Dramma giocoso in two acts
Libretto by Gaetano Gasbarri
Music by Gioachino Rossini
In 1856, the Black Forest spa town of Bad Wildbad hosted an illustrious guest who was described by one local as ‘a little tremulous in his motions but with an open face and a lively eye’. That guest was the long-retired Gioachino Rossini, who spent several weeks in the town and found enough relief for his ailments that he was even inspired to resume composing – not opera, but the salon pieces he called his ‘Péchés de vieillesse’(‘Sins of Old Age’).
In 1989, Bad Wildbad decided to pay tribute to its famous guest by establishing a ground-breaking Rossini festival. The Rossini in Wildbad Festival has been going strong every summer since, performing the Rossini operas that are rarely – if ever – heard elsewhere. In this way, Rossini in Wildbad has made itself a magnet for keen Rossini fans and outstanding young performers who are eager to see the Italian master’s lesser known works come to life, as well as select operas by some of his contemporaries. Over the decades, Rossini in Wildbad has built up an impressive CD and DVD catalog of its productions, and many of today’s famous artists and Rossini singers have appeared on both the festival’s stage and in its CDs and DVDs, including Joyce DiDonato, Olga Peretyatko, Maria Luigia Borsi, Sofia Mchedlishvili, Margarita Gritskova, Pavol Breslik, and Michael Spyres.
L'equivoco stravagante (The Curious Misunderstanding) was the nineteen-year-old Rossini’s second opera, but the first he wrote in two acts. Like La cambiale di matrimonio, his very first opera, it is a highly precocious work: scored with assurance and immediately recognizable as music that could only have been composed by Rossini, it was followed a mere two years later by L’italiana in Algeri.
The work was first performed in Bologna in 1811, but performances were quickly halted by the authorities because of perceived subversion in the plot. This was likely triggered by the ruse (the ‘curious misunderstanding’ of the opera’s title) concocted to save Ernestina, the bookish daughter of rich farmer Gamberotto, from marrying the equally rich but oafish Buralicchio. Over the course of the first act, Ernestina only has eyes for her impecunious tutor Ermanno and resists the prospect of marrying Buralicchio, but is forced into taking the courtship seriously by her father.
At the beginning of the second act, Gamberotto’s cunning servants devise a ‘curious misunderstanding’ that will supposedly boost Ermanno’s chances: Buralicchio is sent a hoax letter which reveals that Ernestina is in fact Ernesto, whom Gamberotto had castrated as a boy in order to make money as a castrato singer. Now that Gamberotto made his own fortune in farming, he insists that his son should continue wearing women’s clothing so that he can avoid military service. Buralicchio falls for the ruse and angrily reports Ernestina, who by now has come around to the idea of marrying him, for desertion (the plot element which the authorities found too subversive). She is quickly arrested and thrown in jail, but Ermanno soon appears and helps her to escape.
All is settled back at the house of Gamberotto, who defends himself from accusations of wrongdoing by revealing himself as the hoax’s real victim. His servant Frontino justifies his actions by saying he acted in Ernestina’s true interests. Buralicchio concedes that he should look for another wife and Ermanno confesses his love for Ernestina to Gamberotto. The misunderstandings have been resolved, much to everyone’s relief and happiness.