Official release: May 2021
“e ‘l cantar che ne l’anima si sente”
“and ‘tis the singing in the soul perceived”
(Francesco Petrarca, Canzoniere, Sonnet 213)
According to many scholars, in Italy the early nineteenth century is qualified as the historical period when opera undisputedly prevailed. Unsurprisingly, therefore, one notices that a typically nineteenth-century genre such as the chamber music song may recall the cantabile sections of the most seductive of the operatic arias, adapting itself to the dynamics of fruition of theatrical shows.
This is the context evoked by Il soave e bel contento, a collection of compositions in the name of refinement and a homage to a specific vocal aesthetics. The work behind it is in fact the fruit of a synthesis. By joining the careful study of the score to the impassionate rediscovery of contemporaneous sources, this work aims at reviving a performance approach, one that should be as close as possible to period performance practice and should reveal the multifaceted expressive possibilities of the tenor voice. On the other hand, the very choice of the repertoire suggests the adoption of a timbre suited for highlighting the figure of the “sfogato” tenor. This is a specific voice type, particularly in vogue between the Twenties and Thirties of the nineteenth century. Especially in the operas by Rossini and Bellini, the role of the loving youth/nobleman was assigned to this voice type.
Regarding this, it is interesting to notice that a red thread runs through the entire programme (within which true rarities are found). That thread allows us to glimpse a net of relationships among events and characters linked to the genesis of the lyrics. Most of the works are in fact connected to the great tenors of the era, whose vocality is linked, in turn, to that mentioned above. We pass therefore from operatic and concert arias which were purposefully conceived with specific voices in mind (such as those of Giovanni David and Giovanni Battista Rubini), to chamber songs dedicated to particular singers (such as Adolphe Nourrit) and, eventually, to examples of musical works composed by some of those same interpreters.
Actually, the album opens with an absolute rarity, linked to the name of Mario (or Mariano) Tiberini (1826-1880), a Marche-born tenor. It is an elegant Salve Regina, originally published in Turin by printers Giudici and Strada (ca. 1865). It is characterized by a ductus of the melodic line which, with its allusions to folk-like formulas, seems sometimes to allude to rather secular circumstances. The interesting use of harmony, exemplified in particular by the chromaticisms and modulations characterizing the complex central section, represents yet another of the main values of this singular musical work, praiseworthily brought to light once more.
The second piece’s very title (an autograph one) evokes the name of an all-but-unknown composer, i.e. Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868). Its presence within this programme offers the opportunity to mention the story of the numerous intonations of the same lyrics, to which the musician from Pesaro dedicated himself during his time in Passy. The first testimonies of this practice can be dated back to 1857, when, after a long period of silence, Rossini found his inspiration back. A series of six songs for voice and piano, all shaped on the aria Mi lagnerò tacendo from Metastasio’s Siroe, constitutes its poetic structure. Actually, this core of compositions dedicated to Olympe Pélissier, his second wife, and gathered under the title of Musique anodine, constitutes just a small part of the numerous musical versions of Metastasio’s lyrics, gathered in the magmatic collection of the Péchés de vieillesse, where Rossini’s last and eccentric output found its way. These pieces were interpreted by many as an academic exercise (perhaps similar to a game of allusions, fostered by the composer himself by virtue of his insistence on one and the same textual model). However, the songs on Mi lagnerò tacendo constitute as many tangible examples of Rossini’s multifaceted creative imagination. They are frequently true gems of vocal chamber music, and fully worth rediscovering. This is doubtlessly one aim of this album, which, not by chance, welcomes two of them.
The first of them is Tirana alla Spagnola (rossinizzata), the third item of the first volume (“Album italiano”) of the Péchés. It is a bolero in which the reference to traditional musical elements of the Iberian Peninsula, as hinted by the title, takes a concrete form in an obsessively ternary rhythm. This is accentuated by percussive gestures in the piano accompaniment, as well as by the purposefully manneristic writing, rich in embellishments and chromatic inflections, which characterizes the vocal part.
If this work is ascribable to the type of the character piece, the second Mi lagnerò tacendo seems instead to take on the features of the Etude or of the bravura piece. This is indicated mostly by the melody’s direction, since it proceeds by wide gaps (sometimes exceeding the interval of tenth) and requires from the singer true acrobatics with a pronounced technical difficulty.
Il soave e bel contento is an operatic aria structured in the bipartite form of cantabile/cabaletta. It allows us to remember a composer whose artistic worth seems today to have faded into oblivion, due to the varnish of time. Giovanni Pacini (1796-1867), born in Catania, was actually a prolific musician. Not unlike his more famous colleagues, he was acclaimed by both audience and critics by virtue of his operas. Among them, his Niobe has pride of place; it was premiered at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples on November 19th, 1826, on the name-day of Queen Maria Isabella of Bourbon. The intended performer for the role of Licida was tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini. At the time, he was a young rising star, for whom the cavatina under discussion was purposefully written. In his autobiography, Pacini himself recounts a funny anecdote about this. According to him, the singer had been at first forced by the composer himself, to accept the difficult cabaletta I tuoi frequenti palpiti, but would eventually change his mind. In fact its success had been correctly anticipated by the maestro from Catania, and it would later extend itself to diverse arrangements and elaborations (such as Franz Liszt’s Grande fantaisie sur des motifs de Niobe or Alfredo Piatti’s Capriccio sopra un tema della Niobe di Pacini op. 21: both, in fact, cite the cabaletta’s theme).
With La separazione and Beltà crudele the genre of Rossini’s salon songs returns. These two refined album leaves are very similar to each other in their musical structure. Their main difference is in their references to the theme of love: respectively, the former is more concrete and earthlier, while the latter is more abstract and diaphanous. Their periods of composition and their lyrics’ authors are also different. La separazione, on lyrics by Fabio Uccelli, is in fact dedicated to a pupil of the maestro. Her name was Corinna di Luigi, and the work dates to the years of Passy (1858, to be precise). With Beltà crudele, on lyrics by Baron Nicola di Santo Magno, dedicated “to my friend Castelnovo”, we are brought more than thirty years back, to 1821. Indeed, it is very interesting to observe that the temporal distance dividing these two works did not leave trace on their musical concept. In fact, common traits can be found in their choices of agogic and piano accompaniment, as well as in the difficulties of the vocal writing. This contributes to let us conceive of these two chamber arias as of two sides of the same coin. Yet another “changing of the guard” between Rossini and Pacini with Le dirai ch’io serbo ancora – Di liete immagini non ho più speme, a Scena and Aria excerpted from the opera Gli arabi nelle Gallie, the umpteenth example of an opera beyond the boundaries of the traditional repertoire, premiered at the Teatro alla Scala of Milan on March 8th, 1827. Here too, as in the case of Il soave e bel contento – I tuoi frequenti palpiti, it is interesting to notice that the composer from Catania structured the role of the “Arabs’ Chief Commander” with a well-defined voice in mind: i.e. the voice of Giovanni David, one of the most representative tenors of his time. The eleventh and twelfth items of the twelve Lezioni di canto moderno per voce di tenore o soprano are substantially close to the bipartite structure typical for the nineteenth-century set forms. These pieces were written by the Romantic tenor par excellence, one who has already been cited with regard to Niobe, i.e. Giovanni Battista Rubini (1794-1854). Published in 1839 in France (Paris) and in Italy (by publisher Lucca in Milan), this seldom-found collection of Etudes for singers constitutes a valuable document. In fact, it allows us to reconstruct, through the two excerpted lessons, Rubini’s concept of the “mezza voce” and “a voce spiegata” singing styles. In particular, the eleventh exercise (Forse, ah forse in suo pensier) represents an expressive cantabile whose agogic indication is Andante a ritmo di barcarola in 6/8, where sounds with soft dynamics prevail. The following lesson (Moriamo, e amanti spiriti) is nothing else than a brilliant cabaletta in the tempo of Allegro giusto. Contrary to the preceding piece, here there is a prevalence of forte and fortissimo, reinforced by a vigorous martial rhythm and by dizzying cadenzas in the highest register.
With Adolfo Nourrit’s Ultimi versi, we recall, once more, the name of another tenor who was particularly in vogue during the second and third decades of the nineteenth century. A French born singer, Adolphe Nourrit (1802-1839) had been a student of Manuel García, and he was greatly successful in the Parisian theatres for a long time. His rivalry with tenor Gilbert Duprez, the new first tenor at the Opéra since 1837, led him de facto to abandon the French stage. He went, then, in Italy, and eventually he ended up in Naples, preparing himself for the performance of Gaetano Donizetti’s Poliuto, which had been expressly written for him. However, an increasing depression, aggravated also by a vocal crisis, led Nourrit to take his own life by throwing himself from a window of the hotel where he was residing. It is therefore within this noir-tinged perspective that the tenor’s last words, written on an album two days before his extreme deed, should be considered. Nourrit’s so-called ultimi versi (“last lines”) were reported by the contemporaneous newspapers. Eventually, they were adapted, in order to make them suit Giulia’s prayer (O nume tutelar degl’infelici) from the Finale II of Gaspare Spontini’s Vestale, by Giovanni Federico Schmidt (1775-1840), a prolific librettist who was active in Naples. Rossini’s Addio ai viennesi seems to be particularly appropriate in a closing position, especially in relation to its original function as a homage to the city which had hosted the composer in his first tour abroad. Engaged by Domenico Barbaja in March 1822, for various performances at the Kärntnerthor theatre in Vienna, the musician from Pesaro and his company of singers obtained such a success that the audience went into raptures. In order to properly celebrate his leaving, scheduled to take place on July 22nd, Rossini wrote his Addio ai viennesi (“Da voi parto, amate sponde”) as a gesture of thanksgiving for the welcome he had enjoyed. This is a true bravura piece: after an introduction in the minor mode, it gradually leads to a final crescendo, increasingly impassioned. Certainly, it was not by chance that the same work was later adapted by the maestro for the same purpose during his visits to London and Paris.
Album Notes by Gianluca Blasio
Francesco Santoli: Graduating cum laude in Voice and Vocal Chamber Music at the “Nicola Sala” Conservatory of Benevento, he later he graduaded cum laude and special academic mention at the “San Pietro a Majella” Conservatory in Naples. He refined his skills by working alongside renowned artists such as Renata Scotto, Opera Studio of the Accademia Nazionale Santa Cecilia in Rome and Alberto Zedda at the Accademia Rossiniana in Pesaro. In the last years he has deepened his study of Belcanto of the style and performance practice of the old school, as well as the vocal chamber repertoire. Throught his career he has been engaged in significant title roles of Belcanto, showing a particular keenness for the repertoires of Rossini, Donizetti and Mozart. Amongst his debuts there are titles such as: Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Il viaggioa Reims, La Cenerentola, L' occasione fa il ladro, Petite Messe Solennelle and Messa di Gloria by Rossini, L'Elisir d'amore, Lucia di lammermoor, Il Campanello by Donizetti, Così fan tutte, Die Zauberflote by Mozart, Orff's Carmina Burana at Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Morte dell'aria by Petrassi at Teatro La Fenice in Venice, La vedova allegra by Lehàr in San Carlo Theatre in Naples and many more. Recently singing as a soloist in prestigious festivals and theatres, such as San Carlo Theatre in Naples, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, the Doha Festival in Qatar, the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome, the Petruzzelli Theatre in Bari, the Carlo felice Theatre in Genova, the Malibran Theatre in Venice, Rossini Theatre in Pesaro (gala concert with Sumi Jo and Vittorio Grigolo), Verdi Theatre in Busseto ( gala concert in honour of Daniela Dessì) and in Pergolesi-Spontini Festival in Jesi.
Gioacchino Rossini: (b Pesaro, 29 Feb 1792; d Passy, 13 Nov 1868). Italian composer. No composer in the first half of the 19th century enjoyed the measure of prestige, wealth, popular acclaim or artistic influence that belonged to Rossini. His contemporaries recognized him as the greatest Italian composer of his time. His achievements cast into oblivion the operatic world of Cimarosa and Paisiello, creating new standards against which other composers were to be judged. That both Bellini and Donizetti carved out personal styles is undeniable; but they worked under Rossini’s shadow, and their artistic personalities emerged in confrontation with his operas. Not until the advent of Verdi was Rossini replaced at the centre of Italian operatic life.