Rossini: La gazzettaPhilip Gossett, coeditor (with Fabrizio Scipioni) of the critical edition of Gioacchino Rossini's opera La gazzetta (The Newspaper), discovered a previously unknown quintet as a consequence of research for the edition. When New England Conservatory presents the U.S. premiere of the critical edition in April 2013, audiences will hear the world premiere performance of the Act I quintet, which was identified in 2011, nine years after the publication of the critical edition itself. More on this.

Gossett has generously provided us with an English-language version of an article he wrote about the discovery of the Quintet, originally published in German in the Rossini studies journal La gazzetta: Zeitschrift der Deutschen Rossini Gesellschaft XXII (2012).

Gossett's footnotes can be found here and as links anchored to each reference on this page.

The new Quintet for La Gazzetta

At the time Fabrizio Scipioni and I prepared the critical edition of La gazzetta, the only comic opera Rossini wrote for Naples,{1} it seemed as if Rossini had not prepared a major ensemble in the first act, a Quintet for Lisetta, Doralice, Alberto, Filippo, and Don Pomponio, that is, for all the principal characters in the opera, whose text was printed in the original libretto of the opera. The piece was absent in all sources known of the opera. It was not in Rossini's autograph manuscript, nor in secondary manuscripts nor in the printed edition of the score that Schonenberger published in Paris in 1855, followed by Ricordi in Milan in 1864.{2} The critical edition accepted the comments made by Marco Mauceri in his brilliant study of the opera,{3} and assumed that Rossini had not composed the Quintet, or at least had not allowed it to be performed.That there was a considerable amount of recitative leading up to the Quintet text, following the Cavatina Lisetta (No. 4), and before the Aria Doralice (No. 5), was a result of the absence of the Quintet. In any event, Rossini did not prepare any recitative in the entire opera, assigning that task, instead, to two associates, but no setting whatsoever had been found for the scenes present in the original printed libretto, leading up to the Quintet (Scenes vi, vii, and viii of the opera, the latter actually continuing with the text of the Quintet).

Still, there was some evidence pertaining to the Quintet in the sources. Not only was the entire text of this passage present in the printed libretto of the opera (NA-1816), without the “virgolette” which generally indicate that a passage of text was not set to music by the composer, but also two other factors. First, there is a remark in a review of the opera from the Giornale delle Due Sicilie that Felice Pellegrini was particularly effective in a «Quintet of the first Act»; since the Finale I opens with a Quintet of voices, a piece in which the character of Filippo plays an important role, it is at least possible that the reviewer made a mistake here. Second, the musical setting, by collaborators of Rossini, of the Recitative after the Quintet is misbound in Rossini's autograph manuscript of the opera. It is found in the second act, after the Aria of Alberto (No. 10), where it makes no sense whatsoever. It is at least possible that the recitative was removed from the autograph when Rossini decided to omit the Quintet, as Reto Müller suggested.{4}

The absence of the Quintet and its recitative is palpable. As mentioned in the critical edition of the opera, it is not possible to understand the plot without the scene (Scene vi in the libretto) in which Alberto expresses his desire to marry Doralice. And Don Pomponio certainly must know that his daughter is already married to the innkeeper, Filippo. The critical edition tried to adjust the music and drama while making the smallest number of interventions possible. It suggested that Don Pomponio could learn the true situation by overhearing several conversations. Scene vi, which the edition considered crucial for the drama, was set to music by Philip Gossett. But no effort was made to prepare a version of the Quintet or its introductory recitatives.

These minimal solutions were not widely adopted. In the first performances of the new critical edition at the Rossini Opera Festival of Pesaro during the summer of 2001 (and repeated during the summer of 2005), the stage director, Dario Fo, preferred to have the characters declaim the verses of the Quintet in what he called a kind of tamurriata, with the fortepiano playing the melody of the song, “La danza,” from the Soirées musicales of Rossini, in the background. The Rossini festival in Wildbad went further for its presentation of La gazzetta during the summer of 2007: the Wildbad festival commissioned Stefano Piana, one of the two editors of Rossini's 1811 opera for the Teatro del Corso of Bologna, L'equivoco stravagante,{5} and who had previously orchestrated several pieces for the Wildbad festival, to compose anew the lacking recitative and the Quintet. He described his activity in an article appearing in La gazzetta of 2007.{6}

In his article for La gazzetta, Mr. Piana described at length his activity and his reasoning.{7} He noted, quite correctly, that Rossini frequently introduced a major ensemble in the middle of the first act of a comic opera, so that the absence of the piece in La gazzetta is very noticeable.{8} He also cited the problem of the misplaced recitative after the Quintet in Rossini's autograph manuscript and the newspaper report about Felice Pellegrini as Filippo and the missing Quintet. Finally, he used the reasoning of the critical edition about the first section of the Quintet (its text follows closely the first section of the Sextet from" La Cenerentola, "Questo è un nodo avvillupato,") to justify beginning his reconstruction with a passage taken from Rossini's later opera, La Cenerentola. We know, after all, that the overture to La gazzetta passed without change into La Cenerentola. Why should not this also have happened with the first section of the Quintet from La gazzetta? Intelligently, he comments that the tempo di mezzo of the La gazzetta Quintet seems to have a structure similar to a passage from the Quartet in La scala di seta, and that the final section of the Quintet uses text (but not the entire text) that Rossini had used to conclude the Stretta of his Finale Primo of Il barbiere di Siviglia. He therefore adopted this music, but shortened it to correspond with the text as found in NA-1816. Certainly, given our knowledge in 2007, Mr. Piana's reconstruction and article made very good sense.

But we now know much better, thanks to the identification of the original autograph manuscript of the Quintet, which was found last year in the Conservatory of Palermo by Dario Lo Cicero, librarian of that collection, and was subsequently identified by myself.{9} We remain uncertain about how these manuscripts ended up in Palermo. It is certainly possible that Rossini himself sent the manuscript of the Quintet to Palermo when the Teatro Carolino announced its intention to perform the opera during the Carnival season of 1828 (the only nineteenth-century revival of the opera), but there is no hard evidence of such a collaboration, and—in any event—it would not explain why two pieces from Il Turco in Italia from Rome are also in the collection.

Unfortunately, only the autograph manuscript of the Quintet itself is found in Palermo: the preceding recitative, Scenes vi and vii and the first part of Scene viii, essential in a performance of the opera, still exist in no contemporary source, and, for completing the gap in the critical edition, it has now been reset by Philip Gossett, who had already set the recitative for Scena vi. What we learn from the piece itself is that many of the assumptions the editors of the original critical edition and of Mr. Piana turned out to be false. To begin with, the opening section of the Quintet has nothing whatsoever to do with the Sextet from La Cenerentola, even though the texts of the two compositions are similar in their structure. This is not the only place where editors have been misled by textual similarities that Rossini did not respect. So, before the autograph manuscript of the Duetto for Conte Libenskoff and Marchese Melibea from Il viaggio a Reims was known, I had hypothesized, on the basis of the text printed in the original libretto of Il viaggio a Reims, that the piece was derived from a famous duet in Armida, "Amor, posssente nome!"{10} Not only is the text of the duet from Il viaggio a Reims clearly patterned after the duet from Armida, but there are details that were very peculiar in the text. So, for example, the text of the cabalettas (the final section of both Duets) is made up of three verses only, using similar words, and absolutely parallel to one another, in a structure very different from the quatrains normally found for cabaletta themes in librettos of the period:

Il viaggio a ReimsArmida
Ah! no, giammai quest'anima,
Più cari e dolci palpiti
Non ha provato ancor.
Cara(o), per te quest'anima
Prova soave palpiti
Ch'esprimere non sà.

But when several years later we found music for the Duet from Il viaggio a Reims,{11} I had to eat these words. Yes, the text was clearly derived from Armida, but Rossini's setting was entirely different.

This turns out to have been the case for the first section of the Quintet from La gazzetta. Although the text does indeed have points of resemblance to the verses Rossini would later use for his Sextet from La Cenerentola, the music is entirely different. This is the main theme, as sung by Don Pomponio.

Example 1

You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that in the continuation of the section there is an anticipation of music from La Cenerntola, but not from the Sextet at all. The section, rather, anticipates a passage in the Introduzione (No. 1). I quote only the part of Lisetta, but in fact similar lines are found for all five soloists:

Example 2

This simply suggests that even when he used or anticipated melodies from other operas, Rossini never stopped composing. It is not a surprise that even a very able modern musician, such as Mr. Piana, atempting to reconstruct a Rossini original for which he had no evidence except for the words, would not have anticipated Rossini's own solution.

The problem continues in the tempo di mezzo. We all owe Mr. Piana an enormous debt of gratitude for having understood that Rossini probably used in this section a musical idea from the Quartet in La scala di seta. It is no surprise, however, that Rossini is much freer in his use of this material than Mr. Piana anticipated. In La scala di seta at this point in the ensemble, each person in turn, Dorvil, Blansac, and Giulia turn on Germano and accuse him of having ruined their plans. Dorvil sings "Insolente e chi t'ha detto ch'io colà mi stava ascoso, chi, chi, ch'io colà mi stavo ascoso," to which Germano responds "Compatite mio signore per istinto son curioso, sì, sì, per istinto son curioso, compatitemi, si- ha [at this point Dorvil and later the others rough him up] per istinto son curioso." Rossini set this passage to a melody in the voice and orchestra in C major, four measures from C major to G major, then back to C major, which he then repeated immediately for Germano. But Germano then introduces a modulation of two measures, repeating his text, "compatitemi, si- ha [at this point Dorvil and later the others rough him up] per istinto son curioso, but with a modulation to A minor where Blansac sings his accusation and Germano responds, as at first, but now in A minor, at the end of the passage, Germano modulates from A minor to G major for Giulia's accusation. This time, however, there is no extension with a modulation, because Rossini has finished with this melody.

In La gazzetta, Rossini also used the tune three times, with a phrase for Lisetta the first time, in G major, responded to by Don Pomponio, who modulates to C major, then for Alberto in C major, followed by Don Pomponio who modulates to F major, and finally for Doralice in F major, followed by Don Pomponio, who remains this time on F major and avoids modulating out of the key until the continuation of the passage, in which he no longer follows the music of La scala di seta. In Example 3, I provide the melodic lines as sung by Lisetta, completed with a piano accompaniment, so that the entire melody can be seen.

Example 3a

Example 3b

So, Mr. Piana was absolutely right to employ the music of La scala di seta here, but he could not have known that Rossini placed his quotation in a different musical context.

That the final section was derived from the Finale I to Il barbiere di Siviglia was clear to anyone who looked at the text of La gazzetta, where all five characters sing the following words, identical to part of the text of this Finale:

Mi par d'esser con la testa
   in un orrida fucina,
   ove cresce, e mai non resta
   un continuo sussurrar.

Alternando questo, e quello
   pesantissimo martello,
   che coi colpi d'ogn'intorno
   fanno l'aria rimbombar.

Later Rossini sets the last two lines as "fan coi colpi d'ogni intorno / Tutta l'aria rimbombar." Mr. Piana realized that the passage was too long in the version of Il barbiere di Siviglia to serve as the final section of a Quintet in the middle of the first act, but he still remained too attached to the original text. Rossini's approach is quite different. Most important, in the Quintet Rossini did not return to his opening phrase in a new key, as he had in Il barbiere di Siviglia, which used for the reprise not the C major with which the piece began, but E-flat major.{12} But this is not how he developed these ideas in La gazzetta, nor did Mr. Piana employ this shift in tonality. But Mr. Piana avoided a reprise of the first theme altogether, preferring to begin his reprise with the crescendo phrase at "Alternando questo, e quello." For this passage Rossini used a theme he would employ again in part as the cabaletta theme of the first-act finale of Armida in 1817. This is not what Rossini did in the autograph manuscript of the Quintet from La gazzetta. Instead, he began his reprise at the beginning, but now in C major, not in E-flat major,. Still, he introduced new material here by adding a counterpoint to the melody, as in Example 4.

Example 4

To do this he had to overlap the principal theme with the counterpoint, a solution that was by no means obvious. After this reprise, Rossini continued with an exact reprise of his crescendo idea and concluding cadences. The composer, in short, was prepared to have the conclusion of his Quintet continue a bit longer than Mr Piana was prepared to allow it to go, but nonetheless used only the eight verses shown in the printed libretto, avoiding the extra verses of Il barbiere di Siviglia.

E il cervello, poverello,
   già stordito, sbalordito,
   non ragiona, si confonde,
   si riduce ad impazzar.

What can we learn from this experience? First of all, we learn that we should be hesitant about claiming that Rossini did not write a passage of music, particularly one which serves both a dramaturgical and a musical function, as this Quintet from La gazzetta does, until we have explicit proof that he omitted the passage when he set the composition to music. We also need to be careful about assuming a mechanical use of self-borrowing by the composer. In this Rossini went even further than Mr. Piana suggested in his reconstruction of the music of the Quintet. Like Handel before him, Rossini was not averse to borrowing from himself, when he felt a piece would not be known widely or when he felt that he could introduce new material into it. But Rossini was always a composer, and he would not easily take a passage and employ it without rethinking its function in a new musical and dramatic context. Finally, we learn that Rossini manuscripts can turn up even in unexpected places. We must continue to be on the lookout for musical manuscripts of Rossini, even in collections we thought we knew about.

2013-02-05


MUSICIANS OWN MUSIC BECAUSE MUSIC OWNS THEM. VIRGIL THOMSON