La gazzetta, ossia Il matrimonio per concorso was the very next opera Rossini wrote after Il barbiere di Siviglia. A surreal, comic opera buffa with plenty of misunderstandings and confusions along the path of true love, it seems to have been well received initially, running for 21 performances, but fell from the repertoire soon afterwards, revived only once in the 19th century. A few halting revivals in the 20th century always came up against the problem that there was something missing – the opera didn’t quite make sense. It was not until 2011 that the Librarian of the Conservatory of Palermo, Dario Lo Cicero, found an autograph manuscript of a quintet by Rossini, identified by Philip Gossett as being the lost Quintet from Act I of La gazzetta, which, once restored, allows this shiny little opera to sparkle merrily once again.

Timothy Nelson (Don Pomponio) © Chris Christodoulou
Timothy Nelson (Don Pomponio)
© Chris Christodoulou

In this exuberant production at the Royal College of Music, directed by Donald Maxwell and Linda Ormiston and updated to Berlusconi’s Bunga Bunga Italy of the 1990s, Rossini’s comic opera certainly dazzles us, not only with some exciting singing from the fresh voices in the RCM Opera School, but also with fabulous costumes by Jools Osborne and team, and vibrant choreography by Louisa McAlpine.. not to mention an unforgettable pantomime camel!

The RCM choose their operas to frame the talents of the singers available to them at the time, and it speaks volumes that they can field an almost-double cast for La gazzetta: a total of 13 accomplished principals (plus three covers). It is not just their singing, but their acting and stagecraft which impress us, boding well for the future of opera. Even as their voices settle and strengthen further, these singers all seem to be laying strong foundations for skilful and moving performances to come.

As Lisetta, the girl whose marriage fate is supposed to be decided by her father’s newspaper advert, Natasha Day is fabulous. Her arias are full of skilful bravura and exultation, and in Rossini’s witty exchanges her acting is slick: throughout, her performance brims with obvious enjoyment. Her father, the pompous Don Pomponio who wants to marry his daughter to almost anyone except her accepted lover Filippo, is played by Timothy Nelson with a natural sense of comedy, excellent enunciation and a strong sense of detailed gesture. Nelson brings much of the fun of this production with his highly characterised performance and outrageous costumes, assisted by some amusingly accurate subtitles which translate his Neapolitan vocal tics (and those of other characters) into appropriately misspelt or vulgar idiomatic English. Pomponio’s much-put-upon secretary, Tomassina (Tommaso in the original, but the change works brilliantly), is the wonderful Kelly Mathieson, who proves herself in the second half to be a truly mesmerising dancer. Lisetta’s true-hearted lover Filippo, a Figaro-like hotel manager who sabotages Don Pomponio’s strategy in order to marry Lisetta himself (as he and she had always intended), is sung with charm and musicality by Nicholas Morton. As Madama la Rose, Filippo’s sidekick and helper, Rose Setten is nicely characterised, singing with supreme control and clarity.

Julien van Mellaerts (Monsù Traversen), Vasili Karpiak (Alberto) and Rose Setten (Madama La Rosa) © Chris Christodoulou
Julien van Mellaerts (Monsù Traversen), Vasili Karpiak (Alberto) and Rose Setten (Madama La Rosa)
© Chris Christodoulou

Lisetta’s would-be lover, Alberto, who quickly (immediately!) falls for the lovely Doralice when spurned by Lisetta, is Vasili Karpiak, whose Italian is perfect, and whose sweet tenor seems made for this repertoire. In a thrilling performance, Karpiak’s good looks and stage presence endear him immediately to the audience. Kezia Bienek is also immediately believable as his lover, Doralice, innocent and sincere, her lustrous soprano always a delight. The smaller parts are well executed too: Matus Tomko is Anselmo, Doralice’s father who attempts to marry Doralice to Monsù Traversen, an old roué (Julien Van Mellaerts).

A special guest © Chris Christodoulou
A special guest
© Chris Christodoulou

There are some noticeable strengths in this production, aside from the singing: a simple but clever folding set, designed by Nigel Hook; the strong choreography throughout; the wonderful costumes. However, it does also have problems. Though it contains some wonderful music, some of that music is complex and tough to sing: in the more furious trios and quartets, timing occasionally goes awry. Some of the piano moments get overwhelmed by the orchestra, who otherwise make a very deft, accurate sound (conducted by Michael Rosewell). In all, despite a brilliantly funny libretto, this is not Rossini’s best opera; the plot is just not as lyrical as the music it inspires, the action both too little and too much to justify the emotions evoked. But if La gazzetta does not have the rhapsodic poetry of La Cenerentola (which would follow it the year after, Rossini re-using La gazzetta’s Overture and several other pieces for his romantic humanist fairytale), and the pacing of the plot still feels a little odd, it does have wit, vivacity, and an enthusiastic brilliance of melody which make it a real treat on the rare occasions that it is performed. Definitely worth catching.   

***11