Rossini Opera Festival 2022 Review: La Gazzetta
Carniti’s Staging & Rizzi’s Musical Direction Are Unable To Rescue Rossini’s Rarely Performed ComedyBy Alan Neilson
(Photo: ROF/Amati Bacciardi)
There are many operas that rarely see the light of day. Even some works by the great composers are lucky to receive more than an occasional staging; one need only think of Wagner’s or Verdi’s early works. Often, this neglect is unjustified, but sometimes, it’s simply because the opera is not very good.
Second Rate Rossini
Unfortunately, Rossini’s opera “La Gazzetta,” which is currently on stage at the Rossini Opera Festival, appears to be from the latter category. Yes, it has its fair share of attractive melodies, and a light narrative, no more complex than is normal for a typical opera buffa. And, it is fairly amusing and does not tax the mind. But “La Gazzetta” misses the zip and fizz which Rossini is so successful at injecting into his comedies. Too often when watching, one had the impression that the director was searching for ways to introduce more life and movement into the scenes. There were also excessive passages of recitative, which were at times quite dull. It is certainly not to the same standard as “Il Barbieri di Siviglia” which immediately preceded it, nor “La Cenerentola” which was to be his next comedy.
It premiered at Naples’ Teatro dei Fiorentini in 1816. Rossini was said to have spent considerable time on the opera as it was to be his first comic opera for the city, a genre that held a special position in Neapolitan culture. It was, therefore, important that he scored a success. What he actually produced was a pasticcio, containing many numbers borrowed from his past operas, including “Il Turco in Italia” and “La pietra del paragone,” forcing the librettist Giuseppe Palomba to adapt his text to fit the pre-existing music, while the recitatives and two arias were supplied by an anonymous composer. Not a particularly auspicious birth, by any means, albeit not abnormal for the time.
From the beginning, the text came in for criticism with phrases such as “poetic tripe” and “unworthy of critical attention” being bandied about. Whether or not the opera as a whole was a success at its premiere is debatable. Scholars have mixed views on the matter, but we do know that after a revival in Palermo in 1828 it disappeared from the stage until 1976 when it was performed in Vienna. It has since been staged only infrequently.
Carniti Falls Short In His Attempt To Enliven The Drama
The director Marco Carniti and his team, consisting of scenographer Manuela Gasperoni, costume designer Maria Filippi, and lighting designer Fabio Rossi, were given the responsibility of bringing this 2015 revival of “La Gazzetta” to the stage. Although not an easy task, they met with some success but were unable to offset the periods of languor that pepper the work.
Carniti’s basic idea was to set the entire opera in a Parisian hotel lobby. On the surface, this appeared to be a reasonable decision, for it is a place in which people have to pass through if they are registered there, and which will inevitably lead to chance meetings with strangers and possibly friends and acquaintances. It also provides an opportunity for a bar area for socialising. Unfortunately, Gasperoni’s realization was somewhat disappointing as it consisted of little more than a white covering over an oblong block which served as the front desk and rotated to provide different perspectives — although for what purpose, other than to create movement, was not clear. On other occasions, the stage was completely empty of scenery.
He chose to set the work in the 1950s, claiming that during this era, Paris was the centre of the artistic world, a time when social barriers were collapsing and marrying someone from outside one’s class was more acceptable, in an unnecessary attempt to explain Lisetta and Alberto’s relationship. If nothing else, this at least allowed Filippi to design some quite striking and beautiful costumes, which were all black and white in the first act, and more colourful in the second act.
Carniti, aware of the need for adding more life and energy to the drama, made some successful and interesting additions, the most imaginative of which was to have the minor non-speaking role of Tommasino portrayed as a bellhop-cum-concierge, mime his way through the opera in an exaggerated fashion, which made the passages of recitatives more bearable and produced frequent ripples of laughter from the audience.
Some ideas, however, were bizarre, to say the least. When Filippo turned up disguised as a Quaker, he did so dressed as a Mandarin from Imperial China with a posse of servants. All very colourful, but how this fitted with 1950s France, or his ideas of social barriers collapsing is a mystery.
His handling of the scenes was fairly imaginative and often amusing. The duel scene, for example, was particularly well engineered, which escalated to the point where the combatants were armed with light sabers à la Star Wars.
Yet despite this, his efforts did not prove sufficient to keep the audience fully engaged. To be fair to Carniti, however, directing “La Gazzette” was never going to be an easy task: the quality of the narrative is just not strong enough.
A Solid Group Of Singers
Having played buffo characters on many occasions bass Carl6o Lepore can be relied on to produce a good performance. He knows exactly what he is doing, he always has just the right facial expressions, and the right gestures, his posturing has just the right amount of exaggeration, and there is always an extemporaneous quality to his acting, which lights up the stage. His essaying of the role of Don Pomponio Storione, who advertises his daughter in a newspaper in an attempt to find a husband, but objects to her marrying Alberto, was up to his usual standard, full of outrage, pomposity, and exasperation, yet who ultimately manages to retain the sympathy of the audience. Likewise, his singing was finely suited to the role. He understands exactly how to get the most from his lines, accenting, exaggerating, and emphasizing them with precision to maximise their impact, backed, of course, with suitable facial expressions. His delivery of the typical Rossini quick-fire patter was lively, clear, and articulate.
His self-centred daughter Lisetta, who liked nothing more than a hard day’s shopping was played by soprano Maria Grazia Schiavo. She produced a lively, attractive performance, although not one without problems. Clearly most at ease when singing in her upper register, she attacked her lines with unbound enthusiasm, confidently engaging in flights of complex coloratura and energetic embellishment. There was nothing mannered or mechanical about her singing, and she transmitted her emotions wonderfully. However, the lack of restraint acted as a double-edged sword, as she often lost the necessary precision, and on occasions, her breathing became heavy and intrusive. Her transition between registers was also awkwardly unpleasant at times. Overall, however, the abandonment with which she engaged with her character proved to be adequate compensation.
Baritone Giorgio Caoduro produced a satisfyingly well-sung performance as the earnest hotel owner. Possessing a strong, resonant, full-bodied voice that carries the emotions well, he displayed quality throughout, with his Act two aria, “Quando la fama altera,” in which he displayed his vocal versatility with a pleasing passage of coloratura, proving to be one of the highlights of the evening.
Tenor Pietro Adaíni was parted in the role of Lisetta’s lover Alberto, whom he characterised as a heart-on-the-sleeve type. Although his voice has an attractive sweet timbre, nicely suited to the role, which he used with a degree of success to fashion lyrically appealing lines, when he moved into the upper register the voice had a tendency to tighten and lost some of its appeal.
Mezzo-soprano Andrea Niño produced a beautifully sung and expressive performance in the part of Madam Le Rosa. She possesses a luminous, clear-toned, firm, versatile voice which she used convincingly to characterise the role.
Mezzo-soprano Martiniana Antonie displayed ability in the role of Doralice, putting in a sparky, versatile performance, enough to suggest we shall be hearing plenty of her in the future.
Doralice’s father Anselmo was essayed successfully by bass Alejandro Baliñas, while baritone Pablo Gálvez was impressive in the minor role of Monsù Traversen.
The conductor Carlo Rizzi produced a pleasingly detailed performance from the Orchestra Sinfonica G Rossini, in which precision and exactitude often won out over brio and fluidity, but which overall was beautifully crafted, with dynamics, rhythm, and balance skilfully managed. The overture, which Rossini recycled for “La Cenerentola,” was particularly successful, played with such clarity, in which the crescendos were expertly developed. Likewise, sufficient attention was given to the balance between the stage and the pit.
Ultimately, this presentation of “La Gazzetta” failed to take to the wing. Rather it lumbered along, amusing in parts and never upsetting anyone. Not that this was the fault of any of the constituent parts: the singers were fully engaged and, on the whole, sang well, the orchestra displayed quality throughout, and Carniti took imaginative steps to bring the drama to life. Rather the problem lies with the opera itself: it is just not very good! The fact that Ernesto Lama’s excellent mimed performance as Tommasino received more applause than most of the singers tells you all you need to know, and that is not meant as a criticism of Lama, nor of the singers