Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

The “Other” Marriage of Figaro in a West Village Townhouse

Last week an audience of 50 assembled in the kitchen of a luxurious West Village townhouse for a performance of Marriage of Figaro.

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

Opera Las Vegas: A Blazing Carmen in the Desert

Headed by General Director Luana DeVol, a world-renowned dramatic soprano, Opera Las Vegas is a relatively new company that presents opera with first-rate casts at the University of Las Vegas’s Judy Bayley Theater. In 2014 they presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and in 2015, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year they offered a blazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

La bohème, Opera Holland Park

Ever since a friend was reported as having said he would like something in return for modern-dress Shakespeare (how quaint that term seems now, as if anyone would bat an eyelid!), namely an Elizabethan-dress staging of Look Back in Anger, I have been curious about the possibilities of ‘down-dating’, as I suppose we might call it. Rarely, if ever, do we see it, though.

Holland Festival: Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, Amsterdam

Leading a very muscular Dutch Radio Philharmonic, Principal Conductor Markus Stenz brilliantly delivered Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with a superb Florian Boesch in the lead and a mesmerising Asmik Grigorian as Marie his wife.

Pietro Mascagni: Iris

There can’t be that many operas that start with an extended solo for double bass. At Holland Park, the eerie, angular melody for lone bass player which opens Pietro Mascagni’s Iris immediately unsettled the relaxed mood of the summer evening.

L’italiana in Algeri, Garsington Opera

George Souglides’ set for Will Tuckett’s new production of Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri at Garsington would surely have delighted Liberace.

Carmen in San Francisco

Calixto Bieito is always news, Carmen with a good cast is always news. So here is the news.

Eugene Onegin, Garsington Opera

Distinguished theatre director Michael Boyd’s first operatic outing was his brilliant re-invention of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo for the Royal Opera at the Roundhouse in 2015, so what he did next was always going to rouse interest.

Bohuslav Martinů’s Ariane and Alexandre bis

Although Bohuslav Martinů’s short operas Ariane and Alexandre bis date from 1958 and 1937 respectively, there was a distinct tint of 1920s Parisian surrealism about director Rodula Gaitanou’s double bill, as presented by the postgraduate students of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Lohengrin, Dresden

The eyes of the opera world turned recently to Dresden—the city where Wagner premiered his Rienzi, Fliegende Holländer, and Tannhäuser—for an important performance of Lohengrin. For once in Germany it was not about the staging.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Glyndebourne

Having been privileged already to see in little over two months two great productions of Die Meistersinger, one in Paris (Stefan Herheim) and one in Munich (David Bösch), I was unable to resist the prospect of a third staging, at Glyndebourne.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Rossini Opera Festival 2009
23 Aug 2009

Zelmira in Pesaro

August is when Italians immerse themselves in the primal soup of all life. Hordes swarm to the Mediterranean shores and multitudes arrive in Pesaro on the Adriatic, where just then crowds of Rossinians from around the world arrive to partake of their primal operatic soup.

Gioachino Rossini: Zelmira

Polidoro (Alex Esposito); Zelmira (Kate Aldrich); Ilo (Juan Diego Flórez); Antenore (Gregory Kunde); Emma (Marianna Pizzolato); Leucippo (Mirco Palazzi); Eacide (Francisco Brito); Gran Sacerdote (Sávio Sperandio). Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Maestro del Coro: Paolo Vero. Roberto Abbado, conducting. Regia: Giorgio Barberio Corsetti. Scene: Giorgio Barberio Corsetti, Cristian Taraborrelli. Costumi: Cristian Taraborrelli, Angela Buscemi.

 

Somehow there seems to be enough room for everyone in what can only be described as a Last Judgment atmosphere.

Though of minimal size (six million euros) and recent birth (1980) the Rossini Opera Festival has emerged as one of Europe’s great opera festivals. There is a simple reason for this pre-eminence — the great Rossini, and the complete Rossini, and this festival’s dedication to finding singers, conductors and stage directors who can bring this magnificent body of work alive.

This is not to say that the ROF always succeeds, and when it does not it is usually because of the delicacy of its task and not the quality of its work. When it succeeds we reach the absolute heights of operatic sublimity, and this occurred last summer in Daniele Abbado and Roberto Abbado’s Ermione. This summer even greater heights were achieved by Georgio Barberio Corsetti and Roberto Abbado’s Zelmira.

Last summer the huge Adriatic Arena housed two productions, Ermione and Maometto II, on identical back-to-back temporary stages that bisected this covered arena. This summer with Zelmira as its sole occupant, the ROF took advantage of the additional space to create a 1500 plus seat auditorium. This relative hugeness created the momentary impression that we had stumbled into Verona’s Roman amphitheater, but with the reverberation specifications of a gothic cathedral. It was a scary beginning.

Common to Ermione and Zelmira was conductor Roberto Abbado and the orchestra of Bologna’s Teatro Comunale, a superb ensemble wired directly to the sculptural musicianship of this extraordinary conductor. Abbado began with pure Rossini, and absorbed the mise en scène, souping up his Rossini to embrace and reinforce the sometimes strange, truly powerful and always beautiful stage images. This was post-modern opera, really a twenty-first century gesamkunstwerk based on a Rossini score.

Fifty-eight year-old actor/dramaturg/video-artist/stage director Georgio Barberio Corsetti, a bastion of the late twentieth-century Italian theatrical avant-garde (surely there is a new one by now), and for the last ten years an important presence on Italian opera stages was the metteur en scène. Sig. Corsetti had an opportunity almost unique in opera — a huge empty arena in which he could create his own made-to-order scenic machine.

It was in medias res (no overture for informed Rossinians to identify as the same one the composer had also used for this or that comedy). The villain Antenore, sung by American tenor Gregory Kunde, feigned dismay and sorrow in the first of the evening vocal flights, but conductor Abbado skillfully avoided allowing him his applause. In fact all opportunities for applause were evaded until the fifth scene when Zelmira’s loved and loving soldier husband, sung by Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez, returning from war greeted his homeland in a dazzling tenorial display. This evoked a nearly twenty-minute ovation (N.B. this was the applause at the August 12 performance).

IMG_7790_aldrich.gifKate Aldrich as Zelmira

The first spine tingling scenic revelation was the slow erosion of the sand partially covering three monumental sculptures lying on the stage floor. This while Zelmira, sung by American mezzo-soprano Kate Aldridge cradled her father Polidoro, sung by Italian bass Alex Esposito who, suckling her breast completed the trio with Zelmira’s nurse Emma, sung by Italian mezzo-soprano Marianna Pizzolato. And then the supine monumental sculptures took flight, becoming huge, suspended, twirling figures.

A huge, full stage mirror reflected Mo. Abbado and his orchestra, with the inclusion of the audience, vertically slashed by the three blood-red electric stripes that marked the aisles of the tiered seating at the rear of the auditorium. This mirror then tilted forward to reflect a giant sand box that covered floor of the arena, visible through the mesh floor of the raised stage platform in which a multitude of mothers suckled their babies. In another scene a bloody soldier was gently washed by his wife, and later wounded and dead soldiers were dragged from a battlefield, etc.

Other times the mirror reflected the action on the stage as well, doubling the presences of the characters, a visually impressive staging technique that attained the Baroque ideal of the scenic meraviglioso. This simple trick (well, hardly simple to achieve) wove notions of the real and irreale with the concept of theater (opera) itself, and immersed us into a metaphysical world, here the hyper-world of music, Rossini’s music.

Brilliant too was the punctuation created by the minutes we sat in darkness and silence taking us from one illusionary world, that of babies and battles, to another, that of politics and intrigue — a flat gold wall and a coterie of ancient priests.

The complications of the staging, the juxtaposition of a single stage image with the changing poetic images of the arias, and the technical brilliance of the vocal displays of the arias finally merged. Sig. Corsetti had the confidence to pit vocal artistry against theatrical meaning, insisting that singing meant to impress could leave deeper and broader impressions, and they did. We soon learned that the complex scenic backgrounds for the arias were not distraction.

_MG_4606.gifAlex Exposito as Polidoro

The first Zelmira was Mme. Colbran-Rossini, well past her prime, thus Rossini gave her only one small aria near the end of the opera. Kate Aldridge, a formidable artists distinctly in her prime, almost eliminated our frustration at Zelmira’s vocal banishment (after all she is the title role) by delivering the brief aria, finally, with virtuoistic bite and finesse. Though Mme. Aldridge leaves the impression that she may not be a genuine Rossini singer she brought a forceful tonality to Zelmira of filial, maternal, uxorial warmth that firmly anchored the Corsetti entanglement of conflicting masculine bellicose, political and dynastic urges into this sentimental, feminine world.

Rossini’s ensembles embodied these archetypal conflicts, Mo. Abbado sculpting the multiple perspectives into statements that soared above time and place into the sublime. And for extended periods. Meanwhile Sig. Corsetti knew to remain scenically silent during these intense moments. Of spectacular beauty was the first act Zelmira and Emma lament duet with solo harp and english horn, as was Rossini’s recall of this scene by restating this music in the tragic moments of the last act.

Opera casting is infamously difficult as reconciling vocal attributes with physical and dramatic presence is a precarious business. This ROF production achieved the near miraculous with top level Rossini artists who could embody their characters. The attributes of Juan Diego Flórez are well-known, Alex Exposito possesses an unusually beautiful bass voice well adapted to Rossini demands, mezzo-soprano Marianna Pizzolato delivered the fervent roulades of her second act invocation to the gods to guard Zerlmira’s infant son with such conviction that it earned the evening’s second biggest ovation. Gregory Kunde is a unique artist, now well into mid-career who can bring the heft, brilliance and presence — vocally and dramatically — to make a Rossini villain real. Baritone Marco Palazzi completed the cast of six principals as Leucippo, henchman of the scheming Antenore.

The Rossini Opera Festival typically offers three productions. This summer in addition to Zelmira was the early comedy La Scala di Seta and his last comedy Le Comte Ory, both mounted in the small, early nineteenth century Teatro Rossini. La Scala di Seta was a new production staged by Damiano Michieletto and conducted by Claudio Scimone. Sig. Michieletto, a young Venetian, allowed expediency to triumph over art in this prosaic TV sit com style production that fulfilled the Rossini Opera Festival’s obligation to expose the complete Rossini. Seventy-five year old conductor Claudio Scimone, founder of I Solisti Veneti, brought the famous first act quartet to a very modest Rossini boil, but did not succeed otherwise in resuscitating this minor, flawed Rossini.

Le Comte Ory was a revival of the ROF 2003 production by Catalan director Lluis Pasqual, conducted this time by Paolo Carignani, the former head of Frankfurt Opera. The Pasqual production makes Rossini’s French comedy into a parlor game, a concept this masterpiece wears passably but a bit uncomfortably. Mr. Pasqual’s staging is conventional, as are his designs, costumes and lighting. On the other hand conductor Carignani gave us dynamic, vintage Rossini, working with the excellent orchestra of Bologna’s Teatro Comunale, and a fine cast, notably soprano María José Moreno as Adèle, Natalia Gavrilan as Ragonde and Laura Polverelli in the pants role, Isolier. Roberto de Candia ably delivered Raimbaud. In the 2003 production Juan Diego Flórez was the Count Ory, a tough act for young tenor Vlhe Shi to follow. Mr. Shi proved himself a musical Count, and succeeded well enough in accomplishing his antics.

Michael Milenski

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):