Amsterdam, Il viaggio a Reims

New Picture - CopyIn 1825 Rossini was commissioned to compose an opera to celebrate the coronation of Charles X. Rossini ‘s music had taken Paris by storm in the 1820’s, the crème de la crème of Rossini singers were in Paris at that time and many of them sang in the premiere of Il viaggio a Reims ossia L’albergo del giglio d’oro. The insubstantial plot is basically only an excuse to hail Charles X and to deploy each singer’s musical skills: We are in the hotel “Il giglio d’oro” in Plobmbières-les-Bains, where a bunch of people are awaiting the carriages who will bring them to Reims for the coronation of Charles X. However they will wait in vain as the carriages will never arrive. Additional story lines make the plot quite confusing: the Spanish admiral and the Russian general fighting over the Polish widow, the English colonel secretly in love with Corinna, the Roman poetess, an overturned stagecoach which brings the fashionable French lady in distress etc.

The direction of this largely plotless opera is by Damiano Michieletto. A director who I admire much. In the Amsterdam version we are in the museum “Gallery Golden Lilium” under the direction of an anxious (read hysteric) Madama Cortese, and all characters are either people working in the museum or painted characters which come to life. The already complicated plot becomes even more intricate as the real and fictitious characters interact. I feel this particular direction is not Michieletto’s best but all in all it is cleverly conceived and put together. An intelligent creation and brilliantly thought through with remarkable effects.

And the music?

New Picture (1)There are many characters, and at least 10 of the singers need to be top performers (At the premiere they included Laure Cinti-Damoreau, Giuditta Pasta, Domenico Donzelli, Nicolas Levasseur and Ester Mombelli). Each of the numbers is a little gem and one of the highlights is a piece for 14 singers: the Gran Pezzo concertato a 14 voci. In Amsterdam I much liked Eleonora Buratto as Corinna, Juan Francisco Gatell as Belfiore and Bruno de Simone as Trombonok. I feel they are the only who do the music justice. In my opinion Gatell has improved a lot in the last years in terms of interpretation and diction and Buratto’s floating high notes are a pleasure to hear. Bruno de Simone is a stage lion, one of the few where words were understandable without harming the sung part. All have a good coloratura. Roberto Tagliavini as Lord Sidney, Anna Goryacheva as Melibea and Michael Spyres as Libenskof all displayed very fine singing. I liked Spyres less in the first act although I am not sure whether this was due to his voice or the vastness of the set (the museum). I would have liked a stronger voiced Sidney and Melibea but this might be the conductor’s fault, as we will see. Nino Machaidze as Contessa di Folleville manages the musical part adequately, as does Carmen Giannattasio as Madama Cortese. None of them are musically truly convincing. Nicola Ulivieri lacks the low notes and goes through what could be one of the funniest aria (Madaglie incomparabili) trivially and unconcerned. Mario Cassi as Don Alvaro is very mediocre, his entry (Questa vaga e amabil dama) is smudged and the Spanish song at the end was not really “Dell’Iberia il dolce canto“.

New Picture (2)In an interview the conductor Mr. Montanari stated that the most difficult part is to find the balance between the orchestra and the stage (oh really?) but he certainly was not a bit able to achieve this. I sometimes could barely hear the voices, let alone understand a word they were saying. The problem here is not one bad singer that spoils his aria. The problem here is that Mr Montanari reminds us throughout the evening of his vision, namely Rossini music as not light, brilliant and graceful but loud and heavy. No need for the singer to interpret, to sing the embellishments, to pronounce properly, because one can hardly hear them anyway. Add to this the following catalogue of absurdities: He adds glissandi, embellishments or chords with the cembalo during sung pieces (not only during recitativi)! He abruptly changes tempi to his liking, he even changes the rhythm (for e.g. in the accompaniment of the stretta in the duet Oh! Quanto ingannasi between Corinna and Belfiore, he puts accents on the 4th beat!! He also stomps his feet during Don Alvaro’s “Omaggio all’augusto duce” in a Spanish manner!!! And if he doesn’t have time to synchronize all these tasks, he sticks the baton between back and shirt by the backside of his collar. I hope I won’t have the sadness to see him wave at noise again.

Muzikale leiding-Stefano Montanari, Regie-Damiano Michieletto, Decor-Paolo Fantin, Kostuums-Carla Teti, Licht-Alessandro Carletti, Corinna-Eleonora Buratto, La Marchesa Melibea-Anna Goryachova, La Contessa di Folleville-Nino Machaidze, Madama Cortese-Carmen Giannattasio, Il Cavaliere Belfiore-Juan Francisco Gatell, Il Conte di Libenskof-Michael Spyres, Lord Sidney-Roberto Tagliavini, Don Profondo-Nicola Ulivieri, Il Barone di Trombonok-Bruno De Simone, Don Alvaro-Mario Cassi, Don Prudenzio-Biaggio Pizzuti, Don Luigino-Carlos Cardoso, Delia-Maria Fiselier, Maddalena-Teresa Iervolino, Modestina-Florieke Beelen, Zefirino / Gelsomino-Jeroen de Vaal, Antonio-Tomeu Bibiloni

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Letter to the BBC-Music Magazine

MTE1ODA0OTcyMDg0NDYzMTE3To be a critic is certainly not easy and there is even an article written by the BBC Music Magazine about it. But it is the kind of narrow-mindedness that I find inappropriate and irritating for every critic. Shouldn’t a critic be open to a wide choice and listen to everything with an unbiased ear and mind? Shouldn’t one judge with what one thinks, regardless what others think about the same piece? Are lesser known pieces by famous composers not worth discovering or listening to? I agree for example that Gluck is famous for the reforms he initiated in opera, but is his pre-reform period known as well as his reform operas? Do the pre-reform opera’s deserve oblivion because they were written before his reform? Should one not listen to them just because lesser known, albeit with a critic ear? (“Not worth listening to” was also said about Bach, Janacek and Rossini, among others). So why use the word “unfortunately” when talking about the selection of Daniel Behle’s Gluck arias in BBC Music Magazine nr 23/1: “Unfortunately, of the 11 arias he sings, the first 8 and the last one belong to what is known as the pre-reform Gluck with texts by the dreadful Metastasio”. With Behle we finally have somebody who breaks new ground, I would wish a music magazine (of the BBC nonetheless) to be more attentive with innovative choices. Because this is EXACTLY why I won’t renew my subscription: the constant reviewing of the same old. And by same old I am referring to the big public ‘s repertoire, the prevailing taste, the popular pieces, the Beethovens, the Brahms, the Williams, the Shostakovichs. But precious little interest for Fibich, Kalinnikov, Kalkbrenner, Mercadante, Finzi etc. A safe choice, certainly, but stale and repetitive on the long run. A follower and not a leader, they would say in business.

B12427565T12427570By the way what is so dreadful in Metastasio? Isn’t it a bit too easy to disperse derogatory comments without any explanation? Is the BBC Music Magazine not aware that Metastasio was one of the leading librettists of the time and that Gluck’s choice might have had several reasons, dreadful or not. A clear example of a mismatch of intentions. Also, are we sure that “Gluck could do things as well as other people”? What are the references? Other dreadful composers of the time? By the way the sentence “they (the arias) give Behle plenty of chance to show his phenomenal coloratura skill but none to show that, with his lovely voice, he is able to be powerfully expressive in the way that Gluck came to demand”. How can that be? Since the arias in question don’t represent Gluck in his reform operas how would the singer be able to be expressive in pre-reform operas in the manner of operas written in a later stage? And on top of that, is it implied that coloratura cannot be expressive? I suppose one can’t know if one refrains from listening to a wider repertoire. It is useful though, so that one is able to give e a more balanced account of music history. Incidentally, the review previous to this one lauded one of Gluck’s pre-reform operas.

If this is not enough the following article seems to belittle Livermore’s direction of Pesaro’s Italiana in algeri on the grounds that “the audience rarely laughed“. Equally funny or funnier opera by Rossini with better librettos were given in Pesaro the last decades. Did the audience laugh during those performances?  Do Italian ROF habitués even laugh at all anymore after knowing the libretto inside out? Do Japanese, German, and French spectators?

La Cenerentola in Liège or Un’acqua senza sale

c2Lovely start of the Liège season with Rossini’s La Cenerentola. For the mise en scene, the Opera Royal relied on Cécile Roussat et Julien Lubek, the same duo that tackled Die Zauberflöte in Liège 4 years ago. In both cases one notices the effort that is put behind the creative concept. In the case of La Cenerentola the opera opens with Don Magnifico’s palazzo in agonia split in 3 parts on a rotating platform (Don Magnifico’s bedroom, the outside space, and an all-purpose room. The rooms change to the throne chamber in Act II). The singers move freely from one space to another and the platform follows them rotating from room to room. The style and clothes are those of a fairy tale (or children’s book) and everything is enjoyable to look at and satisfying as far as the scenery goes. What was fully lacking was a choreography. Everything was very static, with minimum interactions. Emotions were conveyed only by the libretto’s words and Rossini’s music. Very disappointing.

 

c1 (1)The singers are overall very good, though. I especially enjoyed Bruno de Simone as Don Magnifico with an important stage presence, an excellent diction and a smooth voice. An excellent fit for the egomaniac social climber. Enrico Marabelli was an amusing Dandini with convincing voice and fairly sure in the coloratura. Dmitry Korchak is an excellent tenor who mastered the prince’s part with ease although the acuti of “Dentro al mio cuo—RE“ had to be prepared with enough time…. Laurent Kubla as Alidoro started very convincingly in his key entrances in Act I [as a beggar and with his “book of spinsters” or Codice delle zitelle), with an admirable pronunciation. Pity that the aria with which he brings Cenerentola to the ball shows his limits. The sisters Julie Bailly and Sarah Defries (from the latter, one could understand every single word that was said), sing well. Now Marianna Pizzolato is surprisingly the weakest link. Not only does she move less than all the others [which is quite something with such a static choreography] but her voice is not at all what I remember her for her previous Rossini, in Liege and Pesaro. It’s a singer who until very recently showed a deep, warm, pleasant voice, with admirable coloratura, capable of filling a theatre twice as large as the Liege house. Throughout the performance however I barely heard her, her coloratura only approximate, the acuti strained and almost screamed, the low notes gone. She was, I unhappily must say – quoting Tisbe describing her sister – un’ acqua senza sale.

Paolo Arrivabeni directs satisfactorily an orchestra that improved much in the Italian repertoire.

Rossini Opera Festival, Pesaro, 2014

20140812_barb7The 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.

rossini-pesaro-armidaThe 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.

Musica: Aureliano in Palmira, opera riscoperta al RofThird 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.

reims2013gJust 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)

 

Rossini in Bad Wildbad 2014

kktbwI was convinced i would hear Adelaide di Borgogna life for the first time when i ordered tickets in Bad Wildbad for the yearly festival dedicated to Rossini. A quick glance at my list of visited performances told me i saw the Pesaro performances as well. The cast at the time was “stellar”: Jessica Pratt and Daniela Barcellona. But I must admit I rarely listen to the CD with the wonderful Mariella Devia and Martine Dupuy either as the music has little appeal to me and the libretto is very insipid. The Bad Wildbad performance is enjoyable enough, Margarita Gritskova as Ottone has a smooth voice over the whole range, a clear enough diction and a fair coloratura. Ekaterina Sadovnikova as Adelaide and Baurzhan Anderzhanov as Berengario are also convincing. Luciano Acocella directs well. Antonio Petris is responsible for the mise en scene and he follows Schönleber’s bad taste.

morlacchiThis year the operatic rarity (which is analways welcome project) was Tebaldo e Isolina by Francesco Morlacchi. Tebaldo e Isolina premiered 1822 in Venice and was one of the major successes of the Perugia-born composer. Morlacchi’s score clearly assimilates the Rossinian writing, made evident by the structures of the musical numbers (for e.g. Isolina’s aria in the first act has several sections, cello introduction, the reading of a letter, pertichini and choir) and the fine orchestration. It is not a masterpiece if we compare it with the operas by Rossini of the same period, but the composition has beautiful pieces like the finale of the 1st act and the romance for Tebaldo “Caro suono lusinghiero”.
Sandra Pastrana is Isolina. Her voice is a clean and clear but at times one wishes more dramatic weight. Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani’s Boemondo was a very positive surprise to me. He has a naturally clear diction, (even for Italians this is not that evident) and a very pleasant voice. The coloratura is very fluid and the high notes clear and sure. Tebaldo’s role (which was written for the castrato Giovanni Battista Velluti, for whom Rossini composed the role of Arsace in Aureliano in Palmira and Meyerbeer the role of Armando in Il crociato in Egitto) was interpreted by Laura Polverelli. Polverelli has slightly worn high notes but a full and warm middle and lower register and the coloratura is fluid. The orchestra plays well and the director gives the singer time to develop the musical phrases.

Bad Wildbad-20140725-00947For the belcanto recitals, young singers perform in the recently renovated royal theatre (which seats 200 people). Some of the singers, which are students of Lorenzo Regazzo’s masterclasses (who joins in a terzetto from l’inganno felice), sing also minor roles in the opera’s in Bad Wildbad, many of them can be heard in the Viaggio a Reims, also performed in Bad Wildbad this year. They are all young and beautiful, they are all motivated and they all fully give themselves also in acting out their respective roles (I must say i was rarely moved so much during a recital). Some are very nervous and the heartily applause and cheering after each piece brings a clear relief and joy. The young artists are Cornelius Lewenberg, Guiomar Cantò, Baurzhan Anderzhanov, Matija Meic, Yasushi Watanabe, Artavazd Sargsyan, Olesya Chuprinova, Sofia Mchedlishvili, Silvia Aurea De Stefano, Carlos Cardoso, Lucas Somoza Osterc, Graziano Dallavalle, Anna Werle, Muriel Frankhauser, Alessandra Contaldo, Gheorghe Vlad, Miriam Zubieta. They were well accompanied on the piano by Michele D’Elia and Marco Simionato, Nicola Pascoli, Dimitri Candoni and Rossella Fracaros.

But if one thing is to enjoy their voices in carefully selected pieces, another is to endure a whole opera. Il viaggio a Reims’ score has been re-discovered only in 1984, and since then the opera serves as showcase for professionals and students alike.  But with singers which are not able to satisfy Rossini’s writing (it was composed for the best singers of the time, reunited in Paris for the coronation festivities of Charles X) a music director who hastily runs through the score and a scene director who fills the scenes with slap-sticks and buffoonery and clearly struggles with the amount of people on the stage, boredom and anger come up quickly. I will not describe the musical interpretation as the singers are young and full of enthusiasm (and some of them have remarkable qualities). But could another, easier opera not be chosen? This kind of operations are not in the interest of Rossini’s music, or the arts, or the singers themselves (among which I’d only single out Bruno Praticò and his experience). How difficult it is to cope with the Rossinian style was also recently shown in a scandalously poor performance of La gazzetta, given on a professional stage like the Liege Opera (Opéra Royal de Wallonie). I would, however, very gladly welcome the help of a film or drama school to take over the staging of operas.

An 5-star Otello (Rossini) @ Flemish Opera/Vlaamse Opera in Ghent

What the major opera house in Belgium doesn’t dare to play, is bravely tackled by the two other two opera houses, the Opéra Liege and the Flemish Opera with its two houses in Antwerp and Gent. So while the money is ehm….spent in Brussels with the more conventional Italians with alternating success, Gent and Liege offer the possibility to broaden ones musical horizon with Rossini serio, rare Donizetti, Bellini etc. (Sidebar: in Brussels I saw the stupidest Trovatore by Tcherniakov…where the main characters tell each other the events which happened years earlier……Do me the favour, Mr de Caluwe!!! I suggest you use the same setting for all your future opera’s……… what better idea than having all characters telling each other the plot? with a setting that you can recycle for Tosca, Hoffmann, Norma, Carmen, Tristan, Zauberflöte……..)

otello2Rossini’s Otello presented in Gent is the one Leiser and Caurier created for the Opernhaus in Zürich and staged with Osborn, Camarena and Bartoli. This setting is quite good in mixing dramatic with more lyrical moments, and the portrayals of the different characters is well balanced also, from Desdemona’s disobedience and independence to Otello’s lost trust and desperation. I particularly like act 2, (where we see the moor Otello, who, although a respected military man, still does not deserve more than to hang out in a shady bar, fighting with racial prejudices) or the willow song, where Desdemona thinks of happier times listening to the harp intro from an old record player.

Musically the performance is way above average from what one would expect from a provincial theatre. And although the orchestra starts the overture awfully (with the violin accompanying the oboe solo playing the descending motives as eights instead of triplets of sixteenths ) the overall rendition is correct and the orchestra accompanies with precision a difficult but colourful score (Rossini had to shorten the horn solo to Desdemomas’s entrance at its Neapolitan premiere as even the horn player of the San Carlo deemed it too difficult). The orchestra, prepared by Alberto Zedda, is led through the sublime music by Ryuichiro Sonoda.

otello1Also the voices offer great pleasure. Otello is the marvelous Gregory Kunde. And although not equally smooth and mellow in all registers (at 60!), he renders the moor wonderfully expressive as a man driven by determined desperation. Kunde sang the same role in a concert version in Brussels in 2012. But in Brussels the approach to the character was distant, cold and unemotional, even with a Desdemona like Anna Caterina Antonacci (equally distant). In Ghent I was bolted to my chair. From the entrance Kunde was magnetic in his interpretation, in the ringing top notes and in the touching rendering of the wretched husband (yes, in Rossini’s Otello they are already married!)
The tender Rodrigo is interpreted by Maxim Mironov with a precise and flexible voice. “Che ascolto” is very touching and sung with clear diction. Desdemona is Carmen Romeu whom I never heard before. But i was positively impressed. Romeu mastered the monster role with panache and expression, her voice has an interesting timbre and the coloratura is precise. All other roles are adequately cast with a tender and full-body voiced Emilia (Raffaella Lupinacci), Josef Wagner as Elmiro, Robert McPherson as Iago, the gondolier by Stephan Adriaens and the doge by Maarten Heirman, all contributed to a close to perfection performance. I can only hope for more Rossini, especially the opere serie, into which Rossini poured his most inspired music.

Musical direction-Ryuichiro Sonoda, Director-Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier, Set design-Christian Fenouillat, Costumes-Agostino Cavalca, Lighting-Christophe Forey, Otello-Gregory Kunde, Desdemona-Carmen Romeu, Elmiro-Josef Wagner, Rodrigo-Maxim Mironov, Iago-Robert McPherson, Emilia-Raffaella Lupinacci, il doge-Maarten Heirman, un gondoliere-Stephan Adriaens, Gent, 7-3-2014

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/

Grand Opéra in the Black Forest, or Guillaume Tell in Bad Wildbad

gtWhat to say about Rossini’s Guillaum Tell that has not already been said?
Rossini’s swan song….The first Grand Opéra (after la Muette) and still regularly performed today….one of the most famous ouvertures in opera history….the “music of the future” (supposedly said by Wagner when he visited Rossini in Paris)….”Act 1, 3 and 4 composed by Rossini but Act 2 written by God” (Donizetti).
Fact is that at it’s first production in Paris at Salle Le Pelletier the 3rd August 1829, it was indeed a very long opera, and already after the third performance it was shortened to various lengths. An extreme example, heard in various variants, wants Rossini strolling down a Parisian Avenue, when he crossed the director of the Opéra who proudly told him that Act II of Guillaume Tell had been performed the previous night; Rossini, with the caustic wit that characterized him, retorted:” What, the whole of it?”
Performance was not always easy due to the political message of liberty, and censors forced changes almost everywhere: it  was performed in London and Berlin as Hofer, the Tell of Tyrol, in St. Petersburg as Charles the Bold, in Milan as Vallace, as Rodolfo di Sterlinga in Rome and Bologna, etc etc
The singers required for this opera are a tenore drammatico with huge stamina. The part (similarly to Raoul in Les Huguenots and Eleazar in La juive) was written for Adolphe Nourrit, who sang the higher notes in falsetto. The role was later taken on by Gilbert Luis Duprez, who introduced the then rarely performed chest voice. Also needed are a soprano with some agility for her aria in act 3, an acute tenor for the smaller part of the fisherman and a baritone for Tell.
The team in Bad Wildbad performed the opera, seemingly without any cuts.
Honest opinion? Interesting, Very interesting, even. Nice to have on CD. But far from memorable and I am not sure about the artistic value of the operation. If one had these kind of singers, why not stage a rare opera? There is so much beautiful music out there which one longs to hear more often, many opera’s by Vaccai, Pacini and Mercadante come to mind.
tellAnyway, the main singers had adequate voices although Judith Howarth is not a Rossinian soprano, lacking lightness and agility. Michael Spyres has all the notes and and excellent French but seems indifferent to what he is actually singing. Andrew Foster Williams and Nahuel di Pierro sing adequately the roles of Tell and Melchtal. Tara Stafford has a petulant, wee voice of light soprano. Additionally she got awarded with Jemmy’s aria (an aria just before Tell’s “Sois immobile“) where she wishes her father the best of luck. A never ending piece, really, luckily cut in all the Tell performances I know (my musical company for the evening puffed and rolled his eyes to heaven several times during the piece). Artavazd Sargsyan in the role of the fisherman sang very well with a clear and pure top register.
Antonino Fogliani directs capably the demanding score. See Ricciardo and Zoraide for orchestra and chorus. Schönleber, on the other hand, has nothing better to show than an idiocy after the other. I understand the need to save money, but while I enjoy reminiscing last year’s “I briganti” by Mercadante, a merciful Goddess will hopefully consign this pitiful nonsense to oblivion.
Musical director-Antonino Fogliani, Inszenierung-Jochen Schönleber, Bühnenbild-Robert Schrag, Kostüme-Claudia Möbius, Guillaume Tell-Andrew Foster Williams, Arnold-Michael Spyres,Walter/Melchtal-Nahuel di Pierro, Jemmy-Tara Stafford, Gesler-Raffaele Facciolà, Rodolphe-Giulio Pelligra, Ruodi-Artavazd Sargsyan, Leuthold-Marco Filippo Romano, Hedwige-Judith Howarth,Hedwige-Alessandra Volpe
Bad Wildbad, 21.07.13

Ricciardo e Zoraide in Bad Wildbad

Teatro_San_Carlo_-_Napoli (1)Ricciardo e Zoraide comes from this incredible pool of Rossini’s operas composed for Neaples between 1815 and 1822. When Domenico Barbaja summoned Rossini to Naples, the Real Teatro di San Carlo had everything a composer could hope for: a first class orchestra composed only of professionals (which was by no means the standard in Italy in those days, see for e.g. the clarinet solo in Ricciardo and especially the horn solo from Otello), some of the finest singers of that time, and one of Europe’s best choruses (although I’m sure Rossini was attracted as well by the excellent food and other Neapolitan beauties …..). This was Rossini’s fertile ground on which grew his masterpieces, in a time regarded as the zenith (and end) of belcanto. For Naples Rossini could draw all his stops, in fact, in Naples Rossini was more innovative and modern than ever.

From the mentioned singers one has to outline Isabella Colbran, Rossini’s lover-then-wife, a singer of a wide vocal range, smoothness and flexibility, praised all over Italy. Celletti analyzes Colbran’s voice as  sono più basse (the parts she sings), come tessitura delle parti di soprano “puro” e, anzi, hanno sovente il carattere di parti di mezzosoprano acuto… e improntate come sono ad un accentuato virtuosismo e ad una coloratura fittissima, sono quelle che più rispecchiano l’inventiva di Rossini in materia di diminuzioni, variazioni e fiorettature e la sua capacità di mettere in evidenza taluni pregi dell’esecutrice (la vocalità acrobatica, specie “di forza”, occultandone, insieme, taluni difetti: in particolare, sembra, la progressiva incapacità della Colbran di sostenere senza stonare le larghe frasi di canto spianato; da cui la tendenza ad una coloratura sempre più dettagliata e fastosa, con conseguente eliminazione dei cantabili veri e propri.. Giovanni David, the tenore contraltino, with an extravagant taste for decorating into extremes, and Andrea Nozzari, the more baritonal tenor. The fourth voice was the one of Rosmunda Pisaroni, one of the finest contralto’s of her time. At the time Rossini reached Neaples, Colbran’s singing abilities were declining and she lost pitch and flexibility. This might maybe the reason why Zoraida has no aria di sortita, and her final aria is built into the Finale II.

Ricciardo e ZoraideBad Wildbad is a small village in the Black Forest and Rossini seemingly enjoyed its curative waters in 1856. For the last 25 years opera’s by Rossini and his contemporaries are staged here. This year it was Ricciardo e Zoraide‘s turn in a concert version. Singers are a mix of the star system and lesser known artists. I remember Randall Bills from his cavalier Belfiore in the Viaggio a Reims in Pesaro last year. His coloratura is perfectionable and Agorante is a role too big for him, which is noticeable in his entrance aria. But withouth the screamed top notes and the non-existing lower notes I liked his nice timbre. Silvia Beltrami had no problems with the tessitura, mastering the contralto notes with ease, her voice running smoothly through the theatre although one wishes more fluid coloratura. No problems with the coloratura instead for Alessandra Marianelli, whom I also remember from Pesaro in a very questionable Turco in Italia. Her voice is pleasant but with unfortunate, near-scream upper notes. Best of the evening was Maxim Mironov, with clear coloratura and a spot-on top register. Di Pierro and Sargsyan sang well in the roles of Ircano and Ernesto, respectively. The director left the singers the time they needed and did a good job following them although one would have wished a slightly bigger unity between orchestra and singers. The orchestra was perfectionable, with some off-key notes and players not always playing together. The chorus on the other hand was superb.

Overall a very pleasant evening for an opera containing excellent music heard far too rarely, adequately cast by the Rossini in Wildbad-staff, who is doing an admirable work reviving forgotten opera’s.

Musical director-José Miguel Perez Sierra, Agorante-Randall Bills, Zoraide-Alessandra Marianelli, Ricciardo-Maxim Mironov, Ircano-Nahuel di Pierro, Zomira-Silvia Beltrami, Ernesto-Artavazd Sargsyan, Fatima-Diana Mian, Bach choir Poznan, Virtuosi Brunenses

Bad Wildbad, 20/07/2013