In 1811 Rossini, still a teenager, wrote L’equivoco stravagante (The Bizarre Misunderstanding) for the Teatro del Corso, in Bologna, after the success of his first operatic work in Venice the year before (La cambiale di matrimonio). The opera enjoyed only three performances, before being shut down by censorship. Gaetano Gasbarri's libretto is a jumble of double-meanings, crude jokes and vulgar puns. Rossini managed to write some fine music for it, especially in the duets and ensembles, rendering justice the famous quote about the laundry list.

Paolo Bordogna (Gamberotto) and ensemble © Studio Amati Bacciardi
Paolo Bordogna (Gamberotto) and ensemble
© Studio Amati Bacciardi

Ernestina is the naive daughter of Gamberotto, a farmer who came into money; she is fascinated by philosophy and literature, unable to distinguish between real culture and a confused erudition. Ermanno, a destitute young man in love with her, manages to get a post as her philosophy tutor, thanks to Frontino and Rosalia, servants in Gamberotto’s home. Gamberotto arranges a marriage between Ernestina and the rich bon-vivant Buralicchio, so Frontino invents a scheme to get rid of him. He tells Buralicchio that Ernestina is actually Gamberotto’s son Ernesto, who was castrated as a boy to sing as a soprano, and now lives as a girl. This is the bizarre misunderstanding, which leads to a plethora of puns and crass jokes. Love triumphs in the end, of course. It is interesting to observe how, in 1811, the practice of castrating boys to make them opera stars was already considered unusual and weird. Still, only two years later Rossini wrote the opera Aureliano in Palmira for the last great castrato on the scenes, Giambattista Velluti. These details give us insight about Rossini as a composer on the edge between Baroque, Classicism and the beginning of Romanticism.

Directors Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier chose a traditional setting, with early 19th-century costumes (by Agostino Cavalca), treating the endless stream of gross puns with a light hand: the singers never indulged on the double-entendres with meaningful gazes or movements, they just sailed right through them, supported by an excellent continuo (Gianni Fabbrini and Anselmo Pelliccioni). The singers were all wearing cartoonish fake noses, giving an appropriate feeling of Commedia dell’arte to the whole performance. The directors could have spared us the “quickie” between the two servants at the rise of the curtain but, overall, their treatment of the impossible libretto was admirable, and very well received.

Teresa Iervolino (Ernestina) and Pavel Kolgatin (Ermanno) © Studio Amati Bacciardi
Teresa Iervolino (Ernestina) and Pavel Kolgatin (Ermanno)
© Studio Amati Bacciardi

Carlo Rizzi gave a detailed reading of the score, leading the RAI Orchestra with more strength than refinement, but the orchestra’s sound was consistently beautiful, with great highlighting of the single sections.

Teresa Iervolino gave proof of her comical talent. Her Ernestina was very “nerdish”, socially inept, walking around with small, awkward steps, with thick glasses, shoulders constantly shrugging. Her vocabulary was overly pompous, and Iervolino was enunciating every word with pedantry and excessive care; also her singing reflected the artificial nature of the young girl, affecting intellectual feelings and repressing love and passion. The effect was humorous and very successful, even if, at times, in doing so she would somewhat lose support. When, in the second act, Ernestina accepts Ermanno as her lover, Iervolino unleashed all the power of her burnished, velvety mezzo in the triumphant rondo “Stimoli anch’io di gloria”, with fireworks of coloratura.

Paolo Bordogna was an irresistible Gamberotto. His natural comic talent was put to the test by the crass, clownish character, and he showed how at ease he is in such roles, with a performance not only funny, but musically engaging. His voice is becoming darker and deeper with age, and his style is always elegant and appropriate, even when he is singing about being tormented by lice, with a whole chorus scratching him in every spot.

Teresa Iervolino (Ernestina) © Studio Amati Bacciardi
Teresa Iervolino (Ernestina)
© Studio Amati Bacciardi

Buralicchio was portrayed by the directors as a libertine dandy, with a purple outfit, a huge hat and a fake, protruding bottom in his pants. Davide Luciano was perfect in the part, funny and engaging, his powerful, deep baritone always on point.

Ermanno was Pavel Kolgatin, his light tenor very well suited to this typical Rossini role. He had a difficult start, probably first-performance nerves, but he grew during the evening, and sang a very successful “Sento da mille furie” in the second act, an aria where he could display coloratura, legato, very high notes, in a great performance.

Claudia Muschio was a lively Rosalia (the maid), her soprano silvery and brilliant. Manuel Amati’s tenor, as the servant Frontino, was perhaps less projected, but always elegant, and his performance sparkling and funny. The chorus (Coro del Teatro Ventidio Basso) was very well prepared by Giovanni Farina, and participated to the performance with precision and engagement.

The audience saluted the performance with great cheers and appreciation for all, including the production team.

****1