Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra
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Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra

SASSARI
Teatro Comunale
10/9/15

ON ENTERING THE AUDITORIUM of Sassari’s Teatro Comunale—inaugurated in 2012—for the season-opening production (the first ever in Sardinia) of Rossini’s Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra on October 9, one was confronted with a stage curtain showing Elizabeth I’s signature superimposed on a Union Jack—the flag that was adopted some two centuries after her death. This might not have mattered, for historical accuracy was hardly a priority for the composer and his librettist Giovanni Schmidt, who devised a plot in which Elisabeth’s favorite the Duke of Leicester is secretly married to a mysterious daughter of Mary Queen of Scots named Matilde. 

But once the first act got underway—after a somewhat lackluster execution of the overture borrowed from Aureliano in Palmira and now associated with Il Barbiere di Siviglia—it became clear that the very concept of regality, central to an opera conceived as a homage to the Bourbon monarchs in Naples, was being undermined in a manner that was neither thought-provoking nor coherent, but designed simply to lend a titillating twist to characters and situations by presenting them in a stale satire of the England of Elizabeth II. If the production—directed by the house’s artistic director Marco Spada (who has done good work here in the past) and designed by Mauro Tinti—had been conceived as pure parody, exploiting the expressive ambivalence of Rossini’s musical idiom and turning Elizabeth I explicitly into Elizabeth II, it might have proved intermittently diverting. But it lacked the courage of its half-baked convictions and succeeded simply in leaving a cast that was entirely new to the opera, adrift in anonymous twentieth century costumes. And none of the voices on stage were capable of compensating for this through sheer vocal bravura—a quality guaranteed by the glittering cast assembled for the opera’s spectacularly successful 1815 première, which featured Rossini’s muse Isabella Colbran as Elisabetta, Andrea Nozzari (Rossini’s first Otello) as Leicester and Manuel García (the composer’s first Almaviva) as Norfolk. 

The vocal luxuriance of the opera was in fact as sharply downscaled as its regal trappings, and although Silvia Dalla Benetta maintained a certain musical dignity in Elisabetta’s florid measures, her voice and personality appeared several sizes too small for the role and her chest register—indispensable in low-lying passages—non-existent. Alessandro Liberatore looked and sounded uncomfortable most of the time in the role of Leicester: his voice often sounded bottled up, and his eyes were frequently glued to the conductor. The other tenor, David Alegret, seemed more self-confident as Leicester’s false friend Norfolk, but hardly possesses the razor-sharp coloratura and insinuating phrasing required to lend credibility to this genuinely evil character. 

As Matilde, Sandra Pastrana revealed a greater technical command of a voice that lacks however the beguilingly youthful sheen the role requires. The third tenor Néstor Loslan (as Guglielmo), the mezzo Olesya Berman Chuprinova (Enrico) and the local chorus would probably have made a stronger impression in a more focused production. 

Conductor Federico Ferri, none too experienced in opera house routine, failed to offer strong guidance from the very deep pit. Tempos were well judged on the whole, but the voices were sometimes covered by the Orchestra of the Ente Concerti “Marialisa De Carolis,” which failed communicate much of the pleasure one associates with making music in the company of Rossini.  —Stephen Hastings 

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