- Matilde (di) Shabran, opera
"Matilde di Shabran"'s length, (over three hours) as well as the absurdity and complexity of its plot (even by operatic standards), may account for its relative obscurity. The speed at which Rossini had to write the piece is bound to have had an effect on the amount of care he could devote to its details; he first saw the libretto, which had been hastily cobbled together by Jacopo Feretti, about two months before the premiere. He borrowed from earlier works, and enlisted the help of Giovanni Pacini in the composition in order to make the deadline, although for later productions he replaced Pacini's contributions with newly composed music. The resulting opera is occasionally more formulaic than his best work, but even formulaic Rossini is always finely crafted and frequently delightful. As an opportunity to showcase such skilled comic singers as the principals in this performance, this recording is a welcome addition to the Rossini canon available on disc. There is real electricity between Juan Diego Flórez and Annick Massis, the antagonists who, of course, find themselves in each other's arms at the finale. Their characters are so human and vividly developed that in spite of the silly plot, it's impossible not to care about them. They are supported by a cast that shares their comic sensibilities and holds its own in the skillful negotiation of Rossini's extravagantly demanding coloratura. The Act I quintet "Questa è la Dea?" is a hilarious and pulse-quickening tour de force that compares favorably with Rossini's finest ensembles. Other standouts in the cast include Chiara Chialli, Bruno de Simone, and especially Marco Vinco. The recording was made live at the 2004 Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro. The Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia, under Riccardo Frizza, is as fizzy as one could hope for, although the use of a modern piano to accompany the recitatives takes some getting used to. The engaging, entertaining, and accomplished performances make this a recording that will be of interest to any fan of bel canto rarities, or anyone who loves comic opera that is actually funny.