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Gioachino Rossini: Torvaldo e Dorliska
14 Nov 2007

ROSSINI: Torvaldo e Dorliska

Between the efforts of recording companies Naxos and Opera Rara, Rossini-philes have been living in a golden age.

Gioachino Rossini: Torvaldo e Dorliska

Torvaldo - Huw Rhys-Evans, Tenor; Dorliska, his wife - Paola Cigna, Soprano; Giorgio, castle custodian - Mauro Utzeri, Baritone; Duca d'Ordow - Michele Bianchini, Bass; Ormondo, henchman of the Duke - Giovanni Bellavia, Bass-baritone; Carlotta, Giorgio's sister - Anna-Rita Gemmabella, Mezzo-soprano; Chorus of Servants, Soldiers, Peasants and Grenadiers. ARS Brunensis Chamber Choir (Chorus-master: Dan Kalousek). Czech Chamber Soloists Brno (Leader: Ivan Matyás). Alessandro de Marchi, Conductor and Harpsichord.

Naxos 8.660189-90 [2CDs]

$15.98  Click to buy

Operas that had middling (or less) success during the composer's lifetime have been recorded, with music that often strikes the ear as quite familiar, since Rossini, understandably, employed the scores as a sort of treasure chest to draw from for later projects.

And so in the Naxos recording of Torvaldo e Dorliska, the second theme of the overture will surely evoke smiles from many listeners, who may search their musical memories before identifying the tune from its use in Cenerentola. Torvaldo e Dorliska, however, is no comedy. Instead, Martina Grempler, in the booklet essay, argues that the precedent for the opera is Beethoven's Fidelio - a rescue drama centered on marital fidelity. Let that suffice for a description of the plot - historical commentary referenced in the essay indicates that the weakness of Cesare Sterbini's libretto doomed the opera. Naxos does provide a detailed track-by-track synopsis for those who want to follow every melodramatic twist and turn.

For the rest of us, the reward here is purely aural, as Rossini's score, while no lost masterpiece, possesses the style and creative energy of the master. Arias, duets, trios, quartets - the music streams by in rippling variety, with Rossini's orchestration skills, particularly with winds, always evident. Each of the title leads has a fine solo number in the first act. Soprano Paola Cigna (a good soprano name!) delivers her "Tutto è vanno" with energy and precision, with the runs precisely articulated in the cavatina. Occasionally, higher tessitura brings some acid into her tone; the middle is attractive enough. Tenor Huw Rhys-Evans (no reward for guessing his nationality) has an even more pleasing voice, all the way through a secure and ringing top. His scena, "Tutto è silenzio," is more sweet than potent, and it would be an excellent choice for any artist (think Juan Diego Florez) searching out rarer but rewarding arias.

The bad guy role, Duca d'Ordow, goes to a bass. Michele Bianchini has no big solo scene, but his sonorous voice has ample opportunity to sneer and threaten in various ensembles. His subordinates, who end up betraying him and helping the title characters, are well sung by baritone Mauro Utzeri (Giorgio) and bass-baritone Giovann Bellavia (Ormondo). Giorgio even gets the last aria leading into the joyous finale. In the small role of Giorgio's sister Carlotta, Anna-Rita Gemmabella finds herself in the spotlight as the drama thickens (at least supposedly) in act two - rather like Berta's bouncy number in the very different Barbiere. Gemmabella's warm mezzo suits the number, "Una voce lusinghiera," very well.

Conducting from the harpsichord, Alessandro de Marchi leads the Czech Chamber Soloists in a secure, detailed performance sensitive to the ostensible drama while pressing forward. Naxos compiled the recording from three performances dates during the 2003 Rossini in Wildbad Festival. The sound is fine, with little distracting stage noise.

Sooner or later Opera Rara may turn to this opera, but if they do, the performance had better employ superstars who can clearly outshine the more than capable singers on this Naxos set. For at budget price, this Torvaldo e Dorliska can be recommended to anyone with an affection for Rossini, or the lost glories of bel canto.

Chris Mullins

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