MUSIC / Sure of touch: La pietra del paragone - Snape Maltings

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The Independent Culture
Rossini's 'melodramma giocoso' La pietra del paragone ('The Touchstone'), written while the composer was only 20 years old, is generally considered his first comic masterpiece. Its premiere in 1812 established Rossini at the box office, and its initial run of 53 performances set a record that stood for 30 years. Despite this, it has little place in the modern repertory.

If opera houses won't stage such a work, then concert halls must help, and La pietra del paragone made a thoroughly entertaining piece in a semi- staged version at Monday's Port of Felixstowe Snape Prom.

Camerata Musicale, a company of young Italians picked by music director Claudio Desderi, brought a brio to their task, and even the orchestra weighed in with visual gags, the trombones doubling on percussion hilariously at the end.

Rossini's eye for social satire is already fully evident. A gallery of characters jockey for position at the eligible Count Asdrubale's party. Even Asdrubale and Clarice, idealistic lovers, test one another by deception, as the other guests gradually reveal their venality. Beneath the smart surface there beats a warm heart, however, and, typically for Rossini, the opera ends in reconciliation. The young soloists grasped the brilliant opportunities for comic playing eagerly.

Heading the cast were the cultured bass of Roberto Scaltriti's Asdrubale and the warm if sometimes inflexible alto of Lucia Rizzi's Clarice. Enzo de Matteo characterised the scoundrelly journalist Macrobio with rib-tickling assurance, and Carlo Morini brought the incompetent versifier Pacuvio to preposterous life. Paolo Barbacini was a little too reliant on a rather unfocused sotto voce, but in Patrizia Ciofi's Fulvia and Milena Storti's Baronessa we saw two lively portrayals of socialites on the make.

But if these were performances of high spirit and improvised humour, the musical ensemble took time to reach a level of pointed attack. The string-playing in some of the more quicksilver paragraphs was a little untidy, and the complex vocal ensembles did not always slot tightly enough together. Come the second act, however, Desderi drew a more precise response, and the journey to satisfaction was nicely achieved.

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