Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - Live from London

There’s a “slide of harmony” and “all the bones leave your body at that moment and you collapse to the floor, it’s so extraordinary.”

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Angela Meade [Photo by Studio Amati Bacciardi]
28 Aug 2019

Fortieth Anniversary Gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro

Earlier this month I reported from the Macerata Opera Festival – a largely Italian affair frequented by few foreigners. One week later I attended the 40th anniversary gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, about 100 km north in the same region of Le Marche and a prominent stop on the international circuit. One one hears much English, French, German and Japanese, and the printed program features a long list of non-Italian financial sponsors.

Fortieth Anniversary Gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro

A review by Andrew Moravcsik

Above: Angela Meade

Photos by Studio Amati Bacciardi

 

Few of these globetrotters come for Pesaro’s mediocre restaurants, beaches or tourist sites. Nor is the venue special. In contrast to Macerata’s romantic outdoor space, this gala took place in a bland auditorium constructed inside a suburban multi-purpose arena named after a local producer of commercial refrigerators.

Everyone came to hear great performances of works by Gioachino Rossini, whose birthplace Pesaro is. The last four decades have witnessed a revolution in Rossinian performance-practice, based largely on new critical editions of lesser-known works and fresh insights into vocal style. Many of these innovations were pioneered at the Rossini Festival. What better place to assess the state of the Rossinian art?

Singing Rossini is harder than it seems. His operas may seem on the surface to be naïve and uncomplicated. Yet underneath lies much craft, cunning, wit, depth – as well as formidable technical difficulty. To portray all this with effortless charm poses exceptional challenges and opportunities for singers – and universally loved experiences for audiences.

I14A6491.png

This gala contained excerpts from Rossini’s most famous operas. The first half drew on three madcap comedies (Il Barbiere di Siviglia, La Cenerentola, and L’Italiana in Algeri) for which he is best known. These works bring to life enduring stereotypes of Italian life dating back to commedia dell’arte: the foolish old man, the conniving servant, the blustering military officer, the honorable gentleman, the greedy man of means, and the romantic young lover. After intermission, the evening continued with selections from two serious operas (Ermione and his culminating work for the stage , Guillaume Tell), heroic works of genuine idealism that set the stage for the more overtly political and romantic operas of Giuseppe Verdi.

The program was promising. Yet throughout the evening in Pesaro, the spirit of Rossini remained surprisingly elusive.

The tone was set from the start, with the Sinfonia (overture) to the Barbiere of Seville. Unlike the famous overture to Guillaume Tell, given a slightly more satisfying performance in the second half, this is not a concert piece as much as a farcical buffo aria. Each of its sections – grand chords, a bucolic melody, a plaintive complaint, a raging storm, two long crescendos, and a dashing finale – come pell-mell on top of one another, with no real underlying logic. To capture this crackling spirit, the formal correctness of Rossini’s musical language must be balanced with a sense of zany improvisation.

The Orchestra Sinfonia della RAI played reasonably well and some woodwind solos and the precise articulation of the upper strings were superb. Yet veteran conductor Carlo Rizzi encouraged them to play like a symphony orchestra, not a pit band. Torpid and unvarying tempos (rests carefully counted out), an earnest emphasis on sonic beauty, and an even dynamic drained the piece of all its wit and sparkle.

V12A8654.png

Much of the evening proceeded in this way, also on the vocal side. Singer after singer seemed unable to capture Rossini’s vivid and witty musical-dramatic caricatures. Franco Vassalio offered astonishingly dull versions – cautiously read from the music – of Rossini’s two greatest baritone arias: “Largo al factotum” (Barbiere) and “Sois immobile” (Guillaume Tell). The first lacked personality, the second pathos .

Paolo Bordogna’s account of Barolo’s archaic rant, “A un Dottor della mia sorte,” lacked appropriate vocal resonance (is he a bass at all?) or any inkling of how perfectly Rossini captured for all time the absurd futility of an angry dad lecturing a rebellious teenage girl. Bordogna suffered by comparison to veteran Michele Pertusi, who contributed only to the ensembles yet demonstrated clearly how resonant a genuine Italian bass should sound.

Russian mezzo Anna Goryachova and her tenor compatriot Ruzil Gatin (?), a last minute replacement, sang solidly but unremarkably: she produced resonant low tones and he harsh high ones.

Even American tenor Lawrence Brownlee, a wonderful singer at his best, seemed to be a bit off his game. One has to admire his courage in leading off with “Cessa di più resistere” from Barbiere – an aria so long and demanding that most tenors refuse ever to perform it. Yet Brownlee’s voice was pinched throughout and the opening segment off-pitch. In the slow romantic middle section, he recovered, phrasing with poignant delicacy, yet the vocal acrobatics in the finale were no more than solid.

It fell to the three remaining singers to save the evening.

Superstar Rossinian tenor Juan Diego Flórez contributed one showpiece to each half of the program, the elegant “Sì, ritrovarla io guiro” from Cenerentola and the heroic “Asile héréditaire” from Tell. Flórez is an assured vocal superstar: his rock-solid technique, accurate intonation, clear diction and, above all, ringing high “money notes.” In recent years, moreover, Flórez has enhanced his ability to sing softly with real musicality.

Yet whereas the first aria deserved the ringing ovation it received, the second disappointed. Flórez’s voice, impressive though it is within its natural domain, just seems too light for a role in which the orchestral sound and vocal demands verge on those of middle-period Verdi. Flórez seemed uncharacteristically cowed: at times he failed to penetrate the orchestra, his dynamics and tempi varied little, his pleas for Swiss patriots to “Suivez-moi” seem unpersuasive, and he cut short the final (interpolated) high C.

More impressive was Angela Meade, a leading bel canto soprano from the US state of Washington who has recently moved on to Verdi. With maturity, Meade’s voice has gained astonishing size and weight: in the inspirational final ensemble from Tell, her rich tone penetrated effortlessly to the back wall of the auditorium through five soloists, an orchestra and chorus, all at fortissimo. She sang each word and shaped each phrase (recitatives as much as arias and ensembles) with unabashed passion and musical-dramatic intelligence. Her scena from Ermione was marred only by a tendency to flat high notes.

Yet the highlight of the evening came at an unexpected moment midway through the first half. Sicilian baritone Nicola Alaimo, a Pesaro regular, strolled on stage and effortlessly performed the aria that opens Act II of Cenerentola. It is Rossini at his most wittily and cynically Italian: striving Don Magnifico dreams of marrying his daughter to an important man so he can live a life of cozy corruption, surrounded by supplicants who offer money (and more) in exchange for political favors.

For five minutes, Alaimo inhabited the scheming father with no inhibitions. I have heard versions with more accurate buffo patter and with high notes, but it did not matter. His gestures, almost conversational phrasing, and superb vocal acting captured the Rossinian spirit. Even a friend beside me who had never heard the aria and (given the lack of supertitles) did not comprehend a word, immediately felt the fleeting magic of the moment.

Overall, however, the 40th anniversary gala was uneven, giving as much cause for concern as celebration about the future of Rossini singing.

Andrew Moravcsik

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):