Pietra del paragone, La (‘The Touchstone’)
- Richard Osborne
Melodramma giocoso in two acts by Gioachino Rossini to a libretto by Luigi Romanelli ; Milan, Teatro alla Scala, 26 September 1812.
A party is in progress in the country house of the wealthy young bachelor Count Asdrubale (bass). The guests include the lovely and demure Marchesina Clarice (contralto), her frustrated admirer the poet Giocondo (tenor) and a notable quartet of society bores and fortune-hunters: the poetaster Pacuvio (baritone), his escort Donna Fulvia (mezzo-soprano), the journalist Macrobio (baritone) and Baroness Aspasia (soprano). While the women vie for Asdrubale’s attention, the men carry on various wars of attrition. Pacuvio in particular wishes to win a hearing for his fatuous new poem ‘Ombretta sdegnosa del Missipipì’ which Rossini turns into one of his most brilliant nonsense arias. Asdrubale is much taken with Clarice and she with him; but she fears that in such company her affection will be thought mercenary. Happily for her, Asdrubale and his servant Fabrizio (bass) decide to test the guests’ sincerity by announcing that Asdrubale has lost all his money, Asdrubale himself turning up in the guise of a foreign potentate to slap the seals (‘Sigillara’) on the Count’s possessions. Fulvia and Aspasia are outraged and alarmed as they launch the Act 1 finale, judged by Stendhal to be the funniest Rossini wrote. Clarice, needless to say, remains loyal, but in an epilogue she too is given the chance to test her lover’s faith. Dressed as a Captain of the Hussars, she poses as Clarice’s brother who has come to take her away from these ‘ill-starr’d shores’; Asdrubale’s response is desperate enough to convince Clarice of the real depth of his feeling. Rossini’s casting Asdrubale as a bass (Filippo Galli in the original production) is an interesting aspect of a work that is overflowing with fresh invention. Act 2 contains a good deal of romantic scene-painting culminating in Giocondo’s plaint to Clarice’s beauty ‘Quell’alme pupille’. There is also a fine trio, later reused in ...