L'Occasione Fa il Ladro (8/12/13), Guillaume Tell (8/11/13), L'Italiana in Algeri (8/10/13)
Rossini Opera Festival
Bordogna as Martino in Pesaro's L'Occasione Fa il Ladro
© Studio Amati Bacciardi 2013
Flórez as Arnold in Guillaume Tell at Pesaro
© Silvano Bacciardi 2013
In purely theatrical terms, the revival of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's 1987 staging of the one-act L'Occasione Fa il Ladro proved the most revelatory experience at this year's Rossini Opera Festival. The production, rehearsed by Sonja Frisell, who paid tribute to the late French director/designer during the curtain calls on August 12, is an aesthetic delight, in perfect harmony with the early-nineteenth-century Teatro Rossini and ideally lightweight for this 1812 comedy that springs from the exchange of two gentlemen's trunks in a country inn. The painted sets — flimsy but atmospheric — are unraveled before our eyes during the overture, and the characters themselves (under the guidance of Martino, the cannily manipulative servant of Don Parmenione) emerge from the very same trunk that causes so many misunderstandings and yet finally facilitates the union of the two couples in the happy ending.
The whole cast performed gracefully under Yi-Chen Lin's suave leadership. The local Orchestra Sinfonica G. Rossini played accurately in the tiny pit, and baritone Paolo Bordogna — arguably Italy's finest comic singer — proved a memorable Martino. A model of gesture and verbal nuance, Bordogna established an easy rapport with the audience and made the undeniable artifice of the plot seem a natural unfolding of events. As his master, Don Parmenione, tenor Roberto de Candia appeared at his spontaneous best; he looked the part to perfection, and his full-bodied phrasing was backed up by sharper comic timing than is usual with him. He was piquantly partnered by mezzo Viktoria Yarovaya as Ernestina, whose mistress, Berenice, was elegantly portrayed by soprano Elena Tsallagova. (Russian singers have become prominent at the ROF over the past decade, thanks to their increasingly impressive command of Italian.) Sicilian tenor Enea Scala was not ideally mellifluous as Conte Alberto, but the harmonious relationship established by Ponnelle between Rossini's music, Luigi Prividali's libretto and the action onstage liberated the imaginations of all the singers, enabling them to express their full potential as interpreters.
This was not the case in the other two productions, both of which were updated to the twentieth century and adjusted dramaturgically to fit the director's own aesthetic tastes (strongly influenced by the cinema) and ideological outlook.
The personality of Graham Vick was less intrusively all-pervasive in Guillaume Tell (seen at the Adriatic Arena, Aug. 11) than in other recent productions by the English director, and his skill in filling the stage with significant action — well attuned to the music if not always to the words — was evident most of the time. He created a particularly striking effect in the final scene, in which a red staircase is lowered into the bare, triangular set and Jemmy starts climbing it in what seems truly like a new beginning for everyone onstage (and in the audience too). The color was not a casual choice, for Vick turned the awakening national consciousness of the Swiss into a conflict of classes (set in the early decades of the last century), with the oppressed proletariat humiliated by Austrian aristocrats, especially during the dance sequences devised by Ron Howell. What was lacking in Paul Brown's set was any feeling for the mountain landscapes that are so potently evoked in the score. And while one could legitimately argue that the words and music are in themselves evocative enough to enable the listeners to imagine the "Sombre forêt" apostrophized in Mathilde's Act II air — sung by Marina Rebeka on the back of a stuffed horse — one couldn't help wondering why the director considered them insufficiently expressive in "Asile héréditaire," sung by Juan Diego Flórez while watching a home video of Arnold as a child toddling in the garden with his father.
The presence of Flórez was the raison d'être of this production. He had prepared the role scrupulously (trying it out in his native Peru before this European debut) and sang it with more finish and élan than any other tenor could probably manage today. His diction was excellent and — in spite of the slightly dead acoustic of the converted sports stadium where the performance took place — his voice sustained every phrase of the role (uncut) without undue strain, even at the climax of the cabaletta. This call to arms, however, failed to thrill the listener as it should do, for heroic gestures can only be simulated by a voice of Flórez's size and coloration.
There was no lack of amplitude in Nicola Alaimo's tone, but his portrayal of Guillaume Tell, though generically well-intentioned, lacked the eloquence and attention to musical detail necessary to bring the character memorably to life. And none of the other male singers — including Simón Orfila's Furst, Simone Alberghini's Melchthal, Luca Tittoto's Gesler and (surprisingly) Celso Albelo's Ruodi — offered the sort of vocal polish Rossini's music cries out for. The women were another matter: Veronica Simeoni acted splendidly as Hedwige and employed her voice with characteristic generosity; Amanda Forsythe's Jemmy (here heard in a rarely-performed Act III aria) was sweet-toned throughout, and Marina Rebeka, as Mathilde, confirmed the favorable impression she created here in Maometto II in 2008. Dashingly dressed in Paul Brown's costumes, she revealed an upper octave of expansive beauty and phrased her music with an ideal combination of nobility and emotional abandon.
It was a joy to hear the Chorus and Orchestra of Bologna's Teatro Comunale rise to the challenge of this score so commandingly under Michele Mariotti's ever-sensitive leadership. The work was performed practically complete (only the dances were abbreviated), and the musical tension never waned, although one would have appreciated a more consistent use of appoggiaturas in recitatives.
The inaugural production this year was L'Italiana in Algeri — a less distinguished performance (seen at the Teatro Rossini, Aug. 10). The Teatro Comunale Orchestra played rather drily for José Ramón Encinar, and the singing seemed humiliatingly subordinated to a comic-strip production by Davide Livermore, purportedly set in the 1950s, which aroused admiration for its technical inventiveness (the sets and lighting were by Nicolas Bovey) but made it hard to believe that this opera has the same central theme as Beethoven's Fidelio — that of a heroic woman who risks everything to save the man she loves. That man (Lindoro) here appeared totally insignificant — Yijie Shi's modest voice and diminutive physique didn't help — as did Isabella's other aspiring lover Taddeo (a decidedly stolid Mario Cassi). And Alex Esposito's cigar-chomping Mustafà was too much of a caricature (and too unvaried in vocal coloration) to sustain interest beyond his opening scene. Anna Goryachova's Isabella was at least fascinating to watch, for she is an actress of some beauty and considerable confidence, and Gianluca Falaschi provided her with some stunning (if vulgar) gowns. Her diction too was often telling, but the voice itself lacks warmth and color in the lower middle register, and she won only moderate applause at the evening's end (when the production team was roundly booed).
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