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ClassicsOnline Home » ROSSINI: Pietra del paragone (La)
Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
La pietra del paragone
No other opera of Rossini has been so highly praised in the
literature of the subject and yet so seldom performed as La pietra del
paragone. In common with many other misunderstandings about the composer, this
goes back to Stendhal, who described it as Rossini’s greatest work in the genre
of opera buffa. This judgement by the French writer is unfortunately not
reflected in the performance schedules of opera houses.
pietra del paragone was the first stage work that Rossini wrote for La Scala,
Milan. Here the young composer abandoned for the first time the narrow
geographical area of Bologna-Ferrara-Venice, in which his life had up to then
been spent. According to general opinion he was helped in this Milan engagement
by the singer Marietta Marcolini, who had already appeared in two Rossini
premières, L’equivoco stravagante and Ciro in Babilonia.
Rossini actually came to Milan is not recorded. Already on 11th July 1812 he
had written both the first numbers for the opera. On 21st August Luigi
Romanelli had delivered almost the whole libretto and Rossini had handed over
some of the music to the copyist. Two days later the libretto was approved by
the theatre authorities. After this Rossini’s illness led to final problems. On
10th September there were still six numbers either completely or partly
unwritten. Four other sections were not yet scored. For this reason and because
of the composer’s probable period of convalescence the first performance was,
at the earliest, a month away.
do not know whether his illness took a turn for the better or whether Rossini
was able to increase his speed of work. The first performance was able to take
place in half the time that had been foreseen, on 26th September 1812. It was
one of the greatest triumphs of the composer, who was able to celebrate a
resounding success on the occasion. This success in Milan continued, with the
opera receiving 53 performances, while at the last performance seven numbers
had to be repeated, at the request of the public.
reports in his Chats with Rossini a still greater success for the opera: I was
to become a soldier, and needed to find some way out, as I was a house-owner …
But the success of that opera persuaded the general commanding in Milan to
regard me favourably - he applied to the Vice-Regent Eugen, who was away, and I
was allotted more peaceful duties. With this opera Rossini won the good will of
the Minister of State Luigi Vaccari, who, in October 1812, spoke exceptionally
positively of him: This is a young man of great culture…, who has at his
command much taste, much expertise, describing him as of the highest promise.
barbiere di Siviglia, after an exceptional scandal at the première, brought a
series of stage successes without comparison in the world, and so shaped the
fate of La pietra. It was decisive that the first performance outside Milan in
1813 at the Teatro San Benedetto in Venice was unsuccessful. The Venetian
failure did not mean, however, the end for this opera. Yet that it could not be
counted among the first rank of Rossini operas meant that for nearly two
centuries it had no place, not even a modest one, on the stage. In the years
after 1962 until the middle 1980s the opera was revived, reworked by Günther
Rennert, under the title Die Liebesprobe, a true renaissance in Germany.
version took away much of the charm of the original opera and degraded it into
an operetta. For the first time an original realisation, as in the present
performance, makes it possible to understand the complexity of the work. This
is shown not least in the title. The verbal translation Touchstone, suggests an
idea not found in modern dictionaries. In Rossini’s time the alloy of gold and
silver was established through a touchstone. In the transferred sense the
touchstone in the opera is used in two meanings, on the one hand for the value
of the character of the friends, not only of the women, and on the other to
establish that of the Count. The proportion of pure metal in the alloys is
found wanting in very different ways. It is not a matter of a Liebesprobe or
Test of Love in the narrower sense.
plot is often said to be much more improbable than other opera texts. The
situation in which the three women competing for the Count are respectively
provided with an admirer could have corresponded to the social reality of Italy
at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries.
Unmarried women had only one aim, marriage. After the wedding other liaisons
could be entertained. A married woman could be permitted much, a single woman
particular interest, however, is that the opera has not only the plot in the
foreground, but is to be seen as part of an actual literary-musical argument.
It is not coincidental that all three admirers are of a literary turn. Two of
them in different ways bear negative connotations in their names, taken from
Roman writers, Macrobius (A.D. 400) and Pacuvius (220-130 B.C.). Both are
indeed caricatures of their namesakes, while the third, Giocondo, has a name
that does not suit him at all, since he is anything but cheerful.
occasion of the dispute must have been the opera Le bestie in uomini (The
Beasts in Men) by Giuseppe Mosca. Mosca’s opera came immediately before La
pietra del paragone on 17th August 1812 at La Scala with the same cast as
Rossini’s first performance. Without a closer knowledge of the text of Mosca’s
opera it is difficult to make out the cause of the dispute, but two parallels
between the operas can be mentioned. Textually Rossini’s opera has similarities
with Mosca’s, at all events in the basic group of characters. Here three women
compete for one man, while in Mosca’s opera there are three men who set their
sights on the enchantress Alcina. It is notable that at least one of the
leading characters in Mosca has a Roman name, Pasquino. The tailor Pasquino in
the sixteenth century attached lampoons and epigrams to a marble statue in
Rome, later known as pasquinades. Another character is called Marforio. This
may not be absolutely certainly an allusion to a historical person (perhaps
Mavortius, A.D. 527, a consul with literary interests), but there are striking
similarities between the names Pasquino and Pacuvio, Marforio and Macrobio, and
it cannot be out of the question that the parts were sung by the same singers.
are further indications. In his report on a busy day at the office Macrobio observes
that there is a noise in the anteroom ‘come di mosche o pecchie’ (like flies or
drones), mosche a possible allusion to the Mosca brothers. The double entendre
was clear to contemporaries. Further, Pacuvio’s nonsense aria ‘Ombretta
sdegnosa’ can be mentioned, which has at least two interpretations, as a
conversation between fish (a caricature of Mosca’s ‘bestie’?) and as talk
between playing cards, but a conversation is also possible between the shadow
of a sorcerer and a fish. The shadow of a sorcerer could be a reference to
Mosca’s sorceress Alcina.
is open to question whether Rossini went indeed first to the literary feud or
only to the plot of a piece full of suggestions and double meanings. A serious
sonnet by Giocondo in the second act, which was not set to music by Rossini,
was at all events only used for the first three performances and then cut out.
in Rossini’s work the rôles of the two lovers are entrusted to contralto and
bass. The tenor has only a subsidiary, if musically very appealing part. This
corresponded to current practice in that year in Milan. A partly similar
grouping is found also in Rossini’s Turco in Italia (La Scala, 1814).
misfortune that Rossini underwent through his illness proves particularly
fortunate for us. We can at least partly follow the composer’s working method.
Nearly all the numbers still lacking on 10th September and not scored are arias
(Nos 3, 8, 14, 16, 18, 19). The Quintet, No.15, and the Overture still had to
be scored. Only one ensemble was completely lacking, the Terzetto of Finale I.
Almost all the numbers already composed were ensembles. Rossini composed his
operas starting with the ensembles, a practice of which L’italiana in Algeri
also offers some evidence. The regularly repeated ‘instruction’ of Rossini on
the composition of overtures is demonstrably wrong. The Sinfonia was not
written last but waited only for scoring.
then can the remarkable discrepancy between Stendhal’s judgement and the until
today unsatisfactory reception history of the opera be explained? It comes in
part from the musical taste of Stendhal, who was by no means the great admirer
of Rossini as he is performed today. His preference was rather for the music of
Cimarosa. The closer Rossini stayed to this style, the greater his pleasure in
it. This means that Stendhal had no understanding of Rossini’s later music. For
him Rossini’s music stops in 1813. This easily explains the rating given to La
pietra by Stendhal, who did not even know all the early one act operas.
us La pietra del paragone is the two-act opera buffa between L’equivoco
stravagante and L’italiana in Algeri. The three operas, written in the space of
a year cover the period of development from operas in the freshness of youth to
mature masterpieces. In this development La pietra stands closer to L’equivoco,
from which some elements were taken over, than to L’italiana. In the nineteenth
century three masterpieces of opera buffa by Rossini held their place, not the
earlier works that he had quickly outstripped in style. That explains much, if
not everything in the peculiar features of the reception history of the work.
Listeners today have acquired an understanding of these early works completely
different from that of Rossini’s contemporaries and wish, therefore, like
Lessing, that the opera be less praised and more often performed.
English version by Keith Anderson
The action takes place in a rich village, not far from one
of the principal cities of Italy, in the neighbourhood of the same village, and
in Count Asdrubale’s pleasant country house there.
A mixed chorus of Count Asdrubale’s guests and gardeners.
First Pacuvio, then, on one side, Fabrizio, on the other Baroness Aspasia, and
finally Donna Fulvia.
and gardeners join in praise of Count Asdrubale, his wealth and nobility, as
well as his difficulty in choosing a wife. Pacuvio enters, holding some papers
and calling for attention, wishing to read his new poem in which Alceste talks
with the shade of Arbace. No-one wants to hear him, but catching sight of
Fabrizio, he promises to enchant his ears with the verse. Fabrizio tries to
disengage himself, and is called by the Baroness, to whom Pacuvio now turns.
She does not want to hear him, and Pacuvio turns to one or the other,
determined to read his poem, now interrupted by Donna Fulvia.
addresses first Fabrizio, then the Baroness, who leave him with Donna Fulvia,
who has been more disposed to listen.
Pacuvio and Donna Fulvia
Pacuvio calls Donna Fulvia his treasure but she tells him
that she aspires to the hand of the Count, not for love, but because he is
rich. When she is married, she will see that Pacuvio is taken care of. They
move away, as Macrobio and Giocondo approach.
Macrobio and Giocondo enter, arguing.
and Giocondo argue in angry and abusive words on the rival merits of journalism
changes the subject, seeking to know which of the women has a better chance
with Giocondo’s friend, the Count, suggesting the Marchesa Clarice, on whom
Giocondo’s heart is set. Macrobio pretends to sympathize with him over his
coming disappointment and they part.
The Marchesa Clarice, answered by the Count, pretending to
be an echo.
is soon aware of the presence of the Count, whose echoes seem to suggest his
love for her, as she declares her own.
pretends that echo is her only consolation.
She recalls the words that the Count has echoed, seemingly a
declaration of his love, and considers that her rivals have little chance,
although she has doubts about the Count’s true intentions. She resolves to hide
in the garden, to see what transpires.
The Count enters alone, seeing if the Marchesa has gone.
claims that if he did not know that women were deceivers, he would have pity
for Clarice, and inveighs against the ideas of pity and of love.
is surprised that, now thirty, he has not married, rich as he is. Yet wealth is
the problem, and he would like to know which of the rival women pursuing him
values him for himself rather than for his riches.
teases the Count by asking him whether echo is masculine or feminine and
whether it moves around, tempting him. She suggests the true identity of the
echo, and reminds him of the words of his echo. As they part, he tells her that
echoes sometimes joke.
Donna Fulvia, then Pacuvio
is seeking the Count, to give him a rose. She is interrupted by Pacuvio.
At last he is able to recite his ridiculous verse of the
disdainful shadelet by the Missipipì, after which he makes to leave.
congratulates him, before seeing the Count.
They are joined by the Count, pensive and approaching
The Count muses that his heart favours Clarice. Fulvia
accosts him and gives him the rose.
Fabrizio and the Count
The Count confides in Fabrizio his plan to test the women by
disguising himself as an African, with Fabrizio’s help.
Rooms giving onto the garden.
Giocondo and Clarice, then Macrobio and the Count
Giocondo asks Clarice why she is so sad, and she tells him
she is recalling her twin, Lucindo, a useful device. Giocondo regrets her
preoccupation with the Count, his friend and rival, and wishes she would look
favourably on him. They are joined by Macrobio, at which Clarice assumes a
cheerful expression. Macrobio wishes that journalists would give proper reasons
for their views. An argument is about to follow, when Clarice interrupts by
declaring that all three of them are equally unreasonable.
Count, she says, will and will not, Giocondo is silent or sighs, and Macrobio
praises or criticizes, each with a reason. They all claim justification. Clarice
tells them they are all fools.
Fabrizio appears and gives the Count a note, which he reads,
The other three comment on the Count’s reception of this
news, while he himself resolves to put on a pretence of perturbation, arousing
the curiosity of the others, as they leave.
Pacuvio and Donna Fulvia, then the Baroness
is anxious to show Macrobio his new verse, on the value of which Donna Fulvia
has some reservations; she does not understand why the Count is laughing.
Pacuvio suggests it is for joy. The Baroness comes in, paying no attention to
either of them; she is looking for Macrobio, whom Pacuvio will fetch
immediately, as he hurries away.
The Baroness and Donna Fulvia, later joined by Pacuvio, who
returns with Macrobio
The Baroness suggests that Fulvia is sad, which she denies,
and they each imply their intimacy with the Count. Pacuvio returns with
Macrobio, trying to impress him with his new composition, but the latter
assures him that he has a vast supply of material.
tells of the pressures upon him as a journalist. A prima ballerina reports
great success in Solimano, paying for the intended notice. The mother of a
prima donna reports her daughter’s great success at La Fenice, which Macrobio
again promises to notice. He goes on to list the many virtuosi of all kinds who
expect attention, a conductor, a poet and others. He leaves, together with the
The Garden, as before
Chorus of gardeners, who leave shortly afterwards
gardeners announce that the Count is sad and miserable, in his room, afflicted
by some cruel turn of Fate.
Clarice comes into the garden, withdrawing modestly from
Giocondo. Macrobio appears and finally the Baroness and Donna Fulvia.
asks Clarice why she is leaving and what she fears, and she tells him that she
is afraid of becoming too proud, when she hears his praise of her. They are
observed by Macrobio, who, aloud, pretending not to notice them, recalls the
famous forbidden love of Medoro and Angelica. He announces the Count, to the
alarm of the other two, but refers, of course, to Count Orlando in the story of
the two lovers.
pretends to notice the other two, who understand his drift, while he claims to
be speaking of Angelica and Medoro and the poor Count, so deceived.
Macrobio leaves, and the other two are about to go, when the
Baroness and Fulvia appear.
Baroness and Fulvia are horrified, since it seems the Count has lost
everything; they have been lucky to escape from marriage with him. Clarice and
Giocondo ask about this news, but the Baroness and Fulvia hurry away to find
Macrobio returns, and then Pacuvio from the opposite side.
About to leave, Clarice and Giocondo meet Macrobio.
Macrobio has literary allusions to great losses, references
that Clarice and Giocondo understand little. Pacuvio, in agitation, claims that
now the Count has no table and no cook. His creditor will invite him, Macrobio
suggests. Clarice and Giocondo seek information on the matter. From Japan, says
Pacuvio. No, from Canada, says Macrobio. A Turk from Britain, says the first. A
German born in the Land of Drink. Unenlightened, Clarice and Giocondo hurry
The other two are joined by the Baroness and Donna Fulvia,
then by the Count, disguised, accompanied by servants and sailors similarly
disguised. A notary appears, with fictitious court officials, and Fabrizio, who
feigns extreme affliction.
There is mutual recrimination between Pacuvio and Macrobio,
quietened by the Baroness and Fulvia, as the Count, in disguise, approaches,
speaking in broken Italian to Fabrizio, and holding a worn out paper, a bill of
credit for six million. The mercenary intentions of the others are apparent,
and the Count comments on them, aside. Macrobio says that the man is speaking
Etruscan, but it is clear that the stranger intends to put a seal on all the
Count’s possessions, including the belongings of the Baroness and Donna Fulvia,
the papers of Macrobio and the dramas of Pacuvio. They are happy to have the
Count’s goods impounded, but not their own possessions.
An inner courtyard in the Count’s house
Clarice is alone, then joined by the Count and Giocondo,
whom she does not see, while she is not seen by them. Macrobio and Pacuvio, the
Baroness and Donna Fulvia then appear.
muses on her own constancy and sincerity. The Count appears, in his own dress,
pretending to be sad at his misfortune. Giocondo tries to comfort him and they
agree that misfortune may serve as a touchstone.
Pacuvio, the Baroness and Donna Fulvia, tell Clarice that the Count is all
hers, observed by the Count and Giocondo. Coming forward, the Count asks what
help his supposed friends can give him. Macrobio offers an article, Pacuvio an
elegy. The Baroness and Fulvia have nothing to offer, but Giocondo warmly
offers his house and Clarice her hand, a situation on which they all comment.
Fabrizio comes in cheerfully, with an old piece of paper in
his hand. The chorus of guests and gardeners is equally happy.
announces that he has found in the dust in an abandoned cupboard a document
that solves the Count’s difficulties. The others react as might be expected,
Clarice and Giocondo with sincerity, and the others feigning delight. All
comment on the mutability of things.
An internal courtyard, as in Act I.
The Baroness, Donna Fulvia and the Count’s guests, then
Macrobio and the Count on one side, Giocondo and Pacuvio on the other.
chorus announce that the stranger has left empty-handed. The Baroness and
Fulvia, humiliated, now the ruse is revealed, will take revenge, perhaps on the
Count, on Clarice and on Giocondo. Macrobio tells the Count that he was joking,
an excuse that the Count would be spared, while Pacuvio pleads poetic licence
to Giocondo, to the latter’s contempt. The Baroness and Fulvia comment on their
and the Count comment on the behaviour of their false friends. Macrobio tells
the Baroness that he will dispute the matter and demand an apology, a technique
fresh from China, that he will publish in his paper. Pacuvio, addressing Fulvia,
declares that Giocondo has secretly offered an apology. Meanwhile the Count and
Giocondo look on, entertained by the pretensions of the others. The Count comes
forward to suggest a hunting party, telling a servant to fetch Clarice.
Macrobio and the Baroness are about to go, but are detained
by Donna Fulvia.
Fulvia whispers something to the Baroness, as she goes. The
latter tells Macrobio how Pacuvio had had satisfaction from Giocondo, a claim
that Macrobio doubts, but insists that he defend her honour, in his turn.
Pacuvio with a gun, and a chorus of huntsmen
huntsmen ironically urge Pacuvio to action, before they leave.
Pacuvio clearly has no idea how to shoot, propping the gun
first against one shoulder then another.
wind mounts and the wood grows dark. There are sounds of gunshots from the
distance, with birds in flight. Pacuvio makes ineffectual attempts at shooting,
and runs off. The wind increases and the wood grows even darker. There are
flashes of lightning. Pacuvio returns, terrified.
Pacuvio is anxious to find safety, having lost his gun and
He runs off, as the storm subsides.
speaks of the storm in his own heart, as he imagines his beloved Clarice in the
arms of his rival and friend.
thinks of her beauty and her lack of regard for him as a lover, as he is about
Clarice joins him, followed later by Macrobio, the Count and
is calling Giocondo, and Giocondo is surprised to see her alone, the Count
having gone into the wood with some of his people, leaving her to be escorted
by two of his men. Giocondo starts to address Clarice in his usual high-flown
poetic terms. She tries to silence him, but he tells her of the three rival
elements that disturb him, her fortune, his love and his friendship, the last
of which, she tells him, he must keep.
Clarice tells Giocondo to hope, but in silence, and one day
she will free him from his bonds.
Meanwhile Macrobio appears, calling for the Count, whom he
sees in the distance. They are joined by the Baroness.
The Baroness calls for Macrobio, who ironically describes
her as the first among the widows to boast fidelity. The Count, unobserved by
Giocondo and Clarice, remarks that women are always women, seeing what appears
to be a flirtation between Giocondo and Clarice, who seems to promise him love,
to his joy, but these are just words, she says, to give him hope. The Count
comes forward and accuses Clarice of duplicity.
They are joined by the huntsmen.
The huntsmen declare that their shooting-party has gone
badly, although the Count had seemingly bagged two cuckoos, a reference to
which Clarice takes exception, as the storm resumes.
The rooms, as in the first act.
Donna Fulvia and Fabrizio, then Pacuvio, breathless
tells Donna Fulvia what slaughter of wild life he would have wrought, but for
the weather. He takes a tiny dead bird out of his pocket, a sign of his
achievement. Donna Fulvia has no use for it, and as she goes Pacuvio admits, as
he leaves, that the bird died of fear.
Count Asdrubale and the Cavalier Giocondo
Giocondo has explained Clarice’s innocence to the Count, but
before the latter can take any step towards marriage, he resolves to entertain
himself by making fun of Macrobio.
As they are about to go, Clarice comes happily in with an
unsealed letter in her hand.
Clarice announces the unexpected return of her beloved twin
brother, Captain Lucindo. Returned from Elysium, the Count suggests, but
Clarice assures them that he is still alive and has written to her. In an aside
she begs forgiveness from her dead brother for using his name in this way. The
Count offers an invitation to him and will take no refusal.
They are about to go when Donna Fulvia and Pacuvio come in.
According to Pacuvio, Donna Fulvia had spread word of his
secret supposed humiliation of Giocondo. She had only whispered it to the
Marchioness in confidence, and the Marchioness had told Macrobio in confidence,
and Macrobio had published the news in his journal, which means he will seem to
have broken his word, and be in some danger, in any case.
Fulvia thinks nothing of this. The penalty for public outrage must be public,
to teach anyone who insults her a lesson.
Macrobio, joined by Giocondo, then the Count and two
servants, each bearing a sword.
haughtily offers Macrobio a choice of pistol, and the latter tries to excuse
himself. The Count now also claims satisfaction.
suggests that Giocondo and the Count should settle the matter for priority
between themselves, and he will fight the survivor. As they have arranged
beforehand, the Count and Giocondo take swords from the servants, to the
apparent relief of Macrobio, but soon lay them down again, as the Count, the host,
must give way to his guest. Macrobio is terrified, but the Count suggests an
idea to end the affair. Macrobio must admit that he is a coward, venal, a
ridiculous trifler, the greatest ignoramus. He agrees and the Count and
Giocondo hand their swords back to the servants, and they all leave.
In the village, various houses and among others those of the
Count. A view of the countryside, with a small hill to one side.
Pacuvio comes out of the Count’s house, then Donna Fulvia,
the Baroness and Macrobio.
Fulvia inveighs against Pacuvio, calling him a liar and impostor. Macrobio
enters, assuring the Baroness that he has not been wounded, but if only she
could have seen the duel.
Fabrizio comes down the hill and joins the others, while
various people from the village look towards the countryside with some
Fabrizio announces the approach of Captain Lucindo, who
looks very like his sister Clarice, as the Baroness and Donna Fulvia observe.
They step aside, as Clarice enters, dressed in uniform, with
a lieutenant, a sergeant, two corporals and soldiers, watched by the people of
the village and the Count’s servants.
pretends gladness at seeing her own country again, addressing her soldiers, who
thank her for her bravery in face of danger. She proclaims the victory of Mars
Clarice enters the Count’s house, accompanied by Fabrizio
and the Count’s servants, while the onlookers disperse.
The Baroness and Macrobio; Pacuvio and Donna Fulvia come
on the likeness between the handsome officer and Clarice, the Baroness and
Donna Fulvia make their way back into the Count’s house, resolved to try their
Clarice in military uniform, Count Asdrubale and the
The supposed Captain Lucindo assures the Count and Giocondo
that he intends to take Clarice away with him. They are dismayed, but the Count
tells Giocondo that he understands his former folly.
Count pleads with the supposed Lucindo for pity, now openly declaring his love
for Clarice, without whom he cannot live.
The Count rushes out, followed by Giocondo.
The Baroness, then Donna Fulvia, with Clarice, and finally
runs in, begging Lucindo’s agreement to the Count’s wishes, or the latter will
kill himself. The Baroness and Donna Fulvia comment on the scene, and try to
engage the Captain in conversation. Clarice, however, has signed her true name
on the paper that Fabrizio has brought from the Count, and he understands the
true situation. To general amazement Clarice reveals her true identity.
all comment on this revelation. Clarice and the Count demand pardon of each
other. Macrobio, Pacuvio and Giocondo are ready to celebrate the coming
marriage, while the Baroness and Donna Fulvia seem ready to content themselves
with Macrobio and Pacuvio, who both demur. The Count, however, is ready to
change his attitude to women, and all ends in rejoicing.
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