Rota capello C5466

Nino Rota (1911-1979)
Il cappello di paglia di Firenze (The Florentine Straw Hat) (1955)
Fadinard – Piotr Buszewski (tenor)
Elena – Tetiana Miyus (soprano)
Nonancourt – Daeho Kim (bass)
La Baronessa di Champigny – Anna Brull (mezzo-soprano)
Chor der Oper Graz, Grazer Philharmoniker/ Daniele Squeo
rec. 2021, Graz Oper, Austria
Libretto with English and German translation enclosed.
Reviewed as download from press preview.
Capriccio C5466 [2 CDs: 107]

Nino Rota is probably best known for his more than 150 film music scores for Fellini, Zeffirelli, Visconti, Francis Ford Coppola and others, but his oeuvre also includes ballets and other orchestral works – among them two symphonies – and no fewer than ten operas. The third of them was Il cappello di paglia di Firenze, composed towards the end of WW2 but not premiered until 1955. It is based on a French play, Un chapeau de paille d’Italie by Eugène Labiche and Marc-Michel. The libretto was written by Rota himself and his mother Ernesta Rota Rinaldi. It is a hilarious comedy – being Italian it should be appropriate to call it an opera buffa, even though the term disappeared with the end of the bel canto epoch. Verdi’s Falstaff is a glorious exception. While it is in no way on the same artistic level as Falstaff or Don Pasquale or the Rossinian comedies, it is still a highly entertaining comedy, full of surprises and – typically – unrealistic complications – and the music fits the story like a glove: spirited, melodious and stirring. There are several solos and ensembles that can stand alone and are well worth returning to for the beauty of the tunes and the freshness. The four acts and two intermezzi fizz along in no time, there are no longueurs, and after the final duet with Fadinard and Elena – one of the musical highlights – and the concluding ensemble with everyone involved, one sits there, slightly exhausted, wishing to hear it all over again. 

What about the straw hat? Well, in the first act Fadinard’s hungry horse eats a valuable and very rare straw hat, owned by Anaide, who needs it to prove that she is not unfaithful to her suspicious husband – which she is! This starts the circus of events and misunderstandings that forces Fadinard to search high and low for another hat – in spite of his imminent wedding to Elena. In the last act he manages to find it, so there was Much Ado about Nothing, it might seem. Unfortunately, another hungry horse eats the replacement! However, everything is sorted out, the wedding belatedly takes place and All’s Well that Ends Well

To make this improbable story digestible you need a cast of good actors and good singers, and that is what Capriccio gathered at the Oper Graz during four intensive days 29.03.- 01.04.2021. Studio recordings of complete operas have been almost non-existent during the last couple of decades, and in a comic opera it is a blessing to be spared the noises of running feet, slamming doors and all the other drawbacks of live recordings. Obviously this recording wasn’t based on actual performances, which often has been the case with many studio productions, but it is going to be played during the spring 2023, with premiere on 13 May. Lucky those who will be able to see and hear it with this cast. 

They will immediately be stimulated by sprightly overture, Daniele Squeo conducts with vitality and obvious relish. Piotr Buszewski’s light and pliant Fadinard will entice the ladies with his technique as well as his nuanced singing in his aria (CD 1 tr. 4). When he somewhat later joins forces with Tetiana Miyus’ delectable Elena – possibly the star of the performance – in their romantic duet (CD 1 tr. 7) the whole audience is in for one of the highlights in this opera. Before that, Daeho Kim as Nonancourt, Elena’s father and Fadinard’s father-in-law-to-be, sings his grand aria in typical buffo style CD 1 tr. 6). Before the end of the first act both Antonia Cosmina Stancu as Anaide has presented her expressive mezzo-soprano, and Dariusz Percak as her lover Emilio has made an impression. 

Before Act II there is a short intermezzo with a quick visit to a millinery shop, where the milliners’ chorus is entertaining and stimulating, and La modista, Silvija Pleše, sports a well-schooled soprano. After this short scene we are transported to the Baronessa di Champigny, who is said to own the right kind of hat. She doesn’t any longer, but she is personified by the vibrant and expressive mezzo Anna Brull, who makes her highly-charged grand lady. In Act III we encounter Beaupertuis, the frustrated and jealous husband of Anaide, sitting in the footbath while delivering his humorous monologue. Ivan Oreščanin’s reading is spot on CD 2 tr. 1.

After a brief intermezzo, this picaresque tale works its way through parts of Paris then finally lands where it started: at Fadinard’s house, where in Act IV the outcome of the story takes place. As I said earlier everything is sorted out after these boisterous tidings, and then comes the vocal highpoint, when the happy Elena tells her father how much she loves Fadinard, and now, at last, they can be married. Her lovely singing here (CD 2 tr. 14) should move even a heart of stone to tears. 

I suppose that by now the readers, and in particular those lucky opera lovers in Graz who already have tickets for the production there from May 13, will appreciate that I like what I have heard. Not all the voices may be of worldclass, but as a team this should be trump card for Austria’s next largest opera house. Others, not so lucky, should also derive a lot of pleasure from this issue, since competition is practically non-existent. There was once an RCA recording, which was the soundtrack to a quite successful film from 1974. It was recorded at RCA’s studios in Italy, conducted by the composer himself, so it certainly has the creator’s imprimatur. The all-Italian cast was starry with Daniela Mazzucato (Elena), Edith Martelli (Anaide), Viorica Cortez (Baronessa di Champigny), Ugo Benelli (Fadinard), Giorgio Zancanaro (Emilio), Alfredo Mariotti (Nonancourt) and Mario Basiola (Beaupertuis). Mariotti also sang Nonancourt at the premiere at the Teatro Massimo, Palermo, on 21 April 1955, where Jonel Perlea was the conductor. I once had this recording in a cassette version, but it was wrecked and ended its too short life as “tape-salad” as we used to say in those days. I hope Sony one day will search out the master tape from their archives and remaster it. While waiting for that this brand-new recording is a worthy replacement.

Göran Forsling 

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Other cast
Beaupertuis – Ivan Oreščanin (baritone)
Anaide – Antonia Cosmina Stancu (mezzo-soprano)
Emilio – Dariusz Perczak (baritone)
Lo zio Vézinet – Martin Fournier (tenor)
Felice | Achille di Rosalba – Mario Lerchenberger (tenor)
Un caporale – Richard Jähnig (bass)
La modista – Silvija Pleše (soprano)
Una guardia – Veli-Pekka Varpula (tenor)
Minardi – Julian Gaudiano (spoken role)