Review of the Rossini Opera Festival 2022: La Gazzetta
(Photo: ROF/Amati Bacciardi)
There are many operas that rarely see the light of day. Even some works by great composers are fortunate to receive more than an occasional staging; just think of the early works of Wagner or Verdi. Often this neglect is unjustified, but sometimes it is 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, seems to fall into the latter category. Yes, it has its fair share of appealing melodies and light-hearted narration, no more complex than normal for a typical opera buffa. And, it is quite fun and does not tire the mind. But “La Gazzetta” lacks the zip and fizz that Rossini is so good at injecting into his comedies. Too often watching it felt like the director was looking to introduce more life and movement into the scenes. There were also excessive recitative passages, sometimes quite boring. It is certainly not on the same level as “Il Barbieri di Siviglia” which immediately preceded it, nor “La Cenerentola” which was to be his next comedy.
It premiered at the Teatro dei Fiorentini in Naples in 1816. Rossini is said to have spent a lot of time on opera as it was to be his first comic opera for the city, a genre that held a special place in Neapolitan culture. It was therefore important that he achieve 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”, requiring the librettist Giuseppe Palomba to adapt his text to the pre-existing music , while the recitatives and two arias were provided by an anonymous composer. Not a particularly auspicious birth, by any means, but not abnormal for the times.
From the start, the text was criticized with phrases such as “poetic guts” and “unworthy of critical attention”. Whether or not the opera as a whole was a hit when it premiered is debatable. Scholars have divided opinions on the matter, but we know that after a revival in Palermo in 1828 it disappeared from the scene until 1976, when it was performed in Vienna. It has since been staged only rarely.
Carniti fails in its attempt to liven up the drama
Director Marco Carniti and his team, made up of scenographer Manuela Gasperoni, costume designer Maria Filippi and lighting designer Fabio Rossi, were commissioned to stage this 2015 revival of “La Gazzetta”. Although not an easy task, they have had some success but could not make up for the sluggish periods that spice up the work.
Carniti’s basic idea was to place the whole opera in the lobby of a Parisian hotel. On the face of it, this seemed like a reasonable decision, as it’s a place people have to drop by if they’re registered there, and which will inevitably lead to chance encounters with strangers and possibly friends and acquaintances. It also offers the possibility of a bar area for socializing. Unfortunately, Gasperoni’s achievement was somewhat disappointing as it consisted of little more than a white overlay on an oblong block which served as a reception desk and rotated to provide different perspectives – although for what purpose, other than to create movement, was unclear. On other occasions, the stage was completely empty of scenery.
He chose to set the work in the 1950s, saying that at that time Paris was the center of the art world, a time when social barriers were breaking down and marrying someone outside of one’s class was more palatable, in a pointless attempt to explain Lisetta and Alberto’s relationship. If nothing else, it at least allowed Filippi to design some pretty striking and beautiful costumes, which were all black and white in the first act, and more colorful in the second act.
Carniti, aware of the need to add more life and energy to the drama, made some successful and interesting additions, the most imaginative of which was having the non-speaking minor role of Tommasino portrayed as a bellhop-cum-concierge , miming his way through the opera in an exaggerated way, which made the recitative passages more bearable and elicited frequent ripples of laughter from the audience.
Some ideas, however, were bizarre to say the least. When Filippo arrived disguised as a Quaker, he had him dressed as an Imperial Chinese Mandarin with a group of servants. It’s all very colorful, but how it fit with 1950s France, or its ideas about the breakdown of social barriers is a mystery.
His handling of scenes was quite imaginative and often amusing. The duel scene, for example, was particularly well-crafted, which escalated to the point where the fighters were armed with Star Wars-esque lightsabers.
Yet despite this, his efforts haven’t proven to be enough to keep audiences fully engaged. To be fair to Carniti, however, directing “The Gazzette” was never going to be an easy task: the quality of the narrative just isn’t strong enough.
A solid group of singers
Having played buffo characters many times, Carl6o Lepore can be counted on to deliver a good performance. He knows exactly what he’s doing, he always has the right facial expressions and gestures, his posture has just the right amount of exaggeration and there’s always an off-the-cuff quality to his acting that lights up the stage. His essay for 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 indignation, d bombast and exasperation, but ultimately manages to retain the public’s sympathy. Likewise, her singing was perfectly suited to the role. He knows exactly how to make the most of his lines, accentuating, exaggerating and emphasizing them with precision to maximize their impact, supported, of course, by suitable facial expressions. His delivery of the typical Rossini rapid-fire pattern was lively, clear and articulate.
His self-absorbed daughter Lisetta, who loved nothing more than a hard day’s shopping, was played by soprano Maria Grazia Schiavo. She produced a lively and engaging performance, but not without its issues. Clearly most at ease when singing in her upper register, she attacked her lines with unbridled enthusiasm, confidently engaging in flights of intricate coloratura and energetic embellishments. There was nothing mannered or mechanical about her singing, and she conveyed her emotions wonderfully. However, the lack of restraint acted like a double-edged sword, as she often lost the necessary precision and, on occasion, her breathing became heavy and intrusive. His transition between registers was also at times awkwardly unpleasant. Overall, however, the abandon with which she engaged with her character proved to be adequate compensation.
Baritone Giorgio Caoduro produced a satisfying and well-sung performance as a serious hotel owner. Possessing a strong, resonant and full-bodied voice that carries the emotions well, he showed quality throughout, with his act two aria, “Quando la fama altera”, in which he showed off his vocal versatility with a pleasant passage from coloratura, proving to be one of the highlights of the evening.
Tenor Pietro Adaíni was split into the role of Lisetta’s lover, Alberto, whom he referred to as a heart-type on the sleeve. Although his voice had an attractive soft timbre, well suited to the role, which he used with some success to shape lyrically appealing lines, when he moved into the upper register the voice tended to tighten and lose some of its appeal.
Mezzo-soprano Andrea Niño produced a beautifully sung and expressive performance as Madame Le Rosa. She possesses a bright, clear, firm and versatile voice which she used convincingly to characterize the role.
Mezzo-soprano Martiniana Antonie showed talent in the role of Doralice, delivering a bubbly and versatile performance, enough to suggest we’ll hear from her a lot in the future.
Doralice’s father, Anselmo, was successfully tried out by bass Alejandro Baliñas, while baritone Pablo Gálvez was impressive in the minor role of Monsù Traversen.
Conductor Carlo Rizzi produced a pleasingly detailed rendition of the Orchestra Sinfonica G Rossini, where precision and accuracy often trumped brio and fluidity, but overall was beautifully crafted , with skillfully mastered dynamics, rhythm and balance. 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 has been paid to the balance between the stage and the pit.
In the end, this presentation of “La Gazzetta” did not take off. On the contrary, it hung around, amusing in places and never bothering anyone. Not that this is the fault of any of the constituent parts: the singers were fully engaged and on the whole sang well, the orchestra showed quality throughout, and Carniti took imaginative steps to bring it to life to drama. The problem rather comes from the opera itself: it is simply not very good! The fact that Ernesto Lama’s excellent mimed performance as Tommasino received more applause than most singers tells you all you need to know, and it’s not meant to be a criticism of Lama, or the singers. .