Matilde di Shabran
Peretyatko, Goryachova, Chialli; Flórez, Bordogna, N. Alaimo, Orfila; Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Comunale, Bologna, Mariotti. Production: Martone. Decca 074 3813 (2 DVDs), 074 3816 (Blu-ray), 220 mins., subtitled
Does any modern-day singer hold a firmer monopoly on a role than Juan Diego Flórez's grip on Corradino, the comically obdurate antihero of Rossini's Matilde di Shabran?That was the virtuoso turn that, back in August 1996, famously kick-started both his international career and a renewed lease on life for the long-neglected Matilde, when, at the startlingly early age of twenty-three, he tackled it on short notice for the opera's debut at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro. In 2004, by then a touted star, he returned to the role and the venue in a new production by Mario Martone, which traveled to London's Royal Opera in 2008 and was given an encore in Pesaro in 2012 — with Flórez as the only fixture. It's the last of these four excursions that's preserved here, and it's probably, overall, the best.
Corradino — high-flying and fearsomely florid — may have become, courtesy of Flórez, the opera's star vehicle, but Matilde's title tells otherwise, as does its subtitle, Bellezza, e Cuor di Ferro,wherein beautyclaims primacy over an iron heart. That's the gist of the opera's plot: the misanthropic, misogynistic, bellicose Corradino melts into sputtering drool in the company of the beautiful, unflappable Matilde, who's decisively set her cap for him. Matilde is billed as a melodramma giocoso,and after a jolly Act I, Act II strikes a soberer note when, tricked by another of his would-be ladyloves into thinking her rival false, Corradino condemns Matilde to be hurled from a cliff-top into the "raging torrent" below. But all turns out happily: his executioner of choice is a good-natured Neapolitan poet, whose report of Matilde's demise turns out to have relied heavily on poetic license. Her name cleared, Corradino's apology (and his marriage proposal) accepted, she asserts in a brilliant rondo finale that whatever men may think, it's women who ultimately enjoy the upper hand.
And so they do in this performance, where, for all Flórez's expected excellence — and he's not just in fine vocal form; his comic skills have never been more winning — the two leading ladies command the show. Looking smashingly stellar in the production's signature red dress — the rare splash of color amid the prevalent blacks, browns and grays — Olga Peretyatko inhabits the title role as if it, too, were tailored for a perfect fit, singing with an ideal balance of warmth and sparkle, dispatching her runs and roulades with graceful aplomb and deploying a fan with disarming insouciance.
As the young prisoner of war Edoardo — another of Rossini's trousered mezzos, and the opera's one fully serious leading role — her compatriot Olga Goryachova is tremendously pleasing, with a handsome voice and presence and an eloquently emotional delivery of her two big arias. Chiara Chialli, as the nasty Contessa, makes a lively foil for Peretyatko in their Susanna–Marcellina-like exchange of barbs; so does Nicola Alaimo, as Corradino's doctor and Matilde's matchmaking confidant, in a parade-of-feminine-wiles duet that hints at Norina's and Malatesta's in Don Pasquale. As the wandering bard, Paolo Bordogna happily flexes his ever-dependable vocal and comedic muscles.
It's a terrific cast, and conductor Michele Mariotti makes sure this lengthy, ensemble-driven opera moves with sleek but playful precision. Martone's staging, within Sergio Tramonti's unit set — a pair of winding staircases, appropriately iron — is clear and clever and mercifully concept-free. For anyone who doesn't yet know this splendid score — performed here in its all-Rossini Neapolitan version of 1821 — this is a perfect introduction. For those of us who already know and love it, it's pretty perfect, too.
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