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Rossini La pietra del paragone (La Scala Milan 1812)

Baronessa Aspasia: Laura Brioli
Marchesa Clarice: Marie-Ange Todorovich
Cavalier Giocondo: Raúl Giménez
Count Asdrubale: Marco Vinco
Pacuvio: Paolo Bordogna
Macrobio: Pietro Spagnoli
Madrid Symphony Orchestra/Alberto Zedda
Production: Pier Luigi Pizzi

Opus Arte DVD OA0987D [Filmed live at the Teatro Real Madrid April 2007 Duration: 187 mins]

This production, originating at Pesaro 2002, has not made it into The Opera Critic save for a brief note in Spanish: - - una producción en clave de comedia elegante, rebosante de inteligencia y belleza plástica, que viene del Festival de Pesaro con un éxito colosal....

Music Web carries an earlier review of a Naxos CD: Despite its reputation amongst Rossini enthusiasts and scholars, ‘La pietra del paragone’ has fared poorly in the theatre and on record - - This performance does not convert me to the view held by some that ‘La pietra del paragone’ is the first full flowering of Rossini’s genius.

The improbable, not to say convoluted plot, involves the affluent Count Asdrubale who wants a wife who will love him for himself not his status or wealth. He is pursued by three widows and constructs a plot to be seen to be bankrupt which enables him to ascertain that it is only Clarice of the three who really loves him. She in turn tests the Count by disguising herself as her own twin brother and threatening to remove Clarice. Needless to say all ends happily. Most unusually in opera, a bass and a low mezzo or contralto sing the two lovers, the Count and Clarice - -

Anticipating a storm of apprecation and praise for this new OpusArte DVD, in short, this is the most entertaining live-videoed Rossini opera we have watched in years. The excellent casting is underpinned by an exceptional mise-en-scène, with a staging that takes you into the elaborate imagined setting of a country villa updated to c.1970s, and the cast of "idle rich weekenders" (Pizzi) into the auditorium of Teatro Reale with us.

I can't think of another opera DVD which makes you so feel that you are there... The orchestra plays with a light touch under Rossini specialist Alberto Zedda and balance is mostly good, though it does tend to slightly overwhelm the singers occasionally in the latter part of Act 1.

The useful Extras may best be seen first, which is not always the case. The illustrated synopsis (which we saw only afterwards) is helpful to prevent you easily getting mixed up amongst the characters. The short presentations by director and conductor are very pertinent and place this wildly underrated early opera by a twenty-year old genius in context.

I look forward to watching La pietra del paragone again very soon, partly to sort out the characters and their loves and quarrels. Put it on your list for Christmas presents.

Another DVD version from naive is imminent and will be reviewed, but no need to wait...

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also Dominic McHugh's fully illustrated and comprehensive review in musiccriticism.

Rossini La pietra del paragone (La Scala Milan 1812)

La Marcehesa Clarice – Sonia Prina
La Baronessa Aspasia – Jennifer Holloway
Donna Fulvia – Laura Giordano
Il Conte Asdrubale – Francois Lis
Il Cavaliere Giocondo – Jose Manuel Zapata
Macrobio – Joan Martin-Royo
Pacuvio – Christian Senn
Fabrizio – Filippo Polinelli
Chorus of the Teatro Regio, Parma & Ensemble Matheus/Jean-Christophe Spinosi

Direction, Designs and Video – Giorgio Barberio Corsetti & Pierrick Sorin
Film Director – Philipe Beziat
Costume Design – Cristian Taraborrelli
Lighting – Gianluca Cappellett

Recorded at the Chatelet, Paris, in January 2007
2 DVDs – Opera 161 minutes, Bonus Features 50 minutes

Naïve V5089

It feels a bit like a magician pulling white rabbits out of a top hat to be able to write about a second, and equally successful, DVD of La pietra del paragone to appear within the space of a month.  

This one is very much a production of the twenty-first century, with the latest video gadgetry replacing conventional stage design and practice.   

The cast act out the drama on an empty, blue coloured stage, making use of a miscellany of screens in the same shade of blue that will render them invisible to the eye of the cameras positioned centre stage, front.   To one side is a table top model of “the set”.  One camera focuses on the set, the others on the action.   Modern technology superimposes the images and projects them onto a series of giant screens above the stage.

The theatre audience were able to see the projections and the composite parts, and focus on whichever they chose.  For video presentation there are yet further options, and a variety of split screen permutations are offered.  It sounds complicated, but in practice it is great fun and matches well with the playful spirit of the piece. 

The cast are excellent.  Sonia Prina is in her element as Clarice, and the relative newcomer Laura Giordano is delightful as Fulvia.   Tenor Jose Manuel Zapata is outstanding, both for his flexible coloratura and sense of comic timing.  In the central role of the Asdrubale, Francois Lis occasionally sounds a little gruff, but his acting of the aloof Count is copybook.  Mention should also be made of Julien Lambert who manages much of the stage business as a silent Comedien.

The musicians of the Ensemble Matheus are in sparkling form under the baton of Jean-Christophe Spinosi and the Chorus of the Teatro Regio of Parma are kept on their toes. 

The whole opera is contained on one DVD and there is a second containing a generous amount of bonus material.  Finally, instead the usual plastic box, the two discs are enclosed in the end papers of a lavishly illustrated and interesting book.  

If I didn’t already have it, I would be sending an email plea to Santa to ask for this one to be included in my Xmas stocking. 

Serena Fenwick