It was for this troupe that Righini started writing music, and his first opera, Il convitato di pietra, in 1776. Italian by birth and musical training, Vincenzo Righini, could be called German. The term of his career, with the exception of a few early years in Italy, was spent in Austria and Germany where he became a respected singing teacher and composer. In 1780 he was appointed director of the Italian Opera in Vienna, and in 1787, Kapellmeister in Mainz. In 1793, Berlin beckoned him and Righini became court Kapellmeister and director of the Italian Opera until its disbandment in 1806. So well liked was Righini that he was asked to stay on, and in 1811 he was appointed Kapellmeister of the court theatre. Righini, a simple and unpretentious man, returned to Bologna where, as result of surgery, he died on August 19, 1812.
His output includes 15 operas: Il convitato di pietra (1776), La bottega del café (1778), La vedova scaltra (1778), Armida (1782), L’incontro inaspettato (1785), Il Demogorgone (1786), Antigono (1788), Alcide al bivio (1790), Vasco di Gama (1792), Enea nel Lazio (1793), Il trionfo d’Arianna (1793), Atlante e Meleagro (1797), La Gerusalemme liberata (1799), Trigrane (1800), and La selva incantata (1803); he also wrote assorted sacred music and instrumental works including an oratorio, Der Tod Jesu, a Missa solemnis, Op. 59, Oboe concerto in C major, and over two hundred songs, one of which, Venni amore, Beethoven used as the bases for his variations for piano in D major (WoO 65).
Like many composers, Righini joined the ranks of Piccini, Mayr, Keiser, Apolloni, Mercadante, etc. when posterity put them in oblivion only to be resurrected by later generations, and returned to their proper place in musical history. Righini, as Mayr would do in Italy, reformed the concept of Italian Opera with his use of German craftsmanship in his orchestration; he paid particular attention to the blending of dramatic and comedic elements, he introduced complex ensembles and elaborate ballets to his operas, he paid particular attention to dramatic insight, and he anticipated many of the reforms which Spontini and Cherubini would later exemplify.
In 1871, Haydn produced his own version of Il Convitato di pietra at Esterháza. The Prague manuscript used for the premiere of Righini’s opera is not available for comparison, but Haydn reduced the original three act version to two acts. As a result, it is not known how much of the original music remains or how much, if any, of Haydn’s own music is in the Esterháza manuscript. The Belcanto Festival Dordrech (Holland) used the recently discovered Haydn version for this production and live recording of Righini’s Il convitato di pietra.
After a short but spirited overture with musical themes that will later re-appear, the opera opens with Elisa and Ombrino calling on their friends to help pull two drowning men (Don Giovanni and his manservant, Arlechino) out of the sea. Immediately Don Giovanni pursues Elisa and prays a thunderbolt strike him to hell should his intentions prove dishonest.
Don Alfonso, brings news to the Commendatore that the King wishes to marry his nephew, Don Ottavio, to the Commendatore’s daughter, Donna Anna.
Later Don Alfonso receives the order to arrest Don Giovanni who has fled to Castille after seducing Donna Isabella. Back at the Commendatore’s house, Don Giovanni breaks into Donna Anna’s rooms in an effort to abduct her. Her father enters and Don Giovanni fatally wounds the Commendatore. Donna Anna swears vengeance.
Don Giovanni wants to continue his escape but not before dining. While Arlechino is making dinner arrangements, Don Giovanni falls asleep in the cemetery where Donna Anna finds him. She is ready to strike him dead when Don Giovanni wakes up and professes his innocence and undying love for her. At long last Arlechino announces that dinner is ready, and Don Giovanni urges him to invite the statue of the Commendatore to dine with them. To Don Giovanni’s distress, the statue accepts.
Don Alfonso learns from Donna Anna the whereabouts of Don Giovanni. Donna Isabella has also been in contact with Don Alfonso.
Back at the inn, the festivities continue. Arlechino is putting into practice what he has learned from his master, and sings a parody to opera seria to distract him. Suddenly, the laughter stops when Il convitato di pietra enters and invites Don Giovanni to dine with him, not here at the inn, but at a place of the Commendatore’s choosing.
The opera ends with Don Giovanni being tortured in Hell by the Furies, while the rest of the cast sings a hymn of happiness. Don Giovanni’s fate brings to mind his words to the Commendatore, “He who makes his bed, so he must lie on it.”
There are some very good singers in this recording, especially in the minor roles: Soprano So-Young Shin is very effective as the young Elisa, and makes the best of her only appearance in the opera in her aria “Se voi mio caro” where she declares her eternal love in exchange for Don Giovanni’s faithfulness [!]. Donna Anna’s maid, Lisetta, is sung by mezzo-soprano Veronica Soldera. She cleverly combines her fears that someone (Don Giovanni) is in the room with her nervous comedic flair in the aria, “Mi sento venire meno.” Yoon-Jin Song, Donna Isabella, sings “Chi mai in quell core figurar si potea…È folle chi crede,” a simple reflective recitative and aria in which she laments the foolishness of those who, like herself, believed that goods looks in a man equate with a truthful heart. She also mocks the foolishness of those who believe “that the heart of a liar could turn to be sincere.” The clever character of Corallina, innkeeper and Arlechino’s love interest, is sung by Soprano, Gonnie van Heugten. She has a light, pleasant soprano voice which she displays well in the ensembles, duets, and her aria, “In quell tuo visetto.” Bass Mauro Corna capably sings the two roles of Ombrino and Tribulzio.
Somewhat disappointing is tenor Sang Man Lee as the Commendatore; his voice is pleasant but uninteresting. In the aria, “Solo dal mio volere,” the Commendatore tells Donna Anna that her fate is in his hands and that “she who quarrels with me will no longer be my daughter.” Lee starts well enough, but has difficulty at the end of the aria, and generally does not infuse any sentiment into the words. He is much better in “Dalle squarciate vene,” after the Commendatore’s duel with Don Giovanni.
Baritone Maurizio Leoni is very a capable Don Alfonso. Offended by Don Giovanni’s lack of social graces and un-gentlemanly behavior, he sings “Come in un nobil petto.” His singing is forceful and believable, and his dark voice dips into rage when he wishes that the “unworthy, coward perjurer tremble…” Leoni is equally indignant in “Come un nobil petto.”
Arlechino, Don Giovani’s man-servant, is a good counterbalance to his master. Don Giovanni thinks he is, but Arlechino is clever, acknowledging that, with regard to his master: “If there was not me, who, with my wisdom, could moderate his wild temper…” Tenor Augusto Valença sings with conviction, and is ideal for this buffo role. He has a pleasant, flexible voice, and comedic timing to spare in “Conservati fedele…,” and the subsequent duet with Don Giovanni, “Per esempio se il nemico.” In “Padre…Figlia” he entertains his employer by impersonating the male and female characters in an imaginary opera, singing the male role with a false bass voice, and the female, in falsetto. In “Eich bleibe ich stez ergeben” he parodies the German language as spoken by an Italian.
This recording would benefit with a more interesting singer in the role of Don Giovanni. Bartolo Musil, described in the liner notes as a bari-tenor, does not have the instrument to convey the narcissistic, careless, impudent, self-excusing, blame-projecting personality, tinged with the alluring masculinity essential to the character of Don Giovanni. Musil’s voice never manages to leave the back of his throat, and this limits him in showcasing the character’s virility in “No, non mi inganno…Dell’onda sdegnata.” Musil’s efforts are commendable in Act II Recitativo accompagnato “Don Giovanni che fai?” and the subsequent aria “Perché dal Cielo un fulmine…” (in which Don Giovanni bemoans his fate, fearful at the realization that the Commendatore will win in the end), however, here as before, Musil fails to reach the desired effect.
By far the star of this recording is soprano Francesca Lanza in the role of Donna Anna. Lanza’s crystal clear voice, beautiful timbre, and solid approach compliment her multi-faceted instrument. She can easily adapt to the different and contradicting emotions of her character: she is at once the dutiful, albeit defiant daughter (Faccia il mio Padre tutto quello che sa…) who indulges in the luxury of having feelings for the scheming and worthless Don Giovanni; and she expresses grief and anger in “Eccoci, o Genitor…” where she laments the Commendatore’s death and reproaches his killer. This in turn leads to open rage in the aria “Tutte le furie unite,” which foretells Queen of the Night’s “Der Hölle Rache Kocht in meinem Herzen.” Lanza is remorseful and supplicating in “Ombra del Padre amato,” a beautiful pensive aria with a valiant finale. In “Geme, la tortorella,” where Donna Anna compares herself to a turtledove, and Don Giovanni to a snake, Lanza displays her vocal dexterity with easily executed cadenzas, detailed staccato, and secure high notes.
Fabio Maestri securely leads the International Belcanto Orchestra, with attention to detail, and the singer’s capabilities. The string section, so essential to the opera, is superb.
Righini’s music is at times dramatic, amusing, simple, or elegant when required. It accurately portrays the action in the story, and it is always engaging. At times he effectively uses the same music to describe different emotions as in “Giusto Diel cos’ho veduto” where the chorus laments the Commendatore’s death. Arlechino joins in with a comical description of his heartbeat, “E ticche ticche tocche…” which brings to mind the final scene in Act I of Rossini’s Italiana in Algieri, “Va sossopra il mio cervello…Nella testa ho un campanello.”
There is a charming Quartetto in Act II, where the crescendo slowly builds, as each voice enters on alternating beats. The Chorus of Furies, “Fra bere furie orribile,” has a similar structure; all the voices blend at the point of Don Giovanni’s “gods of hell, appease your anger,” which leads to a final quartet between Donna Anna, Corallina, Arlechino, and Don Alfonso. This short pastoral arietta celebrates the joy after the storm.
Nunziato Porta’s libretto is credible, witty, fast paced, and unpretentious.
Bongiovanni has recorded two of Righini’s operas. One hopes the other thirteen will soon follow.
Daniel Pardo 2005
Il convitato di pietra
The New Penguin Opera Guide
© 2001 Amanda Holden
Biographical description of Vincenzo Righini, Louis Spohr and Dominick Argento
1995 Darlyn Bradford
Ball State University