There might be nothing in the world as joyous as a Rossini overture. Il Signor Bruschino is considered one of Rossini’s minor works but about 30 seconds into the overture you are officially in “Rossiniland” (the theme of this new video staged by the Pesaro Rossini Opera Festival in 2012). The violins tap the orchestra stands in a persistent knocking sound and the piece just bubbles along until its inevitable accelerating crescendo.
Il Signor Bruschino was written in 1813, when Giachino Rossini was only 21 years old. It’s a one-act charmer of an opera buffa. You can already hear what a strong voice Rossini had as a composer—in addition to the toe-tapping overture Rossini begins the opera with a sweet but slightly ironic serenade for the opera’s protagonist Florville. “Deh, tu m’assisti amore” sounds very much in the style of “Ecco ridente.”Gaudenzio’s philosophical opening aria “Nel teatro del gran teatro” has all the requisite cynicism you’d expect from Rossini.
Rossini’s gift for melody is ever-present: even a small tune like “Per un figlia gia pentito” is utterly delightful and developed into an insanely catchy patter trio for tenor, bass, and baritone. Sofia’s mournful aria “Ah, donate il caro sposo” is sweet and winning before it turns suddenly into a fiery tune that resembles “Der Hölle Rache.” There are many moments in the opera where you can hear ideas and themes that Rossini would develop more fully in his buffa masterpieces Il barbiere di Siviglia, La Cenerentola and L’Italiana d’Algeri.
The opera’s lack of presence in the general repertoire might have to do with its plot, which seems to wrap all of opera buffa’s cliches into one opera. Clever young lovers? Check. Forced marriage? Check. Mistaken identities? Check. And so on. Plus, with only one act and a running time of 90 minutes, the work might be considered too frothy to justify a revival by a major opera house.
This is exactly the reason Pesaro’s Rossini Opera Festival is the perfect avenue to present this work. I won’t point out the links, but on Youtube you can find two earlier performances from Pesaro. One is from 1988 and Mariella Devia is the Sofia. Another from 1997 has a very young Juan Diego Florez as Florville.
The 2013 festival performance is a fun, colorful performance. The festival hired a Florentine group called Teatro Sotterraneo to direct the production. It’s set in a theoretical theme park named “Rossiniland” and there are little arrows pointing to the direction of other “attractions’ like La Gazza Ladra. The performance is occasionally interrupted by theme-park renditions of some of Rossini’s most famous tunes like the “Lone Ranger” theme.
The characters of Il Signor Bruschino are dressed in somewhat quirky, cartoonish period 18th century costumes while the amusement park workers occasionally watch. The blocking and personregie are fairly standard opera buffa schtick.
The cast is decent, if not spectacular. Maria Aleida‘s (Sofia) voice is somewhat scratchy and the timbre is not very sweet, but she does have great top notes. David Alegret (Florville) has a sweet, full-bodied tenor voice that’s thankfully free from the thin nasality that infects many Rossini tenorinos.
The lower voices were old vets (Carlo Lepore as the Figaro-like mover and shaker Gaudenzio, Robert de Candia in the title role) and they both showed experience with the style and especially with patter that is actually now rather rare in international houses.
The real surprise was conductor Daniele Rustioni. I had hitherto never heard of him but he really conducted exactly the way opera buffa needs to be conducted: with an urgency and sprightliness that kept the evening bubbling along.
This video can pretty much be recommended without reservations. It’s a delightful performance of a delightful gem of an opera. It’s the kind of preserved video performance that makes me want to take a trip to Rossini-land (aka the Pesaro festival) in the near future.