Based on other such "companions" that I have seen (one published by Cambridge, the other two by another publishing house), I would expect a handy reference guide to the composer in question. Such a reference guide might include discussions of and/or information on:
- The operas
- The composer's life and times
- The singers who created the roles
- Other key interpreters — i.e. Conchita Supervia, Marilyn Horne and Chris Merritt in the case of Rossini
- A discography
- A discussion of the state of opera when the composer began his career, including composers who influenced him
- A discussion of the composer's key innovations and his style, including how that style changed over the years
- A discussion of the influence of the composer (or the period), i.e.which composers were strongly infuenced.
- A discussion, if appropriate, of the current state of the revival of the composer's operas
- A bibliography
- Any number of essays on various other aspects of the composer
Obviously, some of these aspects may be more feasible for one composer than for another. Thus, it would be more practical to discuss Bellini's ten operas in depth than Donizetti's sixty plus, with Rossini somewhere in between.
Again, it seems to me that such a Companion should serve as a handy reference work that opera lovers interested in a given composer or style might want to consult regularly. It is with that in mind that I will take a closer look at the "Rossini Companion", and how it meets my expectations.
- The Operas: Only four are discussed in depth (Tancredi, Semiramide, Il barbiere, and Guillaume Tell). The quality of these, especially Heather Hadlock's essay on Semiramide, makes one wish for more. If this volume were to serve my own needs in terms of a basic reference book on Rossini, I feel that comparable discussions would have been ideal for the more important works (Otello, Ermione, Armida, Mose, Zelmira, etc. and shorter discussions (a few paragraphs) for the lesser operas such as Adina and La gazzetta. It is a thin volume (only 264 pages), and by adding only about 150-200 or so pages, it would have been possible to accomplish this goal.
- The composer's life is adequately treated in the chapter by Richard Osborne.
- There are brief biographical notes on some of the creators of the many Rossini roles included in a section on Rossini singers in the chapter by Leonella Caprioli on singing Rossini. This is fine as far as it goes, but it is, admittedly, selective, and should have included all the creators of leading roles. To give one example, Geltrude Righetti-Giorgi, who created both Rosina and Cenerentola is missing, although the fact that she created both these roles is mentioned elsewhere.
- Some other key interpreters are included in the above list. On the other hand, Conchita Supervia, who played such a key role in the Rossini revival of the 1920 is not even mentioned in the index. Marilyn Horne, who sang 7 serio roles is included elsewhere in the chapter on the Rossini renaissance, but Chris Merritt, who sang ten serio roles, and did so magnificently, is not even mentioned.
- There is no discography, useful as that would have been, although it would eventually have been out of date.
- There is no discussion of the state of opera at the start of Rossini's career. Thus, Cimarosa is mentioned only in passing, while Mayr's Ginevra di Scozia, one of the most successful Italian operas between Cimarosa and Rossini, is completely ignored.
- An entire section, titled "Words and Music" is devoted to various aspects of Rossini's style. The chapters on compositional methods by Phillip Gosset and on dramaturgy by Marco Beghelli are to be particularly commended in that respect.
- Again, there is a little discussion of Rossini's influence, but no chapter devoted exclusively to it.
- There is a discussion of the revival of the composer's operas, which is, with one exception, quite good. The exception is the section on singers, to which slightly over two pages are devoted. This section goes into a fair amount of details on the prima donnas involved, especially Callas, Sutherland and Horne. It virtually ignores Caballe, simply saying that she is one of 11 sopranos who sang opposite Horne. Only one tenor (Salvatore Fisichella) is mentioned in passing. Rockwell Blake, Chris Merritt, Bruce Ford and William Matteuzzi, without whom much of the Rossini revival would have been impossible are completely ignored, as is the wonderful Sam Ramey. Finally, there is a statement to the effect that Rossini wrote many of his opere serie for two principal tenors, and that this has perhaps kept these operas from assuming a larger place in the repertory. He may or may not be right about that, but, should he not have at least mentioned all the performances and/or recordings of these works sung by Chris Merritt or Bruce Ford in combination with Rockwell Blake or William Matteuzzi?
- There is an excellent bibliography.
- Many of the individual chapters make great reading, and are highly interesting as far as they go.
To sum up, I consider this a nice book to have, as far as it goes, but would not view it as the definitive Rossini companion that this wonderful composer so richly deserves. It is just too lightweight to qualify.