ROSSINI: Overtures (Martin Sauer/ Michael Halasz/ Zagreb Festival Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550236)
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Gioachino Rossini (1792 - 1868)
GioachinoRossini, one of the most successful and popular operatic composers of his time, was bornin Pesaro in 1792, five months after his parents' marriage. His father, a brass-player,and later teacher of the horn at the Bologna Accademia, had a modest career, disturbed bythe political changes of the period, as the French replaced the Austrians in NorthernItaly. Rossini's mother was a singer and as a boy Gioachino made his appearance with hisfather in the pit orchestra and from time to time as a singer with his mother on stage,going on to work as a keyboard-player in the opera orchestra.
Rossini'searly studies in music were with his father and mother, and with other teachers throughthe generosity of rich patrons. In childhood he had already started to show ability as acomposer and his experience in the opera-house bore natural fruit in a remarkable andmeteoric career that began in 1810 with the production of La cambiale di matrimonio in Venice in 1810. Therefollowed a series of operas, comic and tragic, until the relatively poor reception ofSemiramide in Venice in 1823 turned his attention to Paris. Under the Bourbon King CharlesX Rossini staged French versions of earlier works and, in 1829, Guillaume Tell. A contractfor further operas came to nothing when the King was replaced in the revolution of 1830 byLouis-Philippe, although eventually Rossini was able to have his agreed annuity restored.
In 1836 he returned to Italy and in spite of ill health concerned himself with the affairsof the Liceo Musicale in Bologna, but in 1853 took up residence once again in Paris, wherehe enjoyed until his death in 1868 a reputation as an arbiter of musical taste, a wit anda gourmet. During this last period of his life he wrote the series of pieces that hecalled the Sins of Old Age, a remarkable display of his gifts, now diverted from the worldof opera into a less spectacular form.
Lascala di seta (The Silken Ladder) and Il Signor Bruschino are both one act operas, thefirst staged in Venice in May 1812 and the second in the same city in January 1813. Theladder of the title is used by the hero Dorvil to visit his wife Giulia, forbidden tomarry by her guardian, in whose house she lives. Signor Bruschino, also derived from aFrench farce, centres on old Bruschino, whose son was to have married the heroine Sofia,but has been supplanted by Florville, whom all now believe to be the old man's son.
L'italianain Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers)was first staged in Venice in May 1813, the third Rossini opera to be mounted in the citythat year and the first of his full comic operas. A lively overture, with an ominousopening, introduces a plot in which the Italian girl, Isabella, who is sailing the seas insearch of her lover Lindoro, enslaved by the Bey of Algiers, is driven by shipwreck tothat country. The Bey falls in love with her but is outwitted as Isabella and Lindoro sailaway.
Almaviva, or L'inutile precauzione, later known as Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville),based on Beaumarchais and on a libretto thathad been used by Paisiello in 1782, was staged in Rome in February 1816, a disaster on thefirst night, through the hostility of Paisiello's supporters, but a success at its secondperformance. The sparkling brilliance of the overture is a prelude to the outwitting ofRosina's jealous guardian by Count Almaviva, abetted by the barber and factotum Figaro.
The drammagiocoso La Cenerentola (Cinderella), basedon Perrault's Cendrillon, was first producedin Rome in January 1817, written in some haste after the production in the preceding monthof the Shakespearian tragedy Otello inNaples. This was followed in May by the first production of La gazza ladra (The ThievingMagpie) at La Scala, Milan. The subject is, as with Cinderella, one that has an element ofpathos. A French servant-girl has been found guilty of stealing silver cutlery and hasbeen condemned to death, to be reprieved when the magpie of the title turns out to be thereal culprit.
Semiramide marked the end of Rossini'smeteoric career as a composer of opera in Italy. The libretto was adapted from Voltaireand the tragedy had served a number of earlier composers. Semiramis, Queen of Babylon, isin love with Assur and with him murders the king. She later falls in love with a young manwho turns out to be her son and is killed in error by Assur, killed in his turn by theyoung man, Arsace. To all this the overture makes a fitting introduction.
follows schiller's drama on the Swiss patriot. The opera was mounted at the Paris Opera inAugust 1829 and was to be re-staged time and again, but generally with considerable cutsin its original length of six hours. The overture is different in character from earlierRossini operatic overtures, consisting as it does of four sections of programmatic music.
Five solo cellos suggest alpine calm, followed by a storm and a pastoral scene in whichcor anglais, flute and triangle join. This leads to the well known music to the sound ofwhich so many celluloid heroes have ridden to the rescue of the spuriously innocent.
Zagreb, thesecond city in modern Yugoslavia, occupies an important place in the musical life of thecountry. The Zagreb Festival Orchestra is a special recording orchestra comprising the topmusicians from the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra, the Zagreb Radio Symphony Orchestra andthe Zagreb Opera Orchestra.
Born inHungary in 1938, Michael Halasz began his professional career as principal bassoonist inthe Philharmonia Hungarica, a position he occupied for eight years, before studyingconducting in Essen. His first engagement as a conductor was at the Munich GaertnerplatzTheatre, where, from 1972 to 1975, he directed all operetta productions. In 1975 he movedto Frankfurt as principal Kapellmeister under Christoph von Dohnanyi, working with themost distinguished singers and conducting the most important works of the operaticrepertoire. Engagements as a guest-conductor followed, and in 1977 Dohnanyi took him tothe Staatsoper in Hamburg as principal Kapellmeister.
In 1978Michael Halasz was appointed General Musical Director at the opera-house in Hagen, andthere has further developed his experience of the repertoire, while undertaking guestengagements, which included television appearances as conductor in English and Germanversions of the Gerard Hoffnung Music Festival, as well as work with the PhilharmoniaHungarica, the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and the HilversumRadio Orchestra.
For theMarco Polo label, Michael Halasz has recorded works by Richard Strauss, Anton Rubinstein,Schreker and Miaskovsky and for Naxos works by Tchaikovsky, Rossini and Beethoven.