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by Luca

The Rossini vocalism is still closely linked to the belcanto ideal that sees the primacy of the voice on the other components of the opera: the singer is coauthor with the composer and in his arias he is free to improvise. With Rossini, who begins to write all the “colorature”, the phase of the singer’s superpower ends; nevertheless the Rossinian melody remains essentially vocal, that is to say it expresses itself best through the characteristics of the human voice, and the pleasure of the beauty of the voice remains the center of its poetics. In principle, his preference goes to a type of natural voice, not “strained” as in romantic opera. Rossini prefers to the soprano voice, that of contralto, tenor and bass that leads to the acute, anticipating today’s baritone. Figaro represents the ideal of male voice, while the Lindoro dell’Italiana, which has the most acute tenor weaving among all Rossini’s characters, like all Rossini tenors, is confined to the role of “amorous”. Isabella and Rosina have a mature woman’s voice, with its strong point in the middle register, but with the ability to ascend to the treble. As a consequence Rossini does not appreciate the innovation represented by the so-called “Do di petto”, introduced by the tenor Duprez in the “Guillaume Tell”, indeed he compares the singer to a slaughtered capon; however, the “Do di petto” marks the advent of the romantic tenor, before then in fact the singers faced probably the highest notes in a sort of “falsetto”. While looking at the ideal of “belcanto”, Rossini writes a single serious opera, “Aureliano in Palmira”, for a “castrato”. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the “castrati” are at the end, but the composer repeatedly expressed his regret for their singing that, in a late letter, he defines the “cantar che nell’anima si sente”.
In place of the emasculated singers, Rossini uses the contralto “en travesti”, as in the characters of Tancredi in the homonymous work, of Malcolm in “La donna del lago”, of Arsace in “Semiramide”. But in general also for the female roles this register remains the favorite, a choice linked perhaps to the chanting possibilities of his first wife, the Spanish singer Isabella Colbran, for whom almost all the main roles of the series works are born. According to the contemporaries Colbran was a contralto, but with the possibility of extending the voice towards the treble, and united with a total mastery of the coloratura, a statuary figure and uncommon dramatic qualities.
Due to the peculiarity of this style of singing, it is only since the fifties of the twentieth century that Rossini’s work has been revalued in its entirety, thanks the advent of some singers such as Maria Callas, Dame Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills, Marilyn Horne and very few others, able to face the difficult bel canto vocal style.

(by Anna Tedesco)


Beverly Sills – “Dal soggiorno degli estinti” Pamira Aria – “L’assedio di Corinto” (1826) (Italian version) II Act I Scene.
Recording of a performance of the version prepared by Thomas Schippers and Randolph Mickelson at La Scala (April 14, 1969)
Conductor Thomas Schippers
Orchestra – Teatro alla Scala
Chorus – Teatro alla Scala.
Pamira – Beverly Sills
Néoclès – Marilyn Horne
Maometto – Justino Díaz
Cléomène – Franco Bonisolli
Hiéros (Jero) – Paolo Washington
Omar – Giovanni Foiani
Ismène – Milna Paoli
Adastro – Piero De Palma.