July 23, 2009

Helen Greenwald’s Critical Edition of Rare Rossini Opera to Have World Premiere with Roberto Abbado, Juan Diego Florez

NEC Musicologist’s Zelmira to Be Performed August 9—18 at Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, Italy

Helen GreenwaldHelen GreenwaldThis summer NEC musicologist Helen Greenwald will have a rare opportunity (as will opera lovers in general) to hear the fruits of her reconstructive labors in a fully staged production of Gioachino Rossini’s Zelmira with an all-star cast of performers. Her 2005 critical edition of the nearly forgotten opera will have its first performances August 9—18 at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, Italy. Roberto Abbado will conduct and tenor Juan Diego Florez, one of the hottest stars in opera today, will sing the role of Ilo, Prince of Troy and consort of the title character. Kate Aldrich, the American mezzo soprano, will sing Zelmira. The production recreates the 1826 Paris version of the opera.

Rossini composed Zelmira in 1822 not only for Naples’s Teatro San Carlo, but also for a Viennese tour. He then took the work to London and Paris. A stage veteran with more than 30 operas behind him (including The Barber of Seville and Cenerentola) and mindful of his international audience, Rossini experimented in Zelmira. He deliberately avoided an overture, plunging the opera directly into the drama. He employed intense chromaticism and emphasis on minor keys to create a dark tone. The ensembles especially are said to exhibit a refined, classical ideal of beauty. He also wrote vocal music requiring extraordinary virtuosity—the better to show off the bravura talent of his soon-to-be wife, Isabella Colbran. Although the work was performed until about 1838, it lapsed into obscurity until the first modern performances in 1965.

Surprisingly, Greenwald’s edition (produced in association with Kathleen Kuzmick Hansell) is the first publication of Zelmira in full score. As in any critical edition, it includes all the music and alterations that the composer wrote for the several different versions, thereby offering performers the option to choose which version to stage. So, for example, her score includes the Vienna aria “Ciel pietoso,” immediately considered integral to the opera; the Paris ending; and other changes for Vienna and London. An additional volume provides authentic stage band music needed for three pieces.

Greenwald’s Zelmira is just one opera in the entire Rossini Edition shepherded by Phillip Gossett at the University of Chicago and produced for the Fondazione Rossini. Gossett and his band of musicologists are currently embarked on a complete Verdi Edition for which Greenwald is editing the opera Attila.

Impetus for modern critical editions is rooted in contemporary ideals of authenticity and methodology, Greenwald said. Modern scholars disavow the editions of previous centuries because they don’t conform to these ideals. “Loosely speaking, the editors of 19th Century editions didn’t think it a bad thing to alter Beethoven, to ‘fix things,’ to add accompaniments, for example, to Bach Unaccompanied Suites. In the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, however, we are obsessed with authenticity. That fixation,” she adds, “will undoubtedly be discarded too in the future.”

Greenwald’s editing process starts with the creation of a “baseline” score that will become “the platform for all editorial decisions.” The editor must choose the principal source for the baseline—usually the autograph score or a first edition, and sometimes a set of parts used in a production supervised by the composer.

None of these is infallible, including the autograph, the musicologist says. “There’s a whole society inside an autograph, a whole city. There’s the composer, of course, but also many other people who have put their hands in the autograph.” After the baseline is completed, it is subject to more changes. Among those might be variants introduced at different productions of the opera—an aria interpolated for a particular singer, for example.

Greenwald tells a fascinating story about just such an interpolated aria that Rossini wrote for the diva Guiditta Pasta for the Paris production of Zelmira. “Da te spero, o Dio clemente” was not included in the original manuscript because it was written at a later date. (Indeed the aria was discovered in fragments “all over the place.”) In order to perform the new aria in the Paris production, original music had been cut and prefatory and concluding music revised. Greenwald’s task was to locate the spots where the old and new music probably dovetailed. Sitting in a library in Paris with the Rossini autograph, she searched the pages where the Parisian conductor would have marked the cuts. Since he didn’t actually excise the superfluous pages or glue them together, she concluded he must have folded and pinned them together so he could flip from the point where the new aria began to the point where it ended. But there was no visible evidence of this.

Closing her eyes, Greenwald pleaded, “Speak to me” and began running her fingers over the pages. In a Eureka moment, she felt the pin pricks she couldn’t see. Then, lifting those pages to the light, she was able to discern the faint 180-year old crease marks in the paper—that had been ironed flat for more than a century by the heavy book.

“I can get very happy from very little,” says Greenwald. Solving the mysteries posed by an old musical score, “you make a sudden connection with what happened.” In a mind-meld with a long dead composer, “you say, ‘I can see you. I get it.’”

The Zelmira production takes place at the Adriatic Arena in Pesaro, Rossini’s home town.

For further information, check the NEC Website

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Recognized nationally and internationally as a leader among music schools, New England Conservatory offers rigorous training in an intimate, nurturing community to 750 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral music students from around the world. Its faculty of 225 boasts internationally esteemed artist-teachers and scholars. Its alumni go on to fill orchestra chairs, concert hall stages, jazz clubs, recording studios, and arts management positions worldwide. Nearly half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is composed of NEC trained musicians and faculty.

The oldest independent school of music in the United States, NEC was founded in 1867 by Eben Tourjee. Its curriculum is remarkable for its wide range of styles and traditions. On the college level, it features training in classical, jazz, Contemporary Improvisation, world and early music. Through its Preparatory School, School of Continuing Education, and Community Collaboration Programs, it provides training and performance opportunities for children, pre-college students, adults, and seniors. Through its outreach projects, it allows young musicians to engage with non-traditional audiences in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes—thereby bringing pleasure to new listeners and enlarging the universe for classical music and jazz.

NEC presents more than 600 free concerts each year, many of them in Jordan Hall, its world- renowned, 100-year old, beautifully restored concert hall. These programs range from solo recitals to chamber music to orchestral programs to jazz and opera scenes. Every year, NEC’s opera studies department also presents two fully staged opera productions at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston.

NEC is co-founder and educational partner of “From the Top,” a weekly radio program that celebrates outstanding young classical musicians from the entire country. With its broadcast home in Jordan Hall, the show is now carried by National Public Radio and is heard on 250 stations throughout the United States.

Contact: Ellen Pfeifer
Public Relations Manager
New England Conservatory