RIGHINI: Il Convitato di Pietra (The Stone Guest)

It was for this troupe that Righini started writing music, and his first opera, Il convitato di pietra, in 1776. Italian by birth and musical training, Vincenzo Righini, could be called German. The term of his career, with the exception of a few early years in Italy, was spent in Austria and Germany where he became a respected singing teacher and composer. In 1780 he was appointed director of the Italian Opera in Vienna, and in 1787, Kapellmeister in Mainz. In 1793, Berlin beckoned him and Righini became court Kapellmeister and director of the Italian Opera until its disbandment in 1806. So well liked was Righini that he was asked to stay on, and in 1811 he was appointed Kapellmeister of the court theatre. Righini, a simple and unpretentious man, returned to Bologna where, as result of surgery, he died on August 19, 1812.
His output includes 15 operas: Il convitato di pietra (1776), La bottega del cafÈ (1778), La vedova scaltra (1778), Armida (1782), Líincontro inaspettato (1785), Il Demogorgone (1786), Antigono (1788), Alcide al bivio (1790), Vasco di Gama (1792), Enea nel Lazio (1793), Il trionfo díArianna (1793), Atlante e Meleagro (1797), La Gerusalemme liberata (1799), Trigrane (1800), and La selva incantata (1803); he also wrote assorted sacred music and instrumental works including an oratorio, Der Tod Jesu, a Missa solemnis, Op. 59, Oboe concerto in C major, and over two hundred songs, one of which, Venni amore, Beethoven used as the bases for his variations for piano in D major (WoO 65).
Like many composers, Righini joined the ranks of Piccini, Mayr, Keiser, Apolloni, Mercadante, etc. when posterity put them in oblivion only to be resurrected by later generations, and returned to their proper place in musical history. Righini, as Mayr would do in Italy, reformed the concept of Italian Opera with his use of German craftsmanship in his orchestration; he paid particular attention to the blending of dramatic and comedic elements, he introduced complex ensembles and elaborate ballets to his operas, he paid particular attention to dramatic insight, and he anticipated many of the reforms which Spontini and Cherubini would later exemplify.
In 1871, Haydn produced his own version of Il Convitato di pietra at Esterh·za. The Prague manuscript used for the premiere of Righiniís opera is not available for comparison, but Haydn reduced the original three act version to two acts. As a result, it is not known how much of the original music remains or how much, if any, of Haydnís own music is in the Esterh·za manuscript. The Belcanto Festival Dordrech (Holland) used the recently discovered Haydn version for this production and live recording of Righiniís Il convitato di pietra.
Act I
After a short but spirited overture with musical themes that will later re-appear, the opera opens with Elisa and Ombrino calling on their friends to help pull two drowning men (Don Giovanni and his manservant, Arlechino) out of the sea. Immediately Don Giovanni pursues Elisa and prays a thunderbolt strike him to hell should his intentions prove dishonest.
Don Alfonso, brings news to the Commendatore that the King wishes to marry his nephew, Don Ottavio, to the Commendatoreís daughter, Donna Anna.
Later Don Alfonso receives the order to arrest Don Giovanni who has fled to Castille after seducing Donna Isabella. Back at the Commendatoreís house, Don Giovanni breaks into Donna Annaís rooms in an effort to abduct her. Her father enters and Don Giovanni fatally wounds the Commendatore. Donna Anna swears vengeance.
Act II
Don Giovanni wants to continue his escape but not before dining. While Arlechino is making dinner arrangements, Don Giovanni falls asleep in the cemetery where Donna Anna finds him. She is ready to strike him dead when Don Giovanni wakes up and professes his innocence and undying love for her. At long last Arlechino announces that dinner is ready, and Don Giovanni urges him to invite the statue of the Commendatore to dine with them. To Don Giovanniís distress, the statue accepts.
Don Alfonso learns from Donna Anna the whereabouts of Don Giovanni. Donna Isabella has also been in contact with Don Alfonso.
Back at the inn, the festivities continue. Arlechino is putting into practice what he has learned from his master, and sings a parody to opera seria to distract him. Suddenly, the laughter stops when Il convitato di pietra enters and invites Don Giovanni to dine with him, not here at the inn, but at a place of the Commendatoreís choosing.
The opera ends with Don Giovanni being tortured in Hell by the Furies, while the rest of the cast sings a hymn of happiness. Don Giovanniís fate brings to mind his words to the Commendatore, ìHe who makes his bed, so he must lie on it.î
There are some very good singers in this recording, especially in the minor roles: Soprano So-Young Shin is very effective as the young Elisa, and makes the best of her only appearance in the opera in her aria ìSe voi mio caroî where she declares her eternal love in exchange for Don Giovanniís faithfulness [!]. Donna Annaís maid, Lisetta, is sung by mezzo-soprano Veronica Soldera. She cleverly combines her fears that someone (Don Giovanni) is in the room with her nervous comedic flair in the aria, ìMi sento venire meno.î Yoon-Jin Song, Donna Isabella, sings ìChi mai in quell core figurar si poteaÖ» folle chi crede,î a simple reflective recitative and aria in which she laments the foolishness of those who, like herself, believed that goods looks in a man equate with a truthful heart. She also mocks the foolishness of those who believe ìthat the heart of a liar could turn to be sincere.î The clever character of Corallina, innkeeper and Arlechinoís love interest, is sung by Soprano, Gonnie van Heugten. She has a light, pleasant soprano voice which she displays well in the ensembles, duets, and her aria, ìIn quell tuo visetto.î Bass Mauro Corna capably sings the two roles of Ombrino and Tribulzio.
Somewhat disappointing is tenor Sang Man Lee as the Commendatore; his voice is pleasant but uninteresting. In the aria, ìSolo dal mio volere,î the Commendatore tells Donna Anna that her fate is in his hands and that ìshe who quarrels with me will no longer be my daughter.î Lee starts well enough, but has difficulty at the end of the aria, and generally does not infuse any sentiment into the words. He is much better in ìDalle squarciate vene,î after the Commendatoreís duel with Don Giovanni.
Baritone Maurizio Leoni is very a capable Don Alfonso. Offended by Don Giovanniís lack of social graces and un-gentlemanly behavior, he sings ìCome in un nobil petto.î His singing is forceful and believable, and his dark voice dips into rage when he wishes that the ìunworthy, coward perjurer trembleÖî Leoni is equally indignant in ìCome un nobil petto.î
Arlechino, Don Giovaniís man-servant, is a good counterbalance to his master. Don Giovanni thinks he is, but Arlechino is clever, acknowledging that, with regard to his master: ìIf there was not me, who, with my wisdom, could moderate his wild temperÖî Tenor Augusto ValenÁa sings with conviction, and is ideal for this buffo role. He has a pleasant, flexible voice, and comedic timing to spare in ìConservati fedeleÖ,î and the subsequent duet with Don Giovanni, ìPer esempio se il nemico.î In ìPadreÖFigliaî he entertains his employer by impersonating the male and female characters in an imaginary opera, singing the male role with a false bass voice, and the female, in falsetto. In ìEich bleibe ich stez ergebenî he parodies the German language as spoken by an Italian.
This recording would benefit with a more interesting singer in the role of Don Giovanni. Bartolo Musil, described in the liner notes as a bari-tenor, does not have the instrument to convey the narcissistic, careless, impudent, self-excusing, blame-projecting personality, tinged with the alluring masculinity essential to the character of Don Giovanni. Musilís voice never manages to leave the back of his throat, and this limits him in showcasing the characterís virility in ìNo, non mi ingannoÖDellíonda sdegnata.î Musilís efforts are commendable in Act II Recitativo accompagnato ìDon Giovanni che fai?î and the subsequent aria ìPerchÈ dal Cielo un fulmineÖî (in which Don Giovanni bemoans his fate, fearful at the realization that the Commendatore will win in the end), however, here as before, Musil fails to reach the desired effect.
By far the star of this recording is soprano Francesca Lanza in the role of Donna Anna. Lanzaís crystal clear voice, beautiful timbre, and solid approach compliment her multi-faceted instrument. She can easily adapt to the different and contradicting emotions of her character: she is at once the dutiful, albeit defiant daughter (Faccia il mio Padre tutto quello che saÖ) who indulges in the luxury of having feelings for the scheming and worthless Don Giovanni; and she expresses grief and anger in ìEccoci, o GenitorÖî where she laments the Commendatoreís death and reproaches his killer. This in turn leads to open rage in the aria ìTutte le furie unite,î which foretells Queen of the Nightís ìDer Hˆlle Rache Kocht in meinem Herzen.î Lanza is remorseful and supplicating in ìOmbra del Padre amato,î a beautiful pensive aria with a valiant finale. In ìGeme, la tortorella,î where Donna Anna compares herself to a turtledove, and Don Giovanni to a snake, Lanza displays her vocal dexterity with easily executed cadenzas, detailed staccato, and secure high notes.
Fabio Maestri securely leads the International Belcanto Orchestra, with attention to detail, and the singerís capabilities. The string section, so essential to the opera, is superb.
Righiniís music is at times dramatic, amusing, simple, or elegant when required. It accurately portrays the action in the story, and it is always engaging. At times he effectively uses the same music to describe different emotions as in ìGiusto Diel cosího vedutoî where the chorus laments the Commendatoreís death. Arlechino joins in with a comical description of his heartbeat, ìE ticche ticche toccheÖî which brings to mind the final scene in Act I of Rossiniís Italiana in Algieri, ìVa sossopra il mio cervelloÖNella testa ho un campanello.î
There is a charming Quartetto in Act II, where the crescendo slowly builds, as each voice enters on alternating beats. The Chorus of Furies, ìFra bere furie orribile,î has a similar structure; all the voices blend at the point of Don Giovanniís ìgods of hell, appease your anger,î which leads to a final quartet between Donna Anna, Corallina, Arlechino, and Don Alfonso. This short pastoral arietta celebrates the joy after the storm.
Nunziato Portaís libretto is credible, witty, fast paced, and unpretentious.
Bongiovanni has recorded two of Righiniís operas. One hopes the other thirteen will soon follow.
Daniel Pardo 2005
Il convitato di pietra
Michael Aspinal
©2005 Bongiovanni
Bologna, Italy
The New Penguin Opera Guide
© 2001 Amanda Holden
Penguin Books
New York
Biographical description of Vincenzo Righini, Louis Spohr and Dominick Argento
1995 Darlyn Bradford
Ball State University
Muncie, Indiana

image_description=Vincenzo Righini: Il Convitato di Pietra (The Stone Guest)
product_title=Vincenzo Righini: Il Convitato di Pietra (The Stone Guest)
product_by=Bartolo Musil, Augusto ValenÁa, Francesca Lanza, Sang Man Lee, Maurizio Leoni, Yoon-Jin Song, Veronica Soldera, Mauro Corna, So-Young Shin, Gonnie van Heugten, International Belcanto Orchestra, Fabio Maestri (cond.).
product_id=Bongiovanni GB 2384/85-2 [2CDs]