“Rossini’s inherent Spanishness” disc review of España alla Rossini by Fernando Fraga

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“Rossini’s inherent Spanishness” disc review of España alla Rossini by Fernando Fraga

“One can say that Gioachino Rossini enjoyed a special relationship with our country, if one keeps in mind that the two basic ties that can bind one to this relationship are:  the bed and the pocket. Isabel Colbrán, his first wife was from Madrid; his banker, (Alejandro) Aguado was Sevillian by birth although he later became a French national.  There are other less prosaic details that allows us to  unite the Swan of Pessaro to our country.  Thanks to a Spanish prelate from Madrid Manuel Fernández Varela, we owe the sublime composition of his Stabat Mater.

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Rossini Stabat Mater and Spain: Frontspiece of an early edition of the Stabat Mater; Convento of San Felipe del Real in Madrid. Archdeacon Manuel Varela and mezzo Emma Albertazzi, interpreter of the first complete performed version of the Stabat Mater in Paris.

His most popular works, those which never lost its contact with the public such as the Barber of Seville as everyone knows, and the setting of his astonishing Matilde di Shabran, take place in a Spanish locale.  The first Almaviva of Barbiere was the Sevillian born Manuel García, father of Malibran and Viardot, interpreters of the first order (especially the former) of several of Rossini’s titles. Soprano Lorenza Correa, who was from Malaga and was the first Zenobia in Aureliano in Palmira in 1813 at La Scala in Milan, as well as essaying the role of Rosina in the first Madrid production of the Barber of Seville, which took place in the Spanish capital.

During his childhood tournées to the royal courts of Europe, Mozart never crossed the Pyrenees. Neither Bellini or Donizetti stepped on Spanish soil, although the second one could have planned it for himself, if we keep in mind that 10 of his opera works take place throughout the geography of the land (one in a former Spanish colony: Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo).

Three decades before Verdi’s visit, Rossini arrived in Madrid on February of 1831, were he was received with delirium by its residents, and was festooned regally by Ferdinand VII and his Neapolitan wife Maria Cristina. Even the King’s brother, the infante Don Francisco, was capable of singing for him Azur’s aria from Semiramide (his favorite piece) as an unexpected and surprising homage.  We have no record of the reaction of the composer.

Within the collection of songs composed by Rossini figure many with rhythm, themes, texts or dedications to persons that have to do with Spain. On that basis, the happy idea of dedicating a disc to these theme came into being, which logically carries the title of España alla Rossini, the authors of which are the North American mezzo soprano, who has ties to Spain for artistic reasons (perhaps her most salient one) Anna Tonna and the pianist Emilio González Sanz.

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Mezzo soprano Anna Tonna and pianist Emilio Gonzalez Sanz

It is a juicy program. It begins with a song the text of Émilien Pacini, the son of Rossini’s French music editor, A Granada, translated later on into Spanish by non other than Ventura de la Vega, the poet and playwright of the book for the zarzuela Jugar por fuego by Barbieri.  Rossini dedicated this song to Isabel II of Spain.  The disc concludes with “O giorno sereno” sung by four voices and piano, giving the opportunity for the duo of voice and piano to incorporate Cuarteto Vocal Cavatina and Aurelio Viribay to the disc with a world premiere recording of this piece.  It is a perfect ending to this new sound register, as Rossini composed it in honor of the birth of one of the sons of his banker Aguado; the child is simply baptized with the names Artur0, Olimpo, Jorge.

The rest of the program belong to diverse compositional eras of the son of Pesaro; some are well known such as “La promessa” with verses by Metastasio, or “L’invito” with verses by Count of Pepoli, the librettist of Bellini’s I puritani; others less frequently heard such as “La vuida del náufrago”, as well as the song with text attributed to the Baron of Santo Magno, “Amori Scendete”, a composition realized during his Spanish voyage in 1831, taking up a composition that he had started ten years before in Naples, and which autograph belongs to the House of the Dukes of Alba.

It is remembered in the disc, as a sort of thanks and nod the role that the archdeacon Varela played in the creation of that Stabat Mater, of which one should never cease to sing praises to, the inclusion of the mezzo soprano’s Fac ut portem; it does not sound bad at all in proximity with the  Zorzico, the Spanish tirana and boleros with text by Metastasio in a quartet grouping that begins with Mi lagnerò tacendo; the character of Loadice sings this same melody in act II of Siroe Rey di Persia; these are verses that Rossini idolized, if we are to judge upon the fact that he musicalized them in numerous occasions and different opportunities;  rumor had it that the list extended to the hundreds, another exaggeration among the many anecdotes told about about the popular but enigmatic author.

Two items from the disc that should be especially noted:   the tirana for two voices Les amants de Séville from the third volume of Sins From My Old Age, due to the limpid female voice summing up to the seductive timbre and delicious sound of the Madrilian tenor Miguel Borrallo.

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The other item is the vibrant Spanish song (Canzonetta spagnuola); the possibility exists that the text was excerpted by Colbran herself, perhaps in a moment of drunken inspiration, “En medio a mis colores”.  A delicious melody that originates in Ermione and later in a melody that Rossini was able to incorporate (in his opera) Semiramide when the queen of Babylonia makes her majestic entrance on the stage; the adaptation of this same melody is unique to his gifts, and could only be associated with a genius such as his.  This song was unveiled to us by the great Marilyn Horne, and later taken up with special charm by Cecilia Bartoli. The present execution,  includes with assured taste the rich accompaniment of castanets played by  Cristina Gómez Tornamira the castanet artist and the pianist effect a crescendo of great originality and hair raising abandon.  And it is here that we find the central point of what characterizes this musical duo: Anna Tonna with her clear mezzo soprano of uniform registers, musical and committed, of fresh and youthful timbre and of immediate simpatico to the listener; Emilio González Sanz, a pianist full of rhythm (in this case an item of the utmost importance) with rich and piercing sonority, that comes together and accompanies as an infallible compliment to the stylistic play of his partner.  One can hear that both know how to give each other’s part its sense, and we can perceive the love and enjoyment of interpreting this music, just as surely as the author had when he composed it.

For the next 150th anniversary of the death of Rossini (in 2018), this disc could be considered, due to its excellent thesis and its supreme achievement and cared for presentation, as a good starting point for the expected and not to be done without celebrations.

Fernando Fraga is a noted Rossini scholar and author of Rossini (1998) Verdi (2000) as well as a frequent collaborator and critic for Radio Nacional de Espana and the Spanish classical music magazine Scherzo.

The review as it appeared in the Spanish online classical music magaine El Arte de la Fuga can read following the link below:

“La españolidad de Rossini” (published on October 6 of 2015) by Fernando Fraga

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