Tancredi @ Brussels

It’s always a pleasure to hear Rossini’s Tancredi, the effort Rossini put into the composition is evident, especially in the women’s arias and duets. For the premiere at the Teatro la Fenice in Venice in 1813 he had two leading ladies: Adelaide Malanotte as Tancredi and Elisabetta Manfredini as Amenaide, the latter sang in Ciro in Babilonia a year earlier and Rossini would also compose the soprano part for her in Sigismondo and Adelaide di Borgogna. The team put together for the two evenings in Brussels, one with the happy ending written for Venice and one with the Ferrara ending (where Tancredi dies at the end) is somewhat heterogeneous. Giuliano Carella was the conductor and he conducted as usual, with vitality and verve. At times the precision of the singers’ coloratura suffered from tempi that were too speedy. But overall there were no drops in tension. The orchestra was not disastrous but not far from it either: I felt that as simple as the accompaniment can be in Italian opera, the more difficult it is to sound appropriate. In this respect the orchestra sounded quite mechanical, no nuance, no subtlety had to be expected, and in vain were Carellas gestures to play more piano. What lacked in Marie-Nicole Lemieux was the coloratura, quite unsatisfactory, but there is not too much of it in Tancredi and what one can appreciate is the beautiful chest register which Lemieux uses unsparingly. Evident is the big personality but the interpretation is questionable and the important final aria before the happy ending does not fully convince. I much enjoyed Salome Jicia as Amenaide although this part requires a higher soprano (as all parts do written for the Manfredini) and the picchettati in the beautiful aria in act 2 put her under strain in terms of precision and intonation as well as the cabaletta of her entrance aria but this was in part due to Carella’s tempi. Very well Enea Scala. Although no ringing voice, there was a beautiful research in colours and easy coloratura paired with an impeccable pronunciation. Nonetheless I’d much prefer him not to choose for the higher top notes’ option as they have the tendency to sound a bit harsh. Excellent Blandine Staskiewicz in the small role of Roggiero, I thought her aria in act 2 was impeccable. A bit subdued Lena Belkina as Isaura. Very unrefined was Ugo Guagliardo’s singing as Orbazzano.

Director-Giuliano Carella, choir leader-Martino Faggiani, Argirio-Enea Scala, Amenaide-Salome Jicia, Tancredi-Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Orbazzano-Ugo Guagliardo, Isaura-        Lena Belkina, Roggiero-Blandine Staskiewicz, De Munt/La Monnaie Orchestra and Chorus, 11/10/17, http://www.urfm.braidense.it/rd/04966.pdf

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Rossini’s Armida @ Gent

ARMIDA_23_MG_0079_smallInteresting how Rossini and his librettist Giovanni Schmidt treated the subject. In Schmidt’s vision, Armida and Rinaldo already know and love each other. With this expedient Rossini is able to put the focus quite fast on the great love duet in the first act. At the same time, composer and poet are Romantics ante litteram with all the rekindling of a flame, the return of love, suffered sacrifices etc. On top of that Rossini, as he managed to do only in Naples, experimented with musical forms and Armida is one of the complexer operas of the Neapolitan period. Armida was different from current works, shown by the quartet “Sfortunata, or che mi resta,” where music adapts admirably to the situation and change of affections and is almost as elaborate as a closing of an Act; or the first act so full of events to almost predict the grand opera; a second and third act dramaturgically quite calm, but full of magic predicting the magical works of Spohr, Weber etc… The second and third acts are, after an eventful first, almost without action, beginning a more introspective work in the characters, which culminates in the final scene of a bitter and angry Armida. The importance given by Rossini to Armida (his future wife Isabelle Colbran) and the opportunites given to the character were spotted by Maria Callas, who sang Armida in 1952, in a period where Rossini known to the public was confined mainly to Guillaume Tell and The Barber of Seville.

The conductor of the Gent production was Aberto Zedda, a Rossini specialist, a key figure in the rediscovery of Rossini for the last decades. However, he is more of a theoretical specialist than a good conductor. His beat lacked vibrance, had no rubati and was metronomic.

UntitledBetter were the singers. Carmen Romeu sang Armida in Pesaro last year. Criticized at the time by many, I found her quite excellent, although driven by a director unable to give enough space to deploy her capabilities. In Gent I was surprised to hear some intonation problems. But I still find her a great Armida, remarkable in the coloratura, a great stage presence, a smooth and balanced voice from the lowest to the highest register. Enea Scala is a young tenor who is impatient to sing the the most difficult tenor roles. He has a nice tibre, the voice is flexible and bright. He certainly has the physique du role which helps and overall sings the difficult role of Rinaldo very convincingly. Robert McPherson sings well enough but his timbre in the higher part of his voice is dry and his approach to the role is a bit too delicate, almost Mozartian. I am not sure who wrote the variations, but they certainly brought out the shrillest, and most strident part of each singer. This was almost unbearable in the final cadenza of McPherson’s act I aria, where his voice was on the verge of breaking any second. Victims of unrefined variations were also Romeu and Scala in the finale of act I, trudging along flights of notes, composed regardless of their vocal capabilities. Dario Schmunck was overall acceptable as Goffredo/Carlo while Leonard Bernard and Adam Smith were vocally unpersuasive.

ARMIDAZedda was not very convincing, but Clement’s direction was an outrageous mass of inconsistent ideas which stripped the opera of its dramatic force, a heap of platitudes of the lowest class, and one cringing banality after the other, leaving the opera without any expressiveness.

 

Musical director-Alberto Zedda, Staging-Mariame Clément, Set-Julia Hansen, Costumes-Julia Hansen, Lighting-Bernd Purkrabek, Armida-Carmen Romeu, Rinaldo-Enea Scala, Gernando/Ubaldo-Robert McPherson, Goffredo/Carlo-Dario Schmunck, Idraote/Astarotte-Leonard Bernad, Eustazio-Adam Smith

Une folie organisée o Guillaume Tell, L’occasione fa il ladro and L’italiana in Algeri at the Rossini Opera Festival 2013

imagesThe ROF or Rossini Opera Festival: The yearly festival dedicated to the opera’s of that tornado that revolutionized the musical world in 1810-1820. Pesaro is a small and pretty town on sunny adriatic, one eats well, enjoys the sea, in the evening one saunters well dressed in the centro storico or along the lungomare. There is also much music to be enjoyed and the happenings are semi-chique considering that one can sip Prosecco next to Alfred Brendel, be seated in a box next to Raina Kabaivanska or ask Patsy (aka Joanna Lumley) to light one’s sigarette during the break.
The 3 opera’s of the ROF 2013 are Guillaume Tell, L’occasione fa il ladro and L’italiana in Algeri.

tellThis year’s big attraction was meant to be Guillaume Tell. “Un’opera strana” was a comment from two well-read opera aficionado’s behind me. And one of the first Grand operà’s is indeed a little strange, with strikes of genius but also with long choral passages and little action. One can try to explain this with a mediocre libretto, or Rossini’s difficulty to adapt to the French style. The opera is undeniably quite long and includes the women’s terzetto in Act 4 and Jemmy’s aria in act 3, two often cut pieces.
Much has been written and discussed about Florez’s interpretation of Arnold, as the role is long and difficult, and his vocality does not seem fit for this heavier role. But he gets through the role and the first 3 acts without major problems. He sings a very moving Asile hereditaire in Act 4 but a mechanical Amis, amis in a discrete French. Big personal success and much applause of course, but Florez is an absolute star in Pesaro. I felt that Marina Rebeka’s voice was less controlled than in Amsterdam a couple of months back, with slightly screamed high notes and less precise coloratura (Mariotti’s tempi did not help) but she sang with a strong and steady voice. Like in Amsterdam, I did not like Nicola Alaimo as Tell, his stage presence and voice were not important enough to interpret the Swiss hero, neither in the heroic, nor in the more lyrical moments. In this Guillaume Tell, Jemmy’s aria, which is often cut, is re-introduced, but the game isn’t worth the candle neither for the piece on its own nor for the interpreter. Amanda Forsythe, whom I vividly remember as a spirited and sparkling Rosalia in L’equivoco stravagante in 2008 (Pesaro) sings well and with a good stage presence but with little voice and reducing the aria to a coloratura showpiece. The other singers were adequately cast although some of them had an execrable pronunciation.
tell5The musical director Michele Mariotti starts with a well directed Ouverture, playing with well placed rubati, but as already said, the opera is long and needs a director who is able to keep the suspense down to the wire. Although undeniably a good director, Mariotti had some odd choices of tempi and was not able to span the musical arch to the end.
Graham Vick’s direction is all based on socialist symbolism and a repeated display of the Habsburgs’ violence and humiliation over the Swiss. It’s a bit repetitive at times but it does not necessarily disturb the action. It is in fact quite conventional, occasionally even trivial (the stairs at the end; the soppy movie of Arnold’s father…) but the ballabili were very moving and well danced, although part of the public did not appreciate them, booing the dancers (shouldn’t they boo the director instead??). All in all, nothing to get overly excited or overly disappointed about. Just a bit too much.

occasione160813_640xL’occasione fa il ladro: One of the loveliest of the farse written for the Venetian teatro San Moisé, if you ask me. It is clear from the music Rossini forges for this short opera (eg the elaborate aria for Berenice and intricate second finale, which comprises several different musical structures) that the short form of farsa (a comic opera usually in one act, originating in Venice or Naples) was too tight to Rossini’s musical fecundity and inventiveness.
The production is the one Jean-Pierre Ponnelle created for Pesaro in 1987. It is based on simple and traditional acting with painted scenes and few props. The group of singers reunited is a mix of young newcomers like Enea Scala and Victoria Yarovaya, and more recurrent ROF singers like Roberto de Candia and Paolo Bordogna. The cast is good although one could pick about the insufficient coloratura di forza of one, the strained voice in the higher register of the other, the slight backwards voice of a third or the somewhat stiffness in acting of a fourth. But the group effort made it a very enjoyable musical evening.
occsI would like to mention Elena Tsallagova in the role of Berenice. She sang the loveliest Arpa gentil I ever heard life, in the 2011 Viaggio a Reims production in Pesaro (the yearly performance given after the seminar dedicated to interpretation of Rossini’s music). Unfortunately she made a bad choice with Contessa di Folleville of the same opera in Ghent in 2012. With her Berenice I found again the beautiful and pure voice I heard in 2011. Her coloratura can be impeccable if she finds a director who gives her the time to deploy it properly. Given a wise selection of adequate roles (belcanto, mostly, I hope) I wish Ms Tsallagova a very fruitful career.
The (female) musical director was Yi-Chen Lin, who directed with precision and supported the singers .

The third opera was L’Italiana in Algeri, which Rossini, already a small celebrity now, after the successes of Tancredi and La pietra del paragone composed for the Venetian Teatro San Benedetto in May 1813.
italiana150813_640xAlex esposito as Mustafà sings with impeccable pronunciation and nice, fullbodied voice. Which is a bit short in the deeper register but this does not lessen the overall respectable performance which he sings with precise enough coloratura in the florid passages. Mario Cassi as Taddeo and Mariangela Sicilia as Elvira sang admirable and Davide Luciano (as always accompanied by his good friend the eunuch…) gave a good interpretation of his aria, which btw, was not composed by Rossini but by an unknown collaborator. Yijie Shi does not have Florez’s smooth voice but he is a fine singer and comes across the difficult part of Lindoro quite well. The Isabella of Goryachova, on the other hand, was a questionable point. Clearly at ease with the coloratura, with a velvety voice, she is, however, a clear mezzosoprano, which makes it easy for her to fling to the higher, but gives her some trouble in the lower notes, which are barely audible (I had the same impressions when she sang Matilde di Shabran‘s Edoardo in Pesaro last year). Why she keeps singing contralto roles is unclear to me, which, if satisfactory when heard on radio, is unacceptable in a theatre, as her voice does not expand or spread well (She was a nice, velvet-voice Zerlina in Zurich, though)
Unfortunately the musical direction of this Italiana was given to José Ramon Encinar who directs in an unimaginative, lifeless, tedious and vigor-less manner. Never have i heard the Comunale di Bologna play so mechanically and with so little energy.
Where this Italiana scores brilliantly, in my opinion, is the 60’s-inspired direction by the always inventive Davide Livermore. It is quite difficult to list all the actions that are happening on stage. But Livermore’s interpretation is probably encouraged by the nonsense-inspired libretto (din-din, bum bum, pappataci etc); What we see on stage is a constant movement, a flow of people and animation, a non-stop of gags, a sophisticated machinery who brings us from Rome to Algiers, which shows us a plane crash on stage and an aquarium with a shark. From this point of view the singers were also fantastic actors, Alex Esposito jumps, dances, hops and leaps with astonishing energy, Goryachova showed us an enviable figure as the seducing Italian lady, and the innumerable variety of supporting characters like tourists, stewardesses and housemaids fill the stage with action; What I liked most is the dancing on stage, especially during the concertati and the strette, which accentuates so well Rossini’s musical sparkle and energy. Too much? De gustibus…

Guillaume Tell: Direttore-Michele Mariotti, Regia-Graham Vick, Scene e costumi-Paul Brown, Coreografie-Ron Howell, Progetto luci-Giuseppe di Iorio, Guillaume Tell- Nicola Alaima, Arnold Melchtal-Juan Diego Florez, Walter Furst-Simon Orfila, Melchtal-Simone Alberghini, Jemmy-Amanda Forsythe, Gesler-Luca Tittoto, Rodolphe-Alessandro Luciano, Ruodi Pêcheur-Celso Albelo, Leuthold / Un Chasseur-Wojtek Gierlach, Mathilde-Marina Rebeka, Hedwige-Veronica Simenoni, 20 august 2013

L’occasione fa il ladro: Direttore-Yi-Chen Lin, Regia, scene e costumi-Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, Ripresa della regia-Sonja Frisell, Don Eusebio-Giorgio Misseri, Berenice-Elena Tsallagova, Conte Alberto-Enea Scala, Don Parmenione-Roberto de Candia, Ernestina-Viktoria Yarovaya, Martino-Paolo Bordogna, 21 august 2013

L’italiana in Algeri: Direttore-José Ramon Encinar, Regia-Davide Livermore, Scene e Progetto luci-Nicolas Bovey, Costumi-Gianluca Falaschi, Mustafà Alex Esposito, Elvira-Mariangela Sicilia, Zulma-Raffaella Lupinacci, Haly-Davide Luciano, Lindoro-Yijie Shi, Isabella-Anna Goryachova, Taddeo-Mario Cassi, 22 august 2013; Pictures from http://www.rossinioperafestival.it/