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ROSSINI: Adelaide di Borgogna

spacer Pratt, Barcellona, Pierpaoli; Mihai, Ulivieri; Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Communale di Bologna, D. Jurowski. Production: Pier'Alli. Arthaus Musik Unitel Classica 101 646 (2 DVDs), 137 mins. (opera), 17 mins. (bonus), subtitled


Don't worry if you've forgotten all you knew about tenth-century Italian politics; so has everybody else. All you need to know is that the hand of Adelaide of Burgundy, the beautiful widowed queen of Italy (Jessica Pratt), is sought by both Adelberto (Bogdan Mihai) — whose father, Berengario (Nicola Ulivieri), covets the throne — and by the German invader Ottone (Daniela Barcellona). In serious operas of this era (1817), the trouser mezzo always wins the soprano. 

Adelaide is one of Rossini's less well-regarded scores, but it's hard to say why. The tunes are as attractive as any, and if the finales seem bare and uninventive by this composer's standards, this is not a winsome comedy. The story, a familiar one at the time, may be a clue to its unsuccess: there is no dramatic tension, no predicament demanding resolution. Listeners hoping for a Tancredi (will Almirena explain that letter?) or Maometto II (will Pamira renounce her country for love?) or Semiramide (that ghostly apparition!) may be disappointed here. Adelaide is a pleasant score, but whether it justifies a two-DVD set (with a seventeen-minute "making of" video included) is another question.

To spiff up the tale, director Pier'Alli has set it in the era of Italian unification, with Ruritanian uniforms, gleaming helmets and fluttering peasant girls. The costumes are handsome and the choral movements well schooled, but most of the scenery is computer-generated. As those who saw his projections for Ciro in Babilonia at Caramoor may remember, video director Tiziano Mancini does not always know when to hit "Pause" and let the singing be the action. German troops on Lake Garda? An antique map is superimposed on a puddle in the rain. A love scene? Flowers bud and bloom with the rhythm. Soldiers march hither and thither, rampaging down streets. Façades rise and fade. A tight camera on the singers ameliorates the distraction somewhat, but this is bel canto, man: the focus is song.

Pratt, a Pesaro favorite, has always had well-schooled coloratura; with time, her voice is becoming less shrill, more even and womanly. She is also an effective actress, cold to the traitors, sweetening a phrase or two prettily in duet with Ottone to make her amorous intentions clear. She has a precise, attractive trill, and ornamented repeats illustrate her rising emotions. Her rapport with Barcellona in duet produces harmonies that symbolize the meeting of hearts. Barcellona's voice has lost some of its bloom, but she is effective as a warrior king to whom (as with any seria hero) self-doubt is unknown. Mihai, as the rejected Adelberto, is the only character who actually suffers contradictory feelings worthy of exploitation in a double aria, when he must choose whether to rescue his father or keep Adelaide his prisoner. His attractive light tenor maintains an even line, though he is sometimes out of breath. Ulivieri sings Berengario with polish, and Francesca Pierpaoli does elegant work in a secondary trouser role. 

Conductor Dmitri Jurowski's Rossini is bracing in choral scenes and in the overture (cribbed from La Cambiale di Matrimonio), and he is supportive of singers called upon to ornament long-breathed lines. The finales and the big arias end rather abruptly, as though someone had decided to omit repeats. Is that the fault of the score (the autograph is lost), or did the Pesaro Festival fear matters were dragging? If the result feels like a cut, cutting was probably a mistake. The recits, which are not from the pen of Rossini, are accompanied by an intrusively tinny fortepiano. spacer


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