characterization.
Edoardo Milfort, Fanni’s lover, was played by tenor Davide Giusti, who gave a refined singing performance with a notable degree of vocal subtlety and proved himself to be a passionate rival to Slook. His most notable contributions were the duet with Fanni, and terzetto with Slook and Fanni in which he acquitted himself well.
The two servants, Pablo Gálvez as Norton and Martiniana Antonie as Clarina both produced admirable performances as they busied themselves in their employer’s household affairs and plotting. Gálvez possesses an appealing baritone with a strong stage presence, whilst mezzo-soprano Antonie showed her worth in her aria, “Anch’io son giovine,” with an articulate, lively and engaging reading.
Dmitry Korchak, who has appeared regularly at the Rossini Opera Festival as a tenor, was on this occasion employed as the conductor. Under his guidance, the Orchestra Sinfonica di Rossini produced a satisfactory if uneven performance. Remaining in the background for the most part, the orchestra produced a restrained reading, one that would have benefited from a loosening of the reins.
Rossini’s quickfire tempi, for example, were never fully exploited, the fizz was missing, and the performance never fully ignited. Part of the problem may have been the unusual, but necessary, positioning of the orchestra in the stalls.
Overall, this was a pleasing presentation of an early Rossini opera, which although occasionally dragging in the middle section kept up a good pace, aided by the production team who injected its fair share of fun into the proceedings.
Musically, “La Cambiale di Matrimonio” has a couple of memorable numbers, and more than hints at the musical brilliance to come, and altogether makes for an entertaining evening.