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Recycled Brilliance:  Rossini's 'Sigismondo'

During the early decades of the 1800's Gioachino Rossiniwas among the most popular composers in Europe -- a true musical megastar.  But then, as now, even the most consistent hit-makers stumble from time to time, as Rossini proved with his thorny 1814 opera Sigismondo.

At the time, Rossini had recently composed a series of successes, including his powerful drama Tancredi and the sparkling, mirror-image comedies The Italian Girl in Algiers and The Turk in Italy. So the audience at the premiere of Sigismondo, which was given at Venice's legendary theater La Fenice, was expecting something special.

Instead, the new show was a bust. For one thing, the plotline was confusing at best -- but that wasn't the worst of it. What seemed to annoy people most of all was the music. A number of the opera's tunes had already been used in earlier works, so critics considered the score unoriginal. And Rossini's operas were so popular that many in the audience were disappointed; they knew those earlier works, and were hoping for something completely new.

Still, for modern audiences, that recycled music hardly raises an eyebrow. For one thing, when Rossini took music from earlier operas, he was borrowing from his own work -- not a bad source of material. And he wrote so many operas, nearly 40 in all, that by now many of his early scores are unfamiliar. So to modern ears, despite its borrowings, the rarely-heard Sigismondo sounds fresh -- as though it's a brand new offering by one of opera's all time greats.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone brings us a production of Sigismondo from the annual Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, the composer's hometown, on Italy's Adriatic coast.  The stars are mezzo-soprano Daniela Barcellona as Sigismondo, the king of Poland; and soprano Olga Peretyatko in a fiery performance as Aldimira, the king's unjustly accused wife.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive.

Copyright 2010 WDAV

Bruce Scott
Bruce Scott is supervising producer of World of Opera. He also produces NPR's long-running, annual special Chanukah Lights, with Susan Stamberg and Murray Horwitz.