OPERA NEWS - Guillaume Tell
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In Review > North America

Guillaume Tell

The Metropolitan Opera

In Review Met Tell hdl 117
Finley (center) and Hymel (foreground) in the Met’s new staging of Guillaume Tell
© Beth Bergman

ROSSINI'S GUILLAUME TELL  is exactly the sort of opera the Met should be doing. On October 18, the enormous four-act work returned to the house after an absence of eighty-five years, sung for the first time in the original French. To say that a performance of Tell was “complete” is a tricky business, given that engraving of the first edition of the score began while the opera was still in rehearsal, before cuts and adjustments were made during the original run. But the Met certainly performed a great deal of music, about three and a half hours’ worth in total. Mathilde sang “Sur la rive étrangère,” and much of the ballet music was danced. The accompanied reprise of the a cappella yodeling chorus, “A nos chants,” was gone, and there was no women’s trio in Act IV to balance the large amount of music for male ensembles, but the score felt fully honored.

The music was in the supremely capable hands of Fabio Luisi, in his final assignment as the Met’s principal conductor. He was marvelous, somehow finding tempos that accommodated each singer in the ensembles, bringing limitless variety of color to the reams of string-accompanied recitative, rounding the corners of the overture at 100 m.p.h., and enabling every breath taken by Bryan Hymel in his stylishly sung account of Arnold’s “Asile héréditaire.” In his time at the Met, Luisi has never desired to call attention to himself. He simply honors composers with every bit of his considerable stick technique and makes us love the music as much as he does.

If Luisi possibly put a foot wrong with his insistent, breezy interpretation of the bridal chorus in Act I, more likely he was only trying to work with Pierre Audi’s production, first seen in Amsterdam. Audi was primarily engaged by the big nationalistic scenes of chorus and ballet; here, the scene of Jemmy’s victory in an archery contest was turned into a menacing dance of Gesler’s henchmen, culminating in the mock execution of effigies of the three brides. In the big dances of Act III, Audi offered a decadent pair of dominatrixes (their red hats substituting for Gesler’s hat in the libretto), representing the louche Austrian occupiers of Tell’s Switzerland. Audi was manifestly uninterested in the story of Mathilde and Arnold: their Act III duet was played in front of the curtain, basically unstaged, while scenery was shifted behind the curtain, and the nadir of the production was their Act II scene, in which the singers were apparently left to their own devices until the last few moments, when the two, incongruously, started coupling on the floor.

Gerald Finley, as Tell, continues to be the singer who most inextricably links technique and artistry. There is really nothing else that needs to be said. Bryan Hymel paced himself carefully as Arnold, beginning in compact and controlled voice but opening up gloriously in the Act II trio. (This number, which Luisi conducted with attention to every instrument in the pit, is perhaps the singular high point of Rossini’s genius.) Hymel’s gifts and those of Marina Rebeka, the Mathilde, were not well matched. Nevertheless, her soft singing was lovely, particularly in “Sur la rive,” and her coloratura was admirable. At louder volume, her tone tended toward the monochrome. In the large supporting cast, Janai Brugger’s Jemmy was wonderful, the only non-cloying traversal of the role I’ve heard, and Michele Angelini (in his Met debut) made a fine effect with his fluent quick notes and good intonation as the fisherman Ruodi.

George Tsypin’s spare settings, with lots of sleek walls and blond wood, came perilously close to looking like an Apple showroom, though in his defense he needed to leave a lot of room for dancing. Costume designer Andrea Schmidt-Futterer had bought up all the muslin in New York, and the show was beige, beige, beige except for a few moments of emotionally color-coded lighting from Jean Kalman. Kim Brandstrup’s choreography was best when it captured the exhausted, forced quality of the Act III galop. But Luisi provided all the atmosphere that was needed to explain why Tell is a masterpiece. The chorus (the men sometimes split into as many a nine separate lines) had a truly great night under Donald Palumbo. Whatever the reaction to Audi’s production, it did not prevent Rossini from carrying the day.  —William R. Braun

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