The Academy of Fine Arts of Urbino, who was assigned to stage this year’s Barbiere di Siviglia did a marvelous job. The students had such a well conceived view of the opera, that one would have to seriously reconsider the big names in opera, certainly if compared to the main attraction of the festival, Armida. Only few scenic elements are seen on stage, but very cleverly used. The singers are well directed, they move well, on stage and in the stalls, lights are playfully projected on the balconies (for e.g. during the storm scene, light droplets fill the whole opera house in a whirling crescendo which goes hand in hand with the music), mimes added for small background sketches. But numerous are the brilliant and entertaining ideas (the Calunnia was particularly successful), which make this Barbiere a joy to look at. The singers are not only good actors but they are all quite credible in their roles and all sing very well. Although I have my preferences, I would like to praise the group effort especially of Alex Esposito, Chiara Amarù, Florian Sempey and Juan Francisco Gatell, all of which manage the score’s requirements with relative ease. The director is Giacomo Sagripanti who brillantly directs a sparkling Orchestra Comunale di Bologna, cheerfully singling out minor passages in the score. Even without subtitles one was able to understand everything and the public was amused.
The other opera given in Peasaro this year was Armida, composed for the Neapolitan forces of the San Carlo theatre. Isabella Colbran’s role is intepreted by Carmen Romeu. This Spanish young singer has a very fluid coloratura and a nice and warm middle register. Her lower notes are not as present and the top notes a bit strained and sometimes not in pitch. Given the demanding part of Armida, however, I still think Miss Romeu did a good job. Antonino Siragusa on the other hand was, in my opinion, almost perfect. Rinaldo, who succombs to the love for Armida, is particularly well suited for his solar voice (his duets with Armida are simply beautiful) and the fiendish coloratura is impeccably mastered (e.g. in Unitevi a gara). The second tenor in Armida was Dmitry Korchak who was also very well suited for his role(s), the coloratura and the high notes pulled off convincingly, as was Carlo Lepore as Idraote/Astarotte. Less incisive and vocally not as plausible was Randal Bills as Goffredo/Ubaldo, who in some cases was barely audible above the orchestra. My big disappointment went to both the stage and the music director. Luca Ronconi places two huge mobile panels on stage, filled with hanging Pupi Siciliani. All the men on stage are also equally dressed with the same armour. This was actually quite convincing for revoking the knightly world of the plot. But Armida is a magical opera, where Armida, torn between love and hate, whimsically changes her isle between horrid wilderness (orrida selva) and magical garden (giardino incantanto, ameni colline), flying away, in the last scene, on a carriage pulled by two dragons, “enveloped by globes of fire and smoke“. Nothing of all this. The only difference between the acts is the background, which changes from a grey-ish/brown rippled cloth to a golden wall. The wooden panel with a plastic plant-like object (enchanted garden??) only ads to the horrid. Difficult to get immersed in Tasso’s world with such a distant interpretation. Equally emotionally detached was Carlo Rizzi. Who directed a score with very few means of expression and very little subtleness. The musical pieces sound like a disconnected patchwork, with no caring stitches to hold them together. The chosen tempos are on the swift side, with no rubati and little pertinence to the score. Some of the strettas don’t follow the singers with the result that coloraturas become mushed and unclear. The pleasing ballet in Act II was modern and energetic.
Third opera in Pesaro is Aureliano in Palmira. When Will Crutchfield directs on stage, his movements are aggressive and stiff. And this is exactly how the orchestra sounds: an emotionless metronome. The American director starts the opera with lethargic tempos that last until almost half the first act. Doesn’t do Rossini, who poured magnificent music into the score, any justice. The orchestra Sinfonica Rossini plays faultily and not always together.
Arsace’s role is two sizes too big for Lena Belkina who completely lacks dramatic weight for the interpretation of the Persian prince. All the notes were there, but when she was alone on stage and Crutchfield was conducting one or two yawns had to be suppressed. Opposite to her is the tenor. Nothing seems too difficult for Michael Spyres who has a homogeneous and strong voice throughout his range. However, although the coloratura was precise, I would wish a better articulation of the embellishments. Jessica Pratt is a delicate Zenobia and overall I think it is the more lyrical passages that suite her most. But even in the more dramatic of strettas and caballettas, the Australian soprano sings with agile vigor. The cast is completed by the very good Raffaella Lupinacci as Publia, Dimitri Pkhaladze, Dempsey Rivera, Sergio Vitale and Raffaele Costantini. Cleverly simple but effective is Mario Martone’s setting, a small labyrinth with movable, semi-transparent cloth panels. Martone is able to convey the tragic love of Zenobia and Arsace, who have to jump cruel hurdles for their love. Costumes are oriental in an convincing mise en scene.
Just two words on the Viaggio a Reims, the yearly performance given by students of the Accademia Rossiniana led by Alberto Zedda. As usual one is impressed by the motivation and the enthusiasm of the young voices, especially in an opera as Il viaggio a Reims, which was explicitly composed for the coronation of Charles X for 14 of the greatest singers of the time and withdrawn after only 4 performances. It is also normal to hear the young artists lack vocal experience or stage presence, which is benevolently ignored for the sake of the group effort of singers under stress. But this year several voices hardly reached sufficiency. I would only like to mention Nico Darmanin and Aya Wakizono who I quite liked and were able to master their roles vocally and on stage. Yunpeng Wang had a pleasing voice but couldn’t get quite through the interpretative obstacles of his aria. Shahar Lavì and Isabel Rodriquez Garcia sang well albeit coldly their respective roles (Corinna and Madame de Folleville). (16/8/14)