Hold the front page – not every Rossini comic opera is a masterpiece! Squeezed between Il barbiere di Siviglia (February 1816) and La Cenerentola (January 1817), La gazzetta (September 1816) pales in terms of both plot and score. It’s a Goldoni-inspired farce containing standard opera buffa devices, although the theme – how people are influenced by mass media – remains pertinent. The pretentious Neapolitan Don Pomponio travels the world trying to find a suitable husband for his daughter, the capricious Lisetta, by taking out adverts in the local newspaper offering her to the highest bidder. What could possibly go wrong?
Arriving at a Parisian hotel, feckless rich boy Alberto is seeking a wife. He sees the ad, and his interest is aroused. But Lisetta is already in love with hotelier Filippo (an unsuitable match), who throws Alberto off the scent. The elderly Anselmo checks into the hotel with his daughter, Doralice, whom Alberto deduces must be the daughter up for grabs. Misunderstandings, disguises and marriage proposals abound as the farce is then eked out for two hours before a happy ending. In this revival of Marco Carniti’s 2015 production for the Rossini Opera Festival, it feels longer.
The opera is not without musical interest. It’s Rossini’s only opera to feature Neapolitan dialect, an interesting target to poke fun at given it was composed for Naples. The best music in La gazzetta comes at the very beginning, a sparkling sinfonia – played here with wit and relish by the Orchestra Sinfonica G Rossini under Carlo Rizzi – that is instantly familiar. Rossini hastily recycled it a few months later for La Cenerentola, one of his most popular works.
La gazzetta itself features recycled material, composed – as often seems the case with the Swan of Pesaro – against the clock. Shortly after the (disastrous) Barbiere premiere in February 1816, Rossini had arrived in Naples only to discover fire had consumed the Teatro San Carlo and that he was suddenly required to compose a royal wedding cantata for Rome and supervise rehearsals for a production of his Tancredi. Work on La gazzetta was delayed and when Rossini finally got round to it, he “borrowed” music from, among others, Il turco in Italia (for the masked ball quintet and the Pomponio–Lisetta duet) and La pietra del paragone (for the duel scene). This production also features the rediscovered Act 1 quintet, which features music familiar from La scala di seta and the Act 1 Barbiere finale. At times, it’s like a Rossinian Where’s Wally? spotting the musical sources.