Rossini – Matilde di Shabran
CAST: Matilde di Shabran: Annick Massis; Corradino: Juan Diego Florez; Ginardo: Carlo Lepore; Egoldo: Gregory Bonfatti; Aliprando: Marco Vinco; Isidoro: Bruno de Simone; Edoardo: Hadar Halevy; Contessa d’Arco: Chiara Chialli; Rodrigo: Lubomír Moravec; Raimondo Lopez: Bruno Taddia
Prague Chamber Choir
Orquestra Sinfónica de Galicia
Riccardo Frizza, conductor
Decca, 2006

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Matilde di Shabran is definitely not one of Rossini’s most performed operas. First of all, it belongs to a genre, the opera semiseria, which was not very popular even at the time of the composition because of its forced combination of elements of opera seria and opera buffa. Actually, the genre went out of fashion shortly after the premiere of Matilde (1821). Secondly, Matilde is quite long and the first act, which is usually the longest, this time is almost twice as long as the second, so that the opera appears quite unbalanced. Thirdly the tenor role is extremely difficult to sing and you need an exceptionally gifted singer to stage the opera.

Nowadays, Matilde di Shabran is known especially because it was the opera that Juan Diego Florez sang at his debut at the Rossini Opera Festival in 1996 and that marked the beginning of his career. It is therefore not a chance that there are two recordings of Matilde featuring the Peruvian tenor as Corradino. The first is the present one, made in 2004; the second is a DVD recording dating to 2012. However, as I wrote in the review of the DVD, I consider the audio recording much better from the music point of view.

Annick Massis (Matilde) & Juan Diego Florez (Corradino)

Even though Juan Diego Florez is an amazing Corradino on both occasions, it is the soprano that makes the difference. In the DVD, we have Olga Peretyatko – a correct, but not very enthralling singer. In the audio recording, it is Annick Massis who sings the title role and she is a charming, witty Matilde. Despite the fact that we do not see her acting, her accents and spirit already give a pretty good idea of her gestures and make her singing very expressive. Furthermore, and although her voice does not have a precious timbre, it is a flexible and agile instrument. Massis sings Matilde’s demanding coloratura and high notes with incredible energy and self-assurance. Somehow, her character reminds of another, little known bel canto heroine, the title role of Donizetti‘s Francesca di Foix, an opera Massis recorded in 2004.

As for Florez as Corradino, I do not think he sings the role very differently from the DVD recording. The main difference is that in this recording he is more energetic, as in the scene from the first act Alma rea. Both here and there, anyway, Florez shows off the astonishing easiness with which he sings what is perhaps Rossini’s most challenging tenor role, with perfect homogeneity in all registers. His agility is simply amazing and allows him to sing the role without effort. Furthermore, his taste and musicianship makes him the ideal interpreter of Corradino with his changing moods.

The Other Singers and the Conduction

The most important among the other roles is that of Edoardo. In this recording, it is Hadar Halevy who sings the role en travesti with refinement and pathos, as her character is the only, entirely serious one of the opera.

Bruno de Simone sings the hungry, fearful poet Isidoro in the most amiable way, thanks to his elegant phrasing. Marco Vinco is an entertaining Aliprando, while Chiara Chialli is a convincing, haughty Contessa d’Arco. As for Carlo Lepore, the only regret for his Ginardo is that he is not as threatening as you imagine Corradino’s keeper, but he is in fine voice too.

Riccardo Frizza’s conduction is animated and high-spirited. He is able to highlight both seriousness and fun in Rossini’s music, but he is successful especially in the latter. It is enough to listen to the beginning of the duet between Matilde and Aliprando or to the accompaniment to Matilde’s final rondo to guess that the conductor seems to enjoy this music very much and to use it to give psychological depth to the characters.

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