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Recordings

Gioachino Rossini: Matilde di Shabran
21 Mar 2007

ROSSINI: Matilde di Shabran

When Matilde di Shabran was premiered in Rome on Feb. 24, 1821, it was billed as a “melodrama giocoso” (which is the equivalent of an opera semiseria), somewhere between an opera buffa and an opera seria in character.

Gioachino Rossini: Matilde di Shabran

Annick Massis (Matilde), Juan Diego Florez (Corradino), Prague Chamber Choir

Decca 475 7688 4 DHO3 [3CDs]

$49.98  Click to buy

Such. opera semiserie generally have elements of both comedy and pathos. Matilde di Shabran, is unusual in that the pathos is mixed with some dramatic incidents, especially in Act II, but it also has quite a bit of buffoonery. It turned out to be the last light opera he wrote for Italy, although he did write two other such operas (Il viaggio a Rheims and Le Comte Ory) for France a few years later.

The libretto by Giacomo Ferretti was originally very long and complicated, and Rossini soon realized that he could not finish it in time. He turned to his friend, the composer Giovanni Pacini, for help, and Pacini composed something like six numbers. The version given in Rome also included some self-borrowings from earlier operas. Most of these were removed when the work was given in Naples on Jan.21, 1822. But one duet by Pacini apparently remained. This is the cabaletta to the duet between Matilde and Aliprando in Act I (track19—Ah di veder gia parmi), which Pacini later used in his opera Il Corsaro (Rome, 1831), where it was used as the stretta to a terzetto. This terzetto was recorded in its entirety by Opera Rara as part of their CD “Paventa insano”, which consists of excerpts from unusual Mercadante and Pacini works.

After Naples, where it was performed as Bellezza e cuor di ferro, Matilde was given all over Europe under one of its three titles (the third being Corradino). Outside Europe, it was produced in Brazil, Algeria, Mexico, and the U.S. (NYC on Feb. 10, 1834). It continued to be given regularly until around 1850. Florence, however, heard it as late as 1892, after which it disappeared for over 80 years. It’s first post-World War II revival was in Genoa in 1974, when the original 1821 version with Pacini’s additions was given. It vanished again, only to be heard in its revised version in Pesaro in 1996. Bruce Ford was originally scheduled to sing the tenor role, but withdrew, and was replaced by Juan Diego Florez, making an auspicious Italian debut. It was later given in Bad Wildbad, and then for a second time in Pesaro in 2004 with Florez again singing Corradino and Annick Massis as Matilde . It is this performance that is presented by Decca Classics.

The plot has some unusual aspects, featuring a different type of hero, Corradino, who is a combination of petty tyrant and mysoginist. Corradino starts out hating just about everybody, especially women and poets, but winds up getting the girl in the end. She is a bit of a spitfire, with a ready answer for everything. In the finale of Act I, she charms Corradino out of everything except his pants. Other characters include Isidoro, a wacky poet, Aliprando, the castle physician, and Edoardo, the son of Raimondo who owns a neighboring castle and is on bad terms with Corradin, as well as the Contessa d’Arco, who has designs on Corradino herself. The Contessa manages to throw suspicion on our heroine in Act II by claiming that she had freed Edoardo and producing a forged letter. Corradino believes the Countess, sentences Matilde to death by being thrown off a cliff into the raging torrent below, and orders Isidoro to do the dirty deed. Isidoro soon returns to announce that Matilde is dead, after which Edoardo relates that his jailer had been bribed by the Countess to loosen his bonds. Corradino is horrified at the thought of having put to death an innocent woman, when, surprise of surprises, she turns up, very much alive, and all ends well.

The libretto of the revised version has relatively few arias and duets, but an unusually high number of ensembles. Thus, there are four major ensembles: a quartet for male voices, a quintet, a sextet, and a lengthy finale to the second act. Even the “love duet” for Matilde and Corradino, which is a part of the first act finale, becomes a quartet since two of the other characters are hiding behind some columns, and comment on the action. The hero and heroine have only one aria between them, that being Matilde’s rondo finale. On the other hand, Eduardo has two arias (one in each act), Isidoro has one and Aliprando has an extended solo, with the participation of the chorus in the introduction. Corradino did have an aria in the Rome version, but that was removed for Naples since it was a self-borrowing from another Rossini opera.

Both of the principal artists should be fairly familiar to collectors of 19th century operas. Annick Massis has recorded La dame blanche for EMI, several works for Opera Rara, including Meyerbeer’s Margherita d’Anjou, and participated in the previously mentioned CD of Mercadante and Pacini rarities. Juan Diego Florez is the leading exponent of Rossini’s light roles of the day, having also recorded Le Comte Ory and a DVD of the Barber of Seville, as well as several aria recitals. He is regarded by some as the finest tenore leggero of the recorded era, and is gifted with a brilliant top and great ability with coloratura. I am also very much impressed by the basso cantante Marco Vinco, and predict a bright future for him. Other fine relatively new singers in the recording include the mezzo Hadar Halevy who sings Edoardo and the buffo Bruno de Simone, the Isidoro of the recording.

I enjoyed this opera very much, and can recommend it to fans of Rossini and/or bel canto without hesitation.

Tom Kaufman © 2007

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