30 years (almost) with Rossini at ROF
We are thrilled to have the following contribution from one of our members. Actually Charles Jernigan’s connection with the ROF predates the establishment of the American Friends of the Rossini Opera Festival.
Professor Jernigan has kindly offered to share his experiences and we look forward to hearing more from him on a (hopefully) continuing basis.
Thirty Years (almost) with Rossini at ROF.
Next year will be the thirtieth anniversary of my first time at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro. My first experience with ROF came in August, 1985. I had heard of the Festival only a year or so earlier, and when my wife and I had a few days before school was to start in my new job directing the California State University’s study abroad program in Florence, we naively took the train over to Pesaro, without opera tickets or a hotel room. It was a sweltering August in a crowded beach resort, but we found a room in a cheap hotel near the train station and only a block from the Teatro Rossini, and we managed to get two tickets from partial view seats in the top row of boxes, almost directly above the stage, for that night’s opera. In the theater, everyone was sweating profusely and we had to lean over the box railing to see the whole stage; the opera was one that even a dedicated Rossinian like myself had never heard before, much less seen.
The opera was Maometto II, and that performance was one of the greatest opera-going experiences of my life. The singing from the whole cast–Samuel Ramey, Lucia Valentini-Terrani, Cecelia Gasdia, Chris Merritt, and William Matteuzzi–was beyond anything I had ever heard, and everyone acted too! Ramey, in an unforgettable stage moment, ran barefoot up a group of hunched-over ‘slaves‘ to sing his cabaletta “Duce di tanti eroi,” standing on the shoulders of a–literal–underling. And he stayed there to repeat it! It was one of the most exciting things I have ever seen or heard in the theater, and it convinced me then and there that Stendhal was right: Rossini is the greatest opera composer. Maometto revealed itself as a masterpiece, a judgement confirmed in several subsequent productions over the years.
After that, I returned to Pesaro every summer that I was able to go, as great work after great work was uncovered by the musicologists, singers and stage directors. Operas which had just been titles in a book became real and wonderful works by a composer who, in Alberto Zedda’s words, “doesn’t know how to be mediocre.” Of course there have been many great moments since then like the unexpected debut of the totally unknown Juan Diego Florez in Matilda di Shabran, for me a scarcely explored title in a book before he sang it in 1996. And there have been so many great singers over the years, from the spectacular Marilyn Horne in the early years to Joyce DiDonato’s Cenerentola to Olga Peretyatko more recently, and so many others. Anyone who loves great singing cannot afford to stay away from Pesaro!
And if the August afternoons and evenings in Pesaro are filled with great music, the little town on the Adriatic is itself a wonderful place to visit. All year long my friends and I dream of those sea bass (branzino) splayed out on a white plate dusted with breadcrumbs in the Pesaro style, accompanied by a frosty glass of bianchello del Metauro, the local white wine. And there’s the turquoise blue of the Adriatic as well. Rossini had the good sense to be born in Pesaro, and in 2014 it is good to know that the tradition of restoring and playing his music comes alive there every year.
In recent years I have taken to writing essay-reviews of opera performances, and my reviews of this year’s Pesaro performances can be found at Jernigan’s Opera Journal, www.operapronto.info/journal.html.