Written in in 1820 for Rome and then revised in 1821 for Naples, Matilde di Shabran is Rossini’s last semiseria opera. A semiseria opera combines opera buffa with melodrama. Basically, it can be both silly and serious as long as everyone ends up alive at the final curtain. If you wish to see and hear a live performance of Mathilde di Shabran you’re essentially limited to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, which is where this DVD was recorded in 2012.
This is a very long opera. Its two acts last more than three and a half hours. Summarizing the plot would take more time and space than it’s worth. Inside this bloated affair is a comic opera that could be constructed solely from the first act. It would be about two hours long. But even Rossini with the bloat is better than almost anyone else. Basically, the tenor hates women (and it seems most everybody else). The soprano decides to make him fall in love with her. He does, but then falsely suspects her of treachery and orders her killed; this is the seria part. He discovers she was true and decides to kill himself, but doesn’t when Mathilde turns up alive, whereupon the soprano sings for a very long time while the tenor who has had most of the vocal action up to this point to himself stands around trying to look like he cares about what she’s warbling away about. She finally stops and the curtain falls. It’s much like the end of La Cenerentola.
Matilde di Shabran is mainly an ensemble opera with only a few arias – none for the tenor who has the hardest part. In order to realize the tenor role of Corradino, the conflicted tyrant of some unspecified part of Spain, you need a singer like Juan Diego Flórez. Fortunately, he sang the lead in this production. As far as I can tell he seems to be the only tenor who has sung Corradino in recent memory. As is typical of his singing his technique is fabulous as are his high notes. His sound is not caressing, but he’s such a phenomenon that it’s quibbling to make much of his shortage of vocal velvet.
The title role was sung by the young and very attractive Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko. Last season she gave seven performances of Elvira in Bellini’s I Puritani at the Met. She has a focused high soprano that has all the agility that Rossini requires which is a lot. Matilda di Shabran has more runs in it than a cholera ward.
There’s also a coloratura mezzo who plays a trouser role, Edoardo. Not only does she wear pants, she also has a beard and a mustache that she shaves off with a sword in the second act. She’s a prisoner of Corradino. They hate each other, but reconcile in the end. Anna Goryachova, another Russian, sang the role with style and lots of fioratura.
There are two baritone parts, Aliprando and Isidoro. The former Corradino’s doctor, the latter a poet. As this opera is very long they get to sing a lot. They’re in the show mainly to fill out the ensembles, though Isidoro does have a solo. Both Nicola Alaimo and Paolo Bordogna sang and acted their roles with highly professional competence.
The sets consisted of a platform and two spiral staircases vaguely resembling the double helix of DNA. The was no furniture in the first act. A few chairs were brought onstage in the second. There was a lot of walking up and down these stairs as well as dangling from them.
The opera was conducted with dispatch and grace by Michele Mariotti. He has thus far conducted 35 performances at the Met including the seven mountings of I Puritani featuring Ms Peretyatko mentioned above.
Rossini was incapable of writing an opera that didn’t have a lot of very interesting music in it and Matilde di Shabran is no exception. The most remarkable piece in the opera is a 13 minute long quintet in the first act. It depicts the woman hater Corradino’s shock, amazement, and befuddlement at being pierced to the marrow by Cupid’s arrow. This is the slow part. The second half is fast and portrays the tenor’s conflicting emotions over the inner turmoil he is engulfed by. The other singers comment with amusement on his predicament. The whole thing is a tour de force that only one of opera’s greatest composers could muster. Scratch that, nobody but Rossini could have written this marvel. The ensemble is so good that it throws the rest of the act out of balance. A two act Rossini opera has to have as boffo number at the end of Act 1, but this quintet comes a half an hour before the act concludes. While act’s finale is very good it is overwhelmed by the earlier quintet and comes as an anti-climax. Anyway, here’s the glorious quintet – Dallo stupore oppresso.
The opera is filled with gems studded throughout the Wagnerian length work. Here’s a short chorus that’s a marvel of invention. A group of unidentified women appear and tell Corradino that he’s a wretch for having condemned Mathilde to death – Mandare a morte.
In summary, this is an outstanding performance of a Rossini rarity that will interest anyone who loves bel canto opera in general and the Swan of Pesaro in particular even if the opera is way too long. Viva Rossini!
Matilde di Shabran
Matilde di Shabran: Olga Peretyatko
Edoardo: Anna Goryachova
Raimondo Lopez: Marco Filippo Romano
Corradino: Juan Diego Flórez
Ginardo: Simon Orfila
Aliprando: Nicola Alaimo
Isidoro: Paolo Bordogna
Contessa d’Arco: Chiara Chialli
Egoldo: Giorgio Misseri
Rodrigo: Ugo Rosati
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna
Conductor: Michele Mariotti
Stage Director: Mario Martone
Scenery: Sergio Tramonti
Costumes: Ursula Patzak
Lights: Pasquale Mari