Espana alla Rossini

We are pleased to bring you a review of a CD which explores some non-standard Rossini repertory.
The music on this CD will be presented in several concerts in January with Anna Tonna, Miguel Borallo,and others. In NYC the dates are January 8, at Nola Studios ( 224 W. 54th Street, 11th Floor; January 9 at Casa Italiana ( 24 w. 12th Street ).In Miami the concert will be on January 22nd.For more information about the Miami concert, visit

CD review by Dana Pentia, RossiniAmerica editorial staff.

A new CD titled “España alla Rossini” containing some of Rossini’s lesser known songs with Spanish undertones was created by mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna. In the program notes the Rossini expert Reto Müller informs us about connections that Rossini had with Spain. In 1831 he was appointed “Maestro Honorario” of the Madrid conservatory. Through his marriage to legendary soprano Isabela Colbran, who was also the virtuosic protagonist of his Neapolitan opera serie, he became acquainted with Spain’s “natural disposition for art and song”. Rossini visited Madrid in 1831; during the visit he expanded his contacts with Spain, picked up tunes and rhythms of the country, and also some Spanish (by some accounts became fluent in Castilian). The music for his Stabat Mater also took roots during this visit.
The selection of songs on this CD spans from as early as 1821, when Rossini was at the peak of his Neapolitan opera glory, all the way to 1868, at the end of his life, decades after he stopped composing operas.
The CD starts auspiciously with “A Granada”, a Spanish arietta, a late composition from 1861 on a Castilian text by Ventura de la Vega after Emilien Pacini. Immediately, the mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna transports us to the sunny Andalusian city with clarity and directness of her warm mezzo sound, and an impeccable vernacular enunciation of the text. Anna Tonna has made herself known as a fine interpreter of bel canto and verismo repertoire, as well as of Spanish music. She was a Fulbright scholar in Spain in 2007-2008. Critics praise her as “mezzo who knows how to sing Rossini” with “warm and secure” voice and “bright, brilliant coloratura”.
Two love songs from 1831 and 1835 “Amori scendete” and “Nizza, je puis sans peine” enchant with lyricism and Spanish ardor, the second one being a passionate flamenco accompanied by castanets. These are the years that followed his last opera Guillaume Tell, at a time when Rossini probably was still thinking of composing more operas. The arioso style of “Amori scendete” reveals the great operatic stream that was still flowing from Rossini’s pen. Accounts of those times mention that he was working on an opera based on the story of Ivanhoe. This project however never materialized as a new opera, but a pastiche from his earlier works took the stage some years later. The well-known “Canzonetta Spagnuola”, composed for Isabela Colbran, with its bewitched accelerando in flamenco style brings to mind the famous delightful Rossini crescendos. It was composed in 1821, at a time when his connections to Spain were mostly through the singers he has been working with for his new operas, his wife Isabela Colbran being fundamental in capturing his interest for Spanish melodies and rhythms. Countless singers have sung this song, and every time we hear it, it reminds us of fervors of Iberia. Rossini was able to capture the passionate Spanish spirit probably better than many other Italian composers of the time. Rossini knew how to set the simple yet sweet text of “La passeggiata” in a Anacreonic style to witty and charming music. The next group of three songs: “Aragonese”, “Sorzico”, “Tirana Alla Spagnola” are composed all from 1857-1868, at a time when Rossini settled in Paris for good after leaving his beloved Bologna. These were composed as salon pieces to be performed in intimate living room settings. “Sorzico” is a premiere on this album, its music obtained by permission by Anna Tonna from Rossini eminent scholar Philip Gossett. All three are on the verses of the well know little ditty “Mi lagnero tacendo” of the celebrated poet Pietro Metastasio. This short poem provided a rich source for clever, elegant, charming, and often delicately ironic melodies for the immensely talented Rossini. Some experts claim that he set this song to music more than 100 times, on tunes ranging from happy to sad, from lengthy full blown ariettas to brief sketches of just few measures, each in a different style, never repeating. So much for Rossini’s reputation of self-plagiarizing, this little song alone is proof of his immense creativity. This Metastasio verse appear on this CD no less than five times, in “Aragonese”, “Sorzico”, “Tirana alla spagnola”, and twice more in two very stylistically different Boleros, one from 1832, and one from 1850. While the 1832 one has been known and performed before, albeit rarely, the 1850 one is probably heard for the first time on this CD since performed in Rossini’s salon. Both of these boleros, while very different, have unquestionable Rossini trademark. The program notes informs us that the 1850 score was also obtained from Philip Gossett, making it another novelty of perpetually surprising Rossini. What is not immediately clear, from musical selections or the program notes, is the order in which the songs are presented on this CD. They are not grouped chronologically, or linguistically (languages of the song texts are Spanish, Italian, French, and Latin), or stylistically. Though all selections have some association with Spain, not all are in Spanish style, or spirit, or language. For example L’Invito, part of the “Soirées Musicales” composed between 1831 and 1835 is a very Italianate Bolero, on an Italian text by Count Carlo Pepoli. Pietro Metastasio also provided the lyrics for another morsel from his famous “Soirées Musicales”, “La Promessa”, this having even more obscure Spanish connection, also being one of the better known Rossini songs. One wishes the program notes would make the Spanish ties more clear.
Stabat Mater however has the obvious Spanish connection being initiated during a trip to Spain, as well as being premiered (first version) in Madrid in 1833. It is superfluous to discussion here the profundity of this composition, many scholars have commented on this abundantly.
A good part of this CD is allocated to ensemble pieces. Such collaboration is more than welcomed, presenting the diverse aspect of Rossini’s chamber compositions. The love duet “Les amants de Seville” highlights the vocalism and musicality of the tenor Miguel Borrallo. His clear squillo tenor fits perfectly Rossini’s song, and it is easy to imagine that the tenor for whom it was written had similar qualities. The very last selection is reserved to a quartet interpreted by the” Cuarteto Vocal Cavatina” comprised of soprano Mercedes Lario, mezzo-soprano Marta Knörr, tenor Felipe Nieto and baritone José Antonio Carril accompanied on piano by Aurelio Viribay. They masterfully interpret “O giorno sereno” written in 1827, at a time when Rossini was composing his best operas. This quartet could have very well been part of one of his operas. A more than episodic appearance on the CD is the virtuosic castanets player (dancer?) Cristina Gomez Tornamira who can be heard in “Nizza, je puis sans peine” and “Canzonetta spagnuola”. While the castanets will always spice up any Spanish song, one wishes the balance during recording was adjusted better, as they tend to overwhelm the aural perception of the songs.
It is impossible to ignore the expert stylistic accompaniment of the pianist Emilio Gonzáles Sanz. Rossini’s chamber music is never just accompanied vocal line, but truly duets for voice and piano, many times the piano has the more important, main musical line. His masterful playing highlights the depth, sophistication, and charm of Rossini’s musical creativity.
This CD is a welcomed addition for any Rossini lover who wishes to explore the rich diversity of his lesser known, some never heard before chamber vocal music. A thematic presentation of these pieces, as it is in this case “alla Spagnola” is probably the best way to capture interest in today’s era of fast and short attention span.