BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Tuesday, May 7, 1822

Making good on their representations yesterday about their exclusive publication rights to Rossini’s opera Corradino (Matilde di Shabran), Artaria & Co. in today’s Wiener Zeitung advertises a piano arrangement of the overture, arranged by M.J. Leidesdorf. Artaria promises that a version for piano four hands, as well as vocal selections from the opera with piano accompaniment, will appear in short order.

In other Rossini news, Rossini’s melodramatic opera Matilde di Shabran, in its revised Naples version but with a German libretto, opens at the Vienna Opera Festival tonight under the title Corradino, starring Isabella Colbran, with Giovanni David as Corradino. According to Richard Osborne, Rossini wrote no new music for this revival, but David was given an extra aria borrowed from the opera Ermione for the occasion.

This opera, set in medieval Spain, was still quite new, having been premiered in February, 1821 in Rome under the baton of virtuoso violinist Niccolo Paganini. After that premiere, a street brawl broke out between Rossini’s admirers and those who thought little of him. The opera was revised for performance in Naples on November 11, 1821.

Friedrich August Kanne, editor of the Vienna Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, is not impressed with this offering, primarily because he is offended at the use of German rather than the original Italian. “The performance of this opera in German language wasn’t the happiest, despite great expectations.”

Kanne would have much preferred that the opera had been presented in its original language; the Italian singers would have been far more assured in their dramatic singing, and the public love for the Italian opera in its original language would have led to success. “In fact, the German reworking is disturbing and leaves us with a strange, often alienating impression, whereas in the original form of Italian dialect it has its own charm of truth and liveliness, such that we believe we are seeing quite different works of art before us.”

“The charming agility of the Italian language, through its harmonious euphony, by its magnificent and expressive mixture of consonants and vowels, by itself allows for a higher momentum of power, and gives the texts a far greater and faster mixing of tones, a far more colorful use of nuance and shade consistent with the color of the melodies. In German – how much blame lies upon the inappropriate words of the text! Often absurd and contrary to the meaning of what is sung in the original language, which presents us with a most graceful truth and penetrates the depths of our unprejudiced imagination.”

We seem to see here a bit of a backlash beginning to form against Rossinimania in Vienna. Kanne notes that, as is the case in Zelmira and Elisabetta, Rossini tends to use the instruments in ways that are inappropriate to their native sounds, while the woodwinds are simply overmatched by the other instruments. “It may not infrequently happen that the clarinetist is in the middle of execution of its overly difficult passages, while the trumpeters are at risk of bursting like a pus-filled sac; the oboists succumb from too great effort to the trombonists and their arms; while the bassoonists must resign themselves to far too much exertion of their lungs in order to keep pace with the cellists.”

“Yes, we are quite serious when we say that for the greater part, while the orchestra makes painterly representations, probably to the highest effect possible, on the other side all the wind instruments far earlier succumb to their excessive effort….Rossini uses the tactics of the last twenty years: He maneuvers with a hundred guns at once.”

But Kanne also finds much to like. “How tenderly the sweet, passionate moments start, against the most graceful Adagios, in which Rossini folds all hearts, touched by blissful, love-breathing melodies! He is, and remains, a master at large, effective contrasts, which give a highly attractive allure to his living pictures. The character of Elisabetta is certainly brush-drawn, and shows the beautiful level-headedness of the composer amidst his enthusiasm. This character moves with grace and dignity in the midst of moments of raging passion, yet always with quite imposing nobility.”

Vienna AMZ no. 46, June 8, 1822, col. 361-365.