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Flórez's Breakthrough

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Rossini, Matilde di Shabran, Annick Massis, Juan Diego Flórez, Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia, Riccardo Frizza (released on September 26, 2006)
Being a cover or a replacement singer is not all that glamorous or exciting unless you end up on stage, and then it can launch a career. At the 1996 Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, tenor Bruce Ford had to withdraw from a performance of Rossini's obscure opera Matilde di Shabran. A mostly unknown Peruvian tenor named Juan Diego Flórez, then just 23 years old, took his place in the role of Corradino. It was again with Rossini, The Barber of Seville, that he ultimately premiered at the Metropolitan Opera a few years ago, and just last season to Washington in L'Italiana in Algeri. This recent recording, cobbled together from five live performances of the Pesaro revival of Matilde di Shabran in the summer of 2004, is a nice way to revisit the scene of Flórez's first triumph.

The libretto of Matilde di Shabran, o sia Bellezza, e Cuor di ferro, credited to Jacopo Ferretti (author of the libretto for the delightful La Cenerentola), was a hack job, a case study for the dramatic failures of Italian opera. Faced with a rush commission intended for Rome in 1820, Rossini called upon Ferretti to shoehorn a story stolen from one of Méhul's opera into a new libretto. Limiting his self-borrowing to a few pieces, Rossini ran out of time composing the score. He was saved by Giovanni Pacini, who supplied a few numbers and most of the recitatives for the Rome premiere (with none other than Niccolò Paganini as concertmaster and conductor). At a revival in Naples later that year, Rossini substituted his own pieces for those of Pacini. Matilde di Shabran was performed in Pesaro in 1996 to coincide with the publication of Jürgen Selk's new critical edition of the opera, based on the all-Rossini Neapolitan version.

Annick Massis in the finale of Matilde di Shabran, Pesaro 2004

Flórez has a clear, agile tenor voice as Corradino, and if he sounded as good in 1996 as he did in 2004, it is not difficult to see how he ended up with a fine career. His high notes have a characteristic sweet ring, calibrated well with the lower part of his voice, and his fioriture are almost faultless. The role, both serious and comic as the macho Spanish nobleman who falls helplessly in love, is suited to Flórez's strengths. As the object of Corradino's love, Matilde, French soprano Annick Massis turns in another solid performance, especially in the lengthy cavatina-cabaletta that concludes the opera, captured in video from one of the 2004 Pesaro performances and now on YouTube, of course. The supporting cast, Prague Chamber Choir, and Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia all give admirable work, too, especially at the sometimes breakneck tempi imposed by conductor Riccardo Frizza. Special mention must be made of Israeli mezzo-soprano Hadar Halevy, in the pants role of Edoardo. Her Ah! perché, perché la morte / Ah! Se encora un'altra volta ei ritorna in Act III complemented the well-played and difficult horn obbligato, which Paganini performed on the viola at the premiere because the horn player was ill. This work, although obscure, shows Rossini near the height of his compositional powers, in the last seasons before he left Italy for Paris.

Decca B0006859-02


Anonymous said...

That sweet ring's a-comin' to Carnegie Hall on March 10, baby! Psych!

Charles T. Downey said...

Ah, yes, finally rescheduling that recital. He has also been good, I've heard, in "La Fille du Regiment" in London. A review of the new "Fille" DVD is forthcoming.