The Ferrara Tancredi

Written by  Vittorio Emiliani
Ferrara in the musical life of Gioacchino Rossini.
Gioacchino Rossini stayed in Ferrara on several occasions. It is by no means impossible that he was there as a child of seven, for the Carnival of 1798-99. The eminent Rossini scholar Paolo Fabbri has discovered that the composer's Pesaro-born mother, Anna Guidarini, who took soprano roles in opera semiseria, sang the leading roles in no fewer than three operas, by Mayr, Gardi and Cimarosa, during that Carnival.

We do not know whether her husband Giuseppe Rossini, who often accompanied her in the orchestra playing the trumpet and the horn, was with her on this occasion. The couple's young son, born in 1792, often travelled with them. From an early age the child began to play various instruments, acting as accompanist on the harpsichord, and singing and acting ably. He achieved this before he began his regular studies, firstly at the Malerbi music school in Lugo and subsequently at the Liceo Filarmonico in Bologna.

The young Rossini was certainly in Ferrara for the 1809-1810 Carnival season, when he was employed as harpsichordist, once again at the Teatro Comunale. Aged seventeen, he already had experience as a singer, player and composer.

However, in December 1809, the Giornale ferrarese announced that, with Rossini on the harpsichord, the company would perform Ferdinando Orlandi's comic opera Il podestà di Chioggia and the mythological ballet Armida. At this time the young Rossini met the Ferrara Count Francesco Aventi, who combined his position as commander of the National Guard with a keen and unrequited passion for the theatre.

It was Count Aventi who brought Gioachino back to Ferrara, in the late winter of 1812. During Lent, the theatres were only allowed to open for the performance of oratorios or religious and classical dramas, and Aventi commissioned Gioachino, then barely twenty, to compose a new opera based on his own libretto, Cyrus in Babylon.

Returning from his great success in January at San Moisè in Venice with the farce L'inganno felice, Gioachino succeeded in bringing some prominent singers to Ferrara, including the contralto Marietta Marcolini whom he had met in Bologna. She sang the part of Cyrus the Great en travesti. There was also a good soprano, the Bolognese Elisabetta Manfredini, and a fair tenor, Eliodoro Bianchi.
Rossini prepared carefully for his Ferrara debut with this Lenten drama, which was full of grace and solemnity. Listened to today, it is full of brilliant intuitions, orchestral subtleties, and very varied music, serious, pathetic and heroic in turn.
In fact Rossini had already written another opera entitled Demetrius and Polibius some years before. This was not staged until mid-May 1812 at the Teatro Valle in Roma. Thus Rossini's theatre debut in opera seria remains Cyrus in Babyon in Ferrara in March 1812. The composer, his career now well under way, returned to the Teatro Comunale a year later, after his debut at the Fenice in Venice with the heroic melodrama Tancredi. The Tancredi performed in La Fenice, unlike Voltaire's play, had been given a happy ending. A month later Rossini's fine neoclassical opera was staged at the Teatro Comunale in Ferrara, with some minor changes and this time, a tragic ending.
The text for the new ending was written by Conte Luigi Lechi. For the hero's death, Rossini wrote an unusual score, an exhausted farewell to life, simple and without virtuosity, accompanied by a moving choir and a few quiet notes on the strings.
Music of the future, and in March 1813 too advanced for the audience, which responded coldly, particularly to the tragic ending. The aria "Di tanti palpiti" sung by Tancredi brought Rossini Europe-wide fame when he was barely twenty-one Today this fine tragic ending is often performed, and this version of the opera is known as the "Ferrara Tancredi".

Pictures: © Marco Caselli.