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A touch of the stone

“Trove Thursday” turns its Rossini-150 series to one of the composer’s least known but tastiest comic gems La Pietra del Paragone with Julia Hamari, Justino Diaz, Alessandro Corbelli, Claudio Desderi and Paolo Barbacini conducted by Roberto Abbado

Having had Semiramide a few months ago, something lighter—and shorter—was called for,  although Pietra (“The Touchstone”) is categorized as a melodramma giocoso. It’s a delight full of effervescent ensembles and has long been one of my favorites but it’s done so rarely that many may not know it at all.

An early work, it precedes the better known Tancredi and L’Italiana in Algeri by just months. Its convoluted plot may put some off but it strikes me as no more unstageworthy than some others, but its leading mezzo part hasn’t been embraced by stars in the same way Italiana and Cenerentola have.

Both Clarice and Italiana’s Isabella were written for Rossini’s first prima donna Marietta Marcolini who also created roles in L’Equivoco Stravagante, Ciro in Babilonia andSigismondo. Ann Hallenberg recently put out an interesting CD of music written for Marcolini which also includes arias by Mayr, Paer, and others in addition to Rossini (though no Pietra).

Fiorenza Cossotto, not normally noted as a Rossini singer, did Clarice at La Scala in 1959

and Cecilia Bartoli performed the opera in Catania thirty years ago. Others who have taken on the Marchesa include Anna Maria Rota, Martine Dupuy and Raquel Pierotti who shared the role with Hamari at La Scala. I unfortunately missed a revival last summer by Wolf Trap Opera which featured the rising mezzo Zoie Reams.

The ever-adventurous Newell Jenkins and his Clarion Music Society performed Pietra in 1972 and then recorded it for Vanguard with Beverly Wolff and John Reardon as the tempestuous lovers. Those LPs though were probably best known for introducing José Carreras to most of the world and he continued to include Giocondo’s aria in his recital programs for a number of years.

Like many, I first noticed Hamari as Cornelia in Karl Richter’s monumentally lugubrious complete Giulio Cesare in which she’s about the only worthwhile feature (no, I don’t much care for Tatiana Troyanos’s dark and heavy Cleopatra). Her big Rossini claim-to-fame must be as Malcom in the wonderful RAI broadcast of La Donna del Lago with Montserrat Caballé, Franco Bonisolli and Pietro Bottazzo.

Her New York career was spotty—just two roles at the Met—Rosina and Despina from 1982-84 but she made a strong impression as Adriano in Wagner’s Rienzi with Opera Orchestra of New York in 1980 and then again in 1982.

My favorite Hamari recording is her Fidalma, the frisky maiden aunt in Daniel Barenboim’s surprisingly sparkling set of Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto matching Arleen Augér and her fellow-Hungarian-Julia Varady.

Diaz, her leading man today, was known in his day as quite a hotty (and he was still very handsome when I spotted him at the Met at Lincoln Center 50th Anniversary Gala last year) but I suspect he wouldn’t have risked the strutting peacock of an Asdrubale that Gianluca Margheri displayed in Pietra at last summer’s Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro.

Besides Hamari and Diaz, the remainder of the cast are native-born Italian Rossini stylists including the wonderful and underrated Desderi, Corbelli back when he still had some voice and Gloria Banditelli, perhaps best remembered for her performances of baroque music. Roberto Abbado was just 27 at the time of this broadcast and already a spirited bel canto conductor like his uncle Claudio. His fine work energized the Met’s recent Lucia di Lammermoor despite some notably bumpy casting.

Speaking of Marcolini roles, Bartoli sings her first-ever Isabella in Italiana tomorrow night at her own Salzburger Festspiele Pfingsten in a new production that will be repeated at the summer festival as well.

Look for at least two more Rossini works on “Trove Thursday” before this year is out.

 

Rossini: La pietra del paragone
Piccola Scala at the Edinburgh Festival
6 September 1982
Broadcast

Marchesa Clarice – Julia Hamari
Donna Fulvia – Marta Taddei
Baronessa Aspasia – Gloria Banditelli
Giocondo – Paolo Barbacini
Conte Asdrubale – Justino Diaz
Pacuvio – Alessandro Corbelli
Macrobio – Claudio Desderi
Fabrizio – Armando Ariostini

Conductor – Roberto Abbado

Pietra can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

Over 130 previous “Trove Thursday” podcasts remain available from iTunes for free, or via any RSS reader.