Rossini: La Pietra del Paragone
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The renowned Rossini expert Alberto Zedda, inspired by the creative brilliance of Pier Luigi Pizzi's production, leads a fizzing account of Rossini's 1812 comic opera - the composer's first La Scala commission. Filmed in 2007 with High Definition cameras and recorded in true surround sound.Press Reviews
"An elegant comedy, brimming with intelligence and expressive beauty, which had a colossal success at its opening in Pesaro... It is a heavenly blessing to listen to this Rossini ... This production has two particular strengths which bring it to the level of exceptionality: the first one is the musical direction by Alberto Zedda, the great Rossinian maestro of our time...He is just extraordinary...The second is the stage and set direction by Pier Luigi Pizzi. The Milan maestro is the Prince of theatre architecture...The singers believe the story and their performance is superb, both theatrically and musically." (El Pais)
"Updating the comedy to a modern holiday villa in the Romagna, hidden among tall, cool pine trees, we have a cast of venal freeloaders lounging round the pool, snacking off endless trays of food and slurping the count's best vintages...Alberto Zedda keeps both plot and music bubbling along deliciously. " (BBC Music Magazine)Cast
Laura Brioli (Baronessa Aspasia)
Marie-Ange Todorovich (Marchesa Clarice)
Raúl Giménez (Cavalier Giocondo)
Marco Vinco (Count Asdrubale)
Paolo Bordogna (Pacuvio)
Pietro Spagnoli (Macrobio)
Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Real; Alberto Zedda
Company: Teatro Real
Stage Director: Pier Luigi Pizzi
Catalogue Number: OA0987D
Date of Performance: 2007
Running Time: 189 minutes
Sound: DTS Surround 5.1; LPCM Stereo
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Anamorphic
Subtitles: EN, FR, DE, ES, IT
Label: Opus Arte
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Well, I was disappointed. This is obviously one of Rossini's less well-known works and certainly not one of his best. The work being reviewed appears to take place in the large rear garden of a very modern two-story villa during the timeframe of one afternoon. An odd assortment of colorfully dressed men and women seem to move from one table to another with drinks in hand while others attempt to play tennis or cavort in and around a small swimming pool. That seems to be the full content of the opera from beginning to end. There is not enough to interest oneself in any of the singers; most of who sing reasonably well. It is unfortunate that none of them appears very interesting as characters. Although much money appears to have been spent on the stageset, no changes occur throughout the work and the lighting, meant to represent a warm and sunny afternoon, is constant. Perhaps, if the time frame had extended into the early evening and for the lighting within the villa on stage to create a different ambience I might have become more interested in this work.
By contrast, the other version mentioned, has the terrific presence of the wonderfully expressive actress and singer Sonia Prima in a leading roll and she certainly makes the most of it. On top of this, having split screens and trick video effects with stagehands manipulating scenery in full view of the audience, but covered from head to toe in blue so that they do not appear against the blue screen, with the combined results appearing on screens suspended above the performers, prevent any possibility of boredom setting in. One is constantly waiting to see what new surprise will appear on stage next, and one is not disappointed.
As to this version, you have to wonder why it's not as good as the aforementioned Spinosi one. There a strong cast in Marco Vinco, Pietro Spagnoli (who will go onto bigger and better things at the Met), a young Paolo Bordogna (currently the world's foremost buffo singer) and amazingly Raul Gimenez probably enticed out of near retirement for the Spanish audience who does a fantastic job - his 'Quell'alme pupille io serbo nel seno' always gets me and it's the best version of this aria i've heard. I think the Clarice with Marie-Ange Todorovich is a weak point though, she's capable as a singer but is unconvincing in the role.
It's conducted by Alberto Zedda the guru of Rossini performance and long associated with the Pesaro Rossini festival, who gets the whole thing moving along at a jaunty pace. The setting has a 'Dolce Vita' feel to it as the story could transpose to anywhere, anytime you have someone with wealth and a couterie of hangers-on.
The glimpses of that audience in Madrid though is a real downer. Is it characteristic of a Spanish audience? Spagnoli like to audience walk in some of his productions but here it looks like he's walking through a funeral assembly!
In any case - If you're a Rossini lover or like works from this early 1800 period of emerging Italian opera - do yourself a favour and get into La Pietra. You'll find for some magical reason that you keep wanting to come back to La Pietra.
Personally I think there is room in the catalogue for both as both are well-sung and well recorded. Both are updated to modern times and this requires a complete suspension of disbelief on the part of the viewer. But surely that was always the case as the story is so, well, unbelievable.
A major difference between the two is that the rival version on Naive makes use of large display screens to project enlarged images of the singers superimposed within various settings and with various artefacts. This is supposed to be witty - and so it is - the first time. I, however, have continued to enjoy it increasingly as I find the singers more dramatically successful and I now find the characterisation of the version being considered here inherently duller by comparison. The orchestral playing on original instruments is also far sharper and incisive as conducted by Spinosi.
So there you have it. For me the choice is clear - get the other version with Spinosi conducting with total flair.