GIOACCHINO ROSSINI – ZELMIRA                                                                                                     NAXOS RELEASE OF TRIPLE CD SWR 8.660468-70

Stendhal loved Rossini, as did Metternich. So did the German and Austrian critics who showered Zelmira with praises when Rossini decided to take it and its original cast abroad after the opera’s initial Naples run.

It was a good move for Rossini to break free from the Neapolitan impresario Barbaja’s hold on the 30- year old composer whose entire career had thus far been limited to premieres in Naples’ San Carlo theatre. 1822 marked a turning point in the young composer’s career and life. So was 1823, when he made the operatic soprano Isabella Colbran his lawful wife.

For Colbran he wrote Elisabetta, Semiramide, Armida La donna del lago, Zoraide, Ermione, and the soprano leads in Otello and Maometto II, in addition to the part of Zelmira in the opera of the same title, all roles that call for the sort of voice that by all accounts Mrs. Rossini must have had: a freakish three octave range from F below the staff to F above high C, a contralto-like low range and easy high notes above the staff. Add to that ease with all sorts of fioriture and skills in declamatory passages many of which lie well below the comfort zone of most sopranos. No wonder that even the mighty Joan Sutherland passed on this role.

To make matters even more challenging, the scores calls for two tenors, one of whom should be able to replicate the heroic vocal antics of Giovanni David, the creator of the role of Ilo and sing passages calling for utmost agility, as is also demanded from the singer of Antenor, the other tenor role, one originally created by Andrea Nozzari, Rossini’s go-to tenore di grazia.

And that is not all, as not one but three Rossinian bassos are needed too. Why even the comprimaria role of Emma demands a pretty good mezzo-soprano who not only gets her very own aria and cabaletta but participates in many of the ensembles.

So the effort to produce and record this Rossinian rarity as part of the 2017 ROSSINI IN WILDBAD should be given praise. The lead soprano Silvia Dalla Benetta is very good, equipped with a lovely spinto sound, agility, a nice way with words, and the capability to make her presence felt both vocally and dramatically in the many ensembles. Of the men, the American tenor Joshua Stewart stands out with his virile sound and rock solid high range, proving to be a rising talent to watch.

Rafael de Acha