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ClassicsOnline Home » ROSSINI: Inganno felice (L') [Opera]
Rossini’s ‘rescue opera’ L’inganno felice (The Happy Deception) won immediate contemporary popularity after its first performance in 1812. One of the composer’s most inventive and sparkling scores, with soprano, tenor and bass arias of great beauty, it is today by far the least well-known and least often performed of his five farse written for Venice. The drama concerns the attempt of Isabella, wrongly rejected by her husband the Duke, and her protector, the miner Tarabotto, who had rescued her, half dead, from the sea, to bring to justice the Duke’s villainous confidant Ormondo and his henchman Batone, and to reconcile Isabella with her husband, an end happily achieved, the guilty punished and the innocent triumphant.
By David Denton
Continuing that rich seam of productions from the ‘Rossini in Wildbad Festival’ we have L’inganno felice (The Happy Deception) completed when Rossini was just 20-year-old. It was one of five farces written for Venice beginning in 1810 and enjoyed tremendous success for over half a century before falling into today’s obscurity. It is here presented in a new performing edition made for the festival by Florian Bauer. The story is far from accepted comedy, and relates the misfortunes that beset Isabella, wife of Duke Bertrando, who. having resisted the advances of Ormondo, a close friend of the Duke, is accused by him of adultery. She is cast out into the sea, but manages to reach an outpost of the Duke’s kingdom where she is befriended by Tarabotto. Years later news that the Duke is coming to the area sets in motion a plot to win back his love. Everything works in her favour as he is accompanied by Ormondo, who recognising her and plans to have her kidnapped. The plot is easily foiled, and dressed in the finery in which she was originally cast adrift, she confronts the Duke, who is still in love with her. Ormondo’s treachery is revealed and the couple happily reunited. There are just five characters in the opera and no chorus, arias linked by recitative. The booklet reveals that the production nearly foundered, Kenneth Tarver, having to learn the part of Bertrando in just five days, and I bet there were few takers. Indeed the opera’s fall from grace may be explained by the dearth of high tenors needed for the role of Bertrando. Tarver has already appeared in many major European opera houses, and is obviously a likeable character who makes a very brave effort on a vocally fiendishly difficult role. The Italian soprano, Corinna Mologni, gets around the mercurial passages with consummate ease in her portrayal of Isabella. Though young in years, the British bass, Simon Bailey, makes a rather old-sounding Ormondo and is rather overshadowed by Lorenzo Regazzo’s Tarabotto. The 80-year-old conductor, Alberto Zedda, instinctively knows his way around Rossini’s scores and has the admirable Czech Chamber Soloists, Brno, as the enthusiastic orchestra. It is a quite short work, just falling the wrong side of 80 minutes that can be accommodated on one disc. There is little stage noise, and balance between singers and orchestra is ideal.
Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) L’inganno felice (The Happy Deception)
Bertrando - Kenneth Tarver, Tenor
Isabella - Corinna Mologni, Soprano
Tarabotto - Lorenzo Regazzo, Bass
Batone - Marco Vinco, Bass
Ormondo - Simon Bailey, Bass
Among Rossini’s five farse (farces) written for Venice, L’inganno felice (The Happy Deception) is by far the least well-known and least often performed today. In Rossini’s time however the opera was presented often and hastened onto the stages of Europe those two great works Tancredi and L’Italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers).
Little is known about the genesis of L’inganno felice. It was the second farsa which Rossini wrote for Antonio Cera, the impresario of the Teatro San Moisè in Venice, and the third of his operas to be staged. The success of La cambiale di matrimonio (The Marriage Contract) in 1810 had persuaded Cera to offer the promising young composer another commission, this time for the more important carnival season of 1811/12. Rossini had little time in which to write it because the première of the two-act L’equivoco stravagante had been given only a few weeks earlier, in Bologna.
The première of L’inganno felice took place on 8th January 1812, with a cast of good singers including Teresa Giorgi Belloc, Luigi Raffanelli and Filippo Galli and the opera was a huge success. The day after the performance Cera wrote an enthusiastic report to Rossini’s mother: “L’inganno felice has caused a real sensation; the public was enthusiastic about it, from the overture to the end of the finale, and there were constant cries of ‘What beautiful music!’”.
At the end of the performance the young composer was called onto the stage to tumultuous applause. Cera prophesied to Anna Guidarini Rossini that, in a few years’ time, her son would be one of Italy’s jewels, Cimarosa reborn. The reviews in the Venetian newspapers were equally positive. That same evening Cera offered Rossini a contract for three further farse. The première of L’inganno felice ended the carnival season in the most beautiful way and the final (fourteenth) performance of the first run took place on 11 February.
Rossini’s collaborator, Giuseppe Foppa (1760- 1845), was one of the best-known opera librettists in Venice and specialised in writing farse. For Rossini he wrote the libretti for La scala di Seta (The Silken Ladder) and Il Signor Bruschino as well as countless texts for other composers. The claim that Foppa had based his libretto on an older work with the same title, which Giuseppe Palomba had written for Paisiello, does not stand up to scrutiny. As far as its content is concerned, Paisiello’s two-act comic opera bears no relationship to Rossini’s work.
The genre of the farsa should not be thought of as comic opera. It should be considered, rather, as a one-act device which served as a “filler” between the acts of a serious opera, though by Rossini’s time this origin had been almost completely lost. The Teatro San Moisè specialised in farse and, as a rule, would present two in a single evening. In any case, L’inganno felice is not a comic opera but a one-act semiseria (semi-serious) one. In Rossini’s output it is the precursor of Torvaldo e Dorliska and Matilde di Shabran as well as his bestknown semiseria, La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie). The term semiseria is not to be understood as “half-serious” or “half-comic” but represents the genre of bourgeois melodrama or rescue opera, whose subjectmatter can be summarised thus: that the persecuted innocent will be rescued at the last minute. This is the case with L’inganno felice which, in the loosest sense, belongs to the same material as Genoveva. The faithful wife is unjustly accused of infidelity, disowned, and finally taken back again by the husband after everything has been resolved. Rossini and his librettist Foppa returned to this theme again in the opera Sigismondo, albeit with far less success.
In its structure however L’inganno felice is in keeping with Rossini’s other farse. The opera consists of nine numbers, including the overture. The pseudo-finale (No. 4) is right in the middle of the work but as a terzetto is somewhat inconsequential, but it corresponds to the structure of La cambiale di matrimonio (The Marriage Contract) and Il Signor Bruschino, while La scala di seta (The Silken Ladder) and L’occasione fa il ladro (Opportunity Makes a Thief) are written in larger forms. Typical of the semiseria is the Tarabotto and Batone duet (“Va taluno mormorando”) between the comic assistant of the persecuted innocent and the serious villain.
In his two-act semiserie Rossini broadens the situation into a terzetto (Torvaldo e Dorliska) and into larger-scale forms (Matilde di Shabran), arriving at an altogether different kind of music. Although musically speaking L’inganno felice is a pure buffo opera, in the later works the serious parts were treated in a more solemn manner, as opposed to the “prattling” style of the buffo part. La gazza ladra, on the other hand, is actually a typical semiseria, but not in its musical structure. That is because of the very unconventional libretto and the resultant larger number of characters which means that the comic assistant (Giorgio in Torvaldo e Dorlikska) is divided into two characters (Pippo and Giorgio).
The overwhelming success of L’inganno felice resulted in countless reworkings typical of the times. The 1821 production in Venice is the only documented performance which conforms almost completely to the version given at the première. Otherwise a chorus of mine-workers was frequently introduced, replacing the extras. The more or less extensive alterations to the music occurred in Lisbon in 1817. When Filippo Galli switched from the rôle of Batone to that of Tarabotto he took Batone’s arias with him, thereby resulting in further adaptations. The most important changes were those to Isabella’s aria, which was either frequently replaced or even left out. It seems likely, but not certain, that Rossini agreed to some of these changes. It is known, however, especially in the case of Isabella’s aria, that there are additions from unknown compositions.
L’inganno felice was performed again later in the year of its première at the Teatro San Moisè as well as in Bologna and in Florence. In 1813 it received more performances than L’Italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers), an opera which had been successful from the very start, and further performances took place in the north of Italy. In 1814 it was overtaken by Tancredi. In 1815 L’inganno felice became the third most often performed of Rossini’s operas, with performances in eight different opera houses. In 1815 it was also given for the first time abroad (Barcelona) and the following year for the first time in Germany (Munich) and at the Court Opera in Vienna. In 1817 it was staged in nine theatres. In Germany it remained on the programme in Dresden, Munich and in Vienna and further performances took place in Lisbon, Lucca and Siena. In 1818 seven theatres put the opera on and now Germany became its main stronghold. In 1819 the number of theatres staging it rose to twelve.
In the first decade of its existence it maintained third place in the number of performances (61) of Rossini operas, behind Tancredi and L’Italiana in Algeri, but ahead of Il barbiere di Siviglia and Otello.
L’inganno felice was unable to maintain this strong position in the following decade but even so it had over a hundred performances in Italian and foreign opera houses. Of these just under a quarter took place in Germany, where the opera was frequently given under the title Die Getaüschten (The Betrayed Ones). At this time the opera even achieved a degree of literary (albeit slight) fame. In his novel Der Kongress von Verona (The Congress of Verona) Julius Mosen, albeit reluctantly, refers to this work: “Then Rossini’s opera L’inganno felice began and Crivelli, Passerini and Galli summoned up their extravagant trills in order to elicit the applause of the illustrious audience.”
In the 1830s the frequency of performances of L’inganno felice lessened considerably, but by then it had travelled overseas: to Santiago in Chile (1830), to Vera Cruz (1831), to New York (1833) and to New Orleans (1837). In 1838 it was staged in three venues but in 1839, for the first time, there were no performances anywhere. In the 1840s the opera was hardly ever performed and after that only sporadically: in 1850 at the Royal Municipal Theatre in Berlin, in Milan (1865), in Naples (1872), in Florence (1876) and in Madrid (1878).
The twentieth century paid little attention to L’inganno felice. What in the nineteenth century had been far and away Rossini’s most often-staged farsa now became the correspondingly least-often performed. This has nothing to do with its musical worth and rather more to do with the incomprehensible lack of engagement with the semiseria genre in the present age. The first revival of L’inganno felice in modern times took place in Rome in 1952/53, followed, in 1954, by Bologna, Naples (RAI, 1963/64), Palermo (1968), Buenos Aires (1969), Wexford and Birmingham (1970), Naples (RAI, 1972), Pesaro (1980), Menton (1991), Narni (1992) and, in 1994, by Verona and (again) Pesaro. In the 1990s a series of performances was given in northern Italy whereas in Germany it was performed only in 2002 in Karlsruhe and for the re-opening of the Kurtheater in Bad Wildbad in 2005.
English version by David Stevens
 Introduction. The scene is set in a valley at the foot of a range of mountains, from one of which a road leads down to the plain. To one side are rocks suggesting the entrance to a mine, with the house of Tarabotto, leader of the miners, to one side. Opposite is a great tree, with a bench in front of it.
 Tarabotto appears from one of the mines, with a group of miners, who have apparently told him that the Duke is coming. He sends the men back to work and leaves as Isabella enters, holding, a bejewelled portrait of her husband who has banished her from his presence and to whom she would show her fidelity. Tarabotto returns, observing her, always sad, and seeing that the portrait she holds is of the Duke, as a younger man. Isabella, still unaware of Tarabotto’s presence, declares herself the Duke’s wife, hiding the portrait, and, when she sees Tarabotto, hiding a paper she has been holding. Tarabotto asks her what she is hiding, but he has seen the portrait and the paper.
 Tarabotto questions Isabella further as to why she has a portrait of the Duke. He recalls how ten years ago he had found her, half dead, by the sea and taken her back to his house, and accuses her of ingratitude. She hands him the paper and sits down, disconsolate, on the bench. Tarabotto reads the paper that declares that Isabella, believed dead, still lives, his Duchess, betrayed by Ormondo and his follower Batone, by whom she had been set in a boat and entrusted to the waves. The letter goes on to urge the Duke to come to the iron mines, where he will see honour and innocence triumph. Tarabotto questions Isabella further as to why: did Batone set her out to sea? Isabella tells him that she was told that it was on the orders of her husband. Tarabotto seems to have a plan, and they both withdraw into his house.
 Soldiers appear, followed by Duke Bertrando, who remembers fondly his wife, whom he now believes dead, the one whom he ought to hate, but still loves.
 The Duke is joined by Ormondo and Batone, and discusses the plans of a neighbouring ruler. Batone tells them they should question Tarabotto, and they call out for him. He appears and tells them that he lives there with his niece, Nisa. As the Duke and his soldiers enter the mine, Tarabotto realises the identity of the Duke’s two followers. Batone is left, feeling thirsty, and calls out for Nisa, the name by which Isabella has been known. She comes out, but hides her face, when she recognises Batone, who tries to flirt with her but is nonplussed when he sees Isabella’s face, wondering whether it is her or not. She offers to fetch Batone water, but he claims he is no longer thirsty.
 Batone wonders whether this can be the one that he had left a prey to the sea. In doubt, he begs her pardon.
 Isabella realises that Batone is undecided. She is joined by Tarabotto, who has a plan: the Duke has need of the mine-workings for a military operation and she, as his niece, should present the plan to the Duke. She must come when he calls her, and then they will see what happens from the meeting. When the Duke returns, Tarabotto asks leave for his supposed niece to present his plan, and calls for her. She approaches the Duke with her eyes cast down, but he is first struck by her voice.
 In surprise the Duke allows the plan that Isabella offers him to fall to the ground, to be picked up by Tarabotto. The Duke is amazed at the resemblance of the woman to his Duchess, hardly believing Tarabotto’s assertion that she is his niece, each of them with their own reactions to the encounter. The Duke asks Tarabotto if she is really his niece, and Tarabotto assures him that she is his brother’s daughter. She makes to leave, but the Duke tries to hold her back. She goes into the house, while Tarabotto, apart, observes the scene.
 Tarabotto realises that the necessary impression has been made, while the Duke reasons that Isabella is dead and this woman is Nisa, Tarabotto’s niece. Ormondo enters and the Duke asks him whether Isabella is really dead. He reassures the Duke, who resolves, for the moment, to keep his thoughts to himself. He goes out, and Ormondo is joined by Batone, both observed still by Tarabotto. Ormondo asks whether Batone had seen Isabella perish, and is reassured by the latter. Ormondo seeks the reason for the Duke’s questions, and Batone tells him that Tarabotto’s niece is the spitting image of Isabella. Tarabotto strains in vain to hear Ormondo’s command to Batone to abduct Isabella and bring her to him at night.
 Ormondo must be obeyed, on pain of death. He goes out.
 Batone is unhappy at the threat, which he has heard before. Tarabotto realises that something is plotted that night and resolves to worm it out of Batone. The latter seeks to ingratiate himself with Tarabotto, who now appears, claiming extraordinary sympathy for him, while each tries to outwit the other.
 Speaking in friendly confidence, Batone tells Tarabotto that there is a rumour that Tarabotto has no niece and each tries to discover what the other knows about the identity of Nisa and what is afoot, Tarabotto emerging with more success than Batone.
 Tarabotto, alone for a moment, realises that there is a plot. He is joined by Isabella and tells her he has understood everything. They bow as the Duke, Ormondo and their followers appear. The Duke has matters to discuss with Ormondo, while Isabella is in trepidation. The Duke addresses Isabella, asking why she is afraid, and she tells him she fears men. Tarabotto starts to explain, but then tells Isabella to continue. She tells him how she was betrayed.
 Isabella goes on to tell of her love and how it was returned, before it was stolen from her by a wicked man. She enters the house.
 The Duke remains absorbed in thought, while Ormondo realises he must act, as he goes. Night approaches, and the Duke is still absorbed in thought, while Tarabotto has prepared everything so that the Duke can discover matters for himself. He kneels before the Duke and reminds him that he has promised to defend his niece, Nisa. He tells him of the plot and of the need to trick the offender and promises to reveal the villain.
 It is night and Batone, with his armed followers, is ready to carry out his plot. Tarabotto and Isabella come out of the house and hide behind the tree. Isabella is dressed in noble but modest attire. She asks Tarabotto the reason, but he tells her not to fear. They hide. The Duke appears, with his followers, and conceals himself in the entrance to the mine. Ormondo enters, with a single follower, at whose appearance the Duke and Tarabotto exclaim. He approaches the house, from which Batone appears, and asks him if the girl has been abducted. Batone tells him that she has disappeared, but Ormondo does not believe it and goes into the house himself. At this point the Duke steps forward and challenges Batone, who is terrified but promises to obey the Duke, who returns to his hiding-place to watch what happens. Ormondo comes out, declaring the woman not there, and Batone asks why she is to be abducted. Ormondo tells him that she is Isabella, who had once rejected his advances and who must die before she reveals to the Duke his treachery. At this point the Duke comes forward, accusing the traitor and, in desolation, asking where his wife is. Isabella emerges, before he can harm himself, and draws from her bosom the portrait of the Duke, who now recognises her. Tarabotto explains how he had found her on the shore, half dead, and how he had kept her clothes and now unmasked the villain. Isabella pardons her husband and they embrace, to Tarabotto’s approval. Batone explains how he had been coerced, on pain of death, and kneels to seek pardon, which is granted him by Isabella, and all ends in happiness, the guilty punished and the innocent triumphant.
The Italian libretto may be accessed at www.naxos.com/libretti/660233.htm
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ROSSINI: Inganno felice (L') [Opera]