Saturday, August 05, 2006

Rossini on DVD

I have recently spent some time in London and I took the opportunity to buy some little known operas of Rossini on DVD. Perhaps I should say 'little played', rather than 'little known.' The overture to 'William Tell' is a concert hall favorite, but the the opera itself, at more than three and a half hours in length, is rarely played.

'Guglielmo Tell' was the last opera ever written by the composer and was conceived on the grand scale, ballet music included, for the Paris opera stage. Its huge scale and conception has meant that it has never been played frequently on the stage. Furthermore, it posseses many of the same flaws that can be observed in Meyerbeer's operas: static set piece arias, little attention to dramatic progression and girls dressed up as boys (in this case Tell's son). Nevertheless, this recording of the 1988-89 La Scala production, conducted by Riccardo Muti, has many strong points. Even when Rossini was composing under difficult circumstances (as here), his own love and understanding of the dramatic was still, inevitably, retained. In the dramatically and musically splendid 'leitmotiv' for the odious Gessler, there is more than a suggestion of Wagner, while the famous 'shooting of the arrow from Tell's son's head scene' is truly dramatic.

Rossini, of course, was really most at home in the early part of his career in Italy, when he had success after success as 'Il Tedeschino' or 'the little German' (a title he earned through his love of German music--particularly that of Mozart). This is reflected in Decca's 'La Cenerentola', with Cecilia Bartoli in the title role. The production was recorded at the Houston Opera, with Bruno Campanella conducting, Raul Gimenez as Don Ramiro, Enzo Dara as Don Magnifico and Alessandro Corbelli as Dandini. It is a perfect cast and even the vocal fireworks of 'la Bartoli' cannot hide the dramatic certainty and musical excellence of the other members of the cast. In my opinion, 'La Cenerentola' is at least the equal of 'Il Barbiere di Siviglia', and this is a fact that is slowly being recognised. I would go further and state that Rossini wrote at least three great comic masterpieces in the Italian language ( there is another written in French) and the third of this delightful triumvirate is 'L'Italiana in Algeri', or 'The Italian Girl in Algiers'. In a later article, I intend to comment on new DVDs of this sparkling piece and also of 'The Barber of Seville', with Gino Quillico in the title role.

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I have decided to strike while the iron is hot and review the other two Rossini DVDs I boughtin London, before the experience begins to fade from my mind.

For Twenty-nine pounds ninety nine pence (about sixty US dollars), I bought a box set of two famous productions from the late nineteen- eighties: 'L'Italiana in Algeri' conducted by Ralph Weikert in Schwetzingen, with the German mezzo-soprano, Doris Soffel in the title role and 'Il Barbiere di Siviglia', also from the 1988 Schwetzingen Festpiele, conducted by Gabriele Ferro and with the American singer, Gino Quilico as Figaro.

Let's begin with 'L'Italiana in Algeri.' This is a very underrated opera buffa and it clearly shows the dramatic and musical skill of the twenty-one year old composer. Yes, it is cynical and cruel at times and one can certainly imagine the young composer sneering at the foolish and boorish Mustafa, along with his character, Lindoro--but in spite of that, it is a slick and exhilirating ride. The end of the first act is an ensemble 'tour de force' which is worthy of concluding any ordinary opera buffa--and in fact there is a slight sense of anti climax when the second act begins. However, after a short time, the comic and musical pace picks up again to send us careering to the grotesquely comic, but quite brilliant finish. Doris Soffel makes a fine Isabella and Nuccia Focile an appropriately obedient Turkish wife. American tenor, Robert Gambill succeeds in capturing the necessary 'serious levity' as Lindoro. All in all, this is a quite delicious production with gorgeous costumes from Mauro Pagano-- and any unbiased listener/observer may well decide that when it is as superbly performed, as it is here, 'L'Italiana in Algeri' is at least on a par with 'Figaro' and 'La Cenerentola.'

The second DVD in this box set also comes from the Schwetzingen Festival of 1988. Gino Quilico is a suitably 'braggodocio' barber of Seville, while a very youthful Cecilia Bartoli provides the necessary coloratura fireworks as Rosina. Musical director, Gabriele Ferro, keeps a tight grip of this well known masterpiece (performed here inside the famous Zurich Opera House) and all the characters and singers pull their weight to make this interpretation a truly sparkling one.

In conclusion, I need to say that with DVDs of this quality now on the market, it is surely only a matter of time before exclusively audio recordings of opera become extinct.


Anonymous Sefi said...

.....e continua a navigare per gli abissi, illuminandoli di silenzi carichi di luce.

3:20 PM  

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