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The Opera Quarterly 20.2 (2004) 330-331

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Robert Bruce. Gioachino Rossini
Robert Bruce: Nicolas Rivenq Page: Tiziana Portoghese
Marie: Iano Tamar Orchestra Internazionale d'Italia
Nelly: Inga Balabanova Bratislava Chamber Choir
Arthur: Simon Edwards Paolo Arrivabeni, conductor
Edouard II: Davide Cicchetti Live recording, Martina Franca,
Douglas: Massimiliano Chiarolla     21-23 July 2002
Morton: Ramaz Chikviladze Dynamic (distributed by Qualiton Imports)
Dickson/Bard: Pietro Naviglio     CDS 421/1-2 (2 CDs)

Robert Bruce, a title not commonly associated with Rossini's oeuvre, had its premiere at the Paris Opéra on 30 December 1846. Two years earlier Léon Pillet, the director of the Opéra, had approached Rossini to write a brand-new work; a compromise was reached in the form of a pasticcio, to be concocted by Louis Niedermeyer (1802-1861), using parts of Rossini's existing scores and carried out under his guidance. Rossini had known Niedermeyer since the latter's student days in Naples, and he respected his musicianship.

Robert Bruce was not Rossini's first Parisian pastiche: eighteen years earlier at the Odéon he had produced an Ivanhoé (based on Sir Walter Scott's historical romance) with the cooperation of librettists Emile Deschamps and Gustave de Wailly, the music compiled by Antonio Pacini. The score for Ivanhoé was drawn for the most part from Rossini's Cenerentola, Tancredi, Gazza ladra, and Semiramide.1

It was to Scott that Rossini would return for the subject of Robert Bruce, this time drawing on the translated Histoire de l'Ecosse. The music (sources handily identified in the booklet accompanying this recording) stems principally from La donna del lago and Zelmira, but there are passages from Bianca e Falliero, Armida, Mosè, and Maometto II as well.

The conditions that led Pillet to turn to Rossini for a new work in the mid-1840s resulted from a sense of crisis. Donizetti, on whom he had counted for Le duc d'Albe, had left that score incomplete when he suffered a mental and physical collapse and had to be confined to a sanatorium. Meyerbeer, who had Le prophète ready, refused to let it go into rehearsal because he would not tolerate giving the crucial role of Fidès to the mezzo Rosine Stolz, Pillet's mistress and a powerful and feared influence on the functioning of the Opéra. Halévy, though still active, had failed to equal the success of La Juive, while Verdi was fully booked in Italy through 1846 and would not be available until the following year, when he would earn a tardy welcome with Jérusalem. Unfortunately, Robert Bruce failed to bring Pillet the big success his waning fortunes needed. Stolz in the role of Marie was protested by the audience, a response that infuriated her to the point of shouting "Merde!" at her public, a breach that hastened the end of her career at the Opéra. Nor did the press receive Bruce cordially, regarding it as a réchauffée rather than a legitimate contender in the spectacular vein of Les Huguenots. [End Page 330]

Dynamic has done a better-than-adequate job in presenting a viable performance of this historical footnote of a score. The conductor Paolo Arrivabeni directs the frequent ensembles with a fine sense of their eloquent ebb and flow. At these moments the cast's unidiomatic French (always excepting the baritone Nicolas Rivenq in the title role) is less of a distraction. As Marie, the soprano Iano Tamar lacks the resonance in the low voice for Stolz's mezzo role, adapted in good measure from the music of Malcolm in La donna del lago; she has ready facility, if not true distinction, in her singing of figurations.

The two tenor roles—Arthur and Edouard II—are assigned to Simon Edwards and Davide Cicchetti, respectively. Neither has a particularly appealing timbre, but both earn points with their readiness in the frequent coloratura passages. In the important secondary role of Nelly, Inga Balabanova makes a charming, if rather small-scaled, impression. The least beguiling member of the cast is baritone Massimiliano Chiarolla, whose gruffness...


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