Once the underdog of nineteenth-century Italian opera, Rossini is now acknowledged as its founding father.
We already know his comic mastery from Il barbiere di Siviglia and La Cenerentola (though the majority of his operas were serious), so it should come as no surprise that La gazzetta, which was composed seven months after the former and four before the latter, is equally charming and witty.
The real surprise is that this is the opera's first DVD release: the score is brimming with fabulous tunes and is well-structured, so one wonders why it has taken so long for the opera to catch on.
Perhaps the reason is that Rossini was ahead of his time. In a five-minute interview feature, the Nobel Prize-winning director Dario Fo proposes that the opera anticipated the twentieth century's society dominance by mass media. 'La gazzetta' is the newspaper in which the pompous Don Pomponio advertises for a husband for his daughter, Lisetta. The newspaper overshadows the entire production, with people selling and reading and talking about them from the word go. By setting this production from the Gran Teatro del Liceu, Barcelona, in the Roaring Twenties, Fo brings vivacity to the work, as well as drawing the parallels between the society portrayed in the opera and our own culture more clearly.
It's a tremendous, very lavish staging that includes a car for Pomponio to arrive in and a split-level stage. The opening scene sets the tone for the following two and a half hours: people are dancing the Charleston when roller-skaters zoom onto the stage and knock them over. This is operatic comedy at its most side-splitting.
On the whole, the Liceu brought together an extraordinary cast for this production. However, two of the main singers are not entirely to my taste, which is the only reason why this is not a five-star performance. I despaired of Bruno Praticò's manner of singing in Rossini's Barbiere at Covent Garden back in December 2005; he sings from the side of his mouth and has a dry tone. Sadly, his appearance as Don Pomponio on this DVD only confirms this as a leading facet of his performance style, though he has a compelling stage presence and a sense of the farcical. Lisetta is sung by Cinzia Forte, and to these ears she has a strident voice with too much vibrato. Her top notes are mesmeric, and by the end of the second act, she musters some more beautiful legato, but isn't that a bit too late?
These two aren't enough to stop the DVD being a top recommendation, however. As Alberto, Charles Workman is a bel canto tenor to give even Juan Diego Florez a run for his money. He has a very beautiful voice, with an easy coloratura even in the demanding Introduzione to Act 1. The quartet in the opening scene of the opera features two smaller characters that are sung with similar conviction: Simón Orfila is in lyrical voice as Monsù Traversen and Agata Bienkowska has an especial piquancy as Madama La Rose. As Filippo, the hotel manager, Pietro Spagnoli steals the show with a performance of wit and vocal stylishness. And Marisa Martins has a light touch as Doralice, perfect for this elegant music.
The orchestra is a combination of section leaders from the theatre's orchestra and student apprentices, all of whom blend well and play with verve. Maurizio Barbacini conducts with finesse, shaping the comedy and supporting the singers in equal measure.
Much of the score is assembled from other operas – parts were lost and have been added by the editors of a new edition, which is why the overture from La Cenerentola is used, for example. Yet La gazzetta is hysterically funny, with Doralice's aria 'Ah, so spiegar potessi' sung to puppets of chickens a highlight, and the inspiration in the construction of the witty scenarios (based on Goldoni) is Rossini at his best.
One for the collector or the opera virgin alike.
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