The great Luca Ronconi passed away today in a Milan hospital. The Rossini revival, The Rossini Opera Festival, the American Friends of the Rossini Opera Festival ( he was an honorary board member) owe so much to his genius. What would the modern premier ofIl Viaggio a Reims have been like without his participation. Would anyone remember Armida today? We so fortunate to have him love Rossini. He will be missed.
Opera audiences at the time of the composition of La Donna del Lago held surprising sway over what actually appeared on stage. We are used to the stereotypes of hapless singers being ridiculed by fickle audiences who may or may not have known much about the art that was before them.
“The public made its feelings known to composers not just through boos or cheers but also through formal petitions. In 1824, the administration of the Paris Opera made this precise request to Rossini: ‘the public strongly asks that the music played by the stage band in La Donna del Lago be suppressed'”, this according to musical historian, Carlotta Sorba.
In fact, the stage band is quite central to the musical current in this opera and its use remains a challenge to this day. Imagine if Rossini had used bag-pipes instead of hunting horns!!
Alberto Zedda, Rossini scholar and artistic director of the Rossini Opera Festival contributed an essay to the 2001 program book for La Donna del Lago. Some of his observations are included below through the kind assistance of the Publication Office of ROF. There are also observations by the Italian musicologist, Luigi Rognoni, as well as a few selections from Youtube.
For a start, Rossini dispenses with an overture. This is somewhat ironic since aside from The Barber of Seville Rossini is perhaps best known to the general public for his overtures . But he gets right to the point of the drama, and as so rightly pointed out by Alberto Zedda the opening chords permeate the entire development of the opera.
Elena’s opening aria, “ Oh mattutini albori”, a barcarolle, is in Zedda’s words pervaded with an elusive and subtle eroticism. Luigi Rognoni went so far as suggesting that this music is a “leit-motiv” which gives this opera some of its Romantic feel.
Here is it sung by Anna Caterina Antonacci
This aria is followed by the appearance of Uberto/Giacomo and the drama commences. Giacomo is enchanted with Elena, and his presence has in turn aroused feelings of restlessness in her. She believes that these feelings are caused by her longing to see Malcom, who has not yet appeared.
Zedda writes that the sensual duet between Uberto and Elena, one of Rossini’s prettiest dialogs of love, is full of passion because Rossini is free from any necessity to paint a direct encounter between lovers. In fact, this is a very unusual love duet because it is not between two lovers!
Malcolm makes his appearance. Just a reminder that Malcom is a trouser role sung by a mezzo. He is perhaps the most interesting figure in this opera. Zedda remarks that “his” vocalization has its roots in the tradition of the androgynous characters, he belongs to Romantic culture. His interpretive powers need to be enough to give emotion and presentiment to a cabaletta. Malcolm stands out for his natural sensitivity, and noble pride, and may be characterized as a negative hero, destined to give weight to Elena’s uncertainty and magnanimity to Giacomo’s renunciation.”
Here we have Malcolm’s entrance “Mura Felici” sung by Daniela Barcellona, who brings this role to the Met in the upcoming performances.
Douglas, Elena’s father, and Rodrigo whom her father insists she marry have not yet appeared. Their music tends to reinforce these not particularly sympathetic characters, and although they are instrumental to the plot, are not really central to it.
When Giacomo reappears looking for Elena he sings “Oh fiamma soave” which is “not only a manifesto of pure singing in which the refinements of belcanto virtuosity are translated into emotion, according to Zedda “but also a profession of sublime nobility, of intense sincerity.”
Here it is sung by Juan Diego Florez, the Met’s Uberto.
The confrontation with Elena – the confession of love, sets off a scene of beauty, nostalgia and foreboding. Rossini basically lets us know that the die is cast, even before Uberto offers Elena the ring that will secure her safety.
Musically, this seems to be the most critical scene in the opera, and somehow Rossini explains to us all the nature of Uberto’s magnanamous gestures.
This scene is splendidly sung by June Anderson and Rockwell Blake, in this production from La Scala:
This is a far cry from the clemency in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito or even Rossini’s own Aureliano in Palmyra. It is something deeper and more mysterious. Not exactly Romanticism, but certainly Rossini examining “the rule of the senses” as Maestro Zedda puts it.
Fast forward to the obligatory happy ending.
Douglas is pardoned and ushered off the stage without further musical comment. Rodrigo is no longer alive. Malcolm is pardoned by his King but there is no exchange between Elena and Malcolm.
This is where “Tanti Affetti” appears. Rognoni declares that with this aria, the opera falls into conventionalism. He has a point, because although this is the “show piece” of this work, one might get the feeling that Rossini wasn’t quite sure how to tie things up. Zedda has pointed out that this cavatina is resplendent with joy, a joy difficult to understand once Giacomo has left the stage ( in some productions he’s still on stage, but out of the action).
Furthermore, in looking to the text, Zedda points out that when Elena comes to the word “felicita” there is a suspension in the vocal part, a pause on the strong beat that sounds like an unnatural hesitation. The chorus in the meantime sings “avversita”, Zedda concludes by pointing out that the use of full orchestra AND the band during the cabaletta seems to be a way for Rossini to suggest to us that there is a double truth – the happy ending and the shadows the music casts on the text.
So, maybe those audiences of long ago wanted the band off the stage so they did not have to deal with this double truth?
The week of January 25th World of Opera will broadcast Aureliano in Palmira . Visit www.worldofopera.org for a station near you, or information about the webcast schedule.
Such is the title of a recent article in “Corriere della Sera” about “US Associations that sustain the Italian heritage. -‘with a sense of sense of respect often much bigger than ours'”.
The article can be found herehttp://www.corriere.it/cultura/14_dicembre_05/i-tanti-zii-d-america-che-ci-aiutano-e73f08ea-7c79-11e4-813c-f943a4c58546.shtml#
It IS available in English, but unfortunately we are unable to provide the link
The American Friends of the Rossini Opera Festival is mentioned, and there is even a picture from an ROF performance!!
Let’s help make 2015 an even better year for ROF by “becoming an Uncle” and joining the American Friends of the Rossini Opera Festival!
Armida was all over the US today, thanks to the WFMT network and the tireless work of producer Tony Macaluso who came to Pesaro and recorded interviews as part of the broadcast. A lot of work went into this effort and Rossini fans in the US can be grateful for his efforts. Hopefully it will be the start of an annual tradition. Please let Tony and his network know that their work is appreciated. Contact him via the wfmt.com website!
Thanks also to Maestro Zedda for taking the time during a very busy period during last summer’s Festival to speak with Tony and to enlighten listeners in his very down-to-earth, passionate fashion.
Finally thanks to Randall Bills for making himself available during the Festival. The American Friends of the Rossini Opera Festival love all Rossinians, but there is a special place in our hearts for American singers who often are more famous overseas than at home. We are trying to change that!!
Last, but not least, special thanks to Giacomo Mariotti and the people in the news office at the Rossini Opera Festival – unsung heroes of this enterprise!!
On Saturday November 29th, the American Opera Series will present Armida from ROF2014 with intermission features recorded during the Festival.
Below are links to some of the stations that carry this program. Should a different opera be listed ( due to programming priorities) please check a different site. The opera will be carried on the parent station of this series www.wfmt.com.
http://nepr.net/ New England
http://www.wcny.org/radio/ New York
http://interactive.wxxi.org/classical New York
In addition to the broadcast of the 2014 ROF Armida, there will be intermission interviews with our American star, Randall Bills, as well as the artistic director of ROF, Alberto Zedda. The schedule may be found at http://schedule.wfmt.com/?day=11/29/2014&hs=0&he=23
The ROF2014 performances of Il Barbiere di Siviglia will be on the WDAV network’s World of Opera Series followed by Armida in mid-November. You will get another chance to hear Armida along with an intermission feature from ROF at the end of November via the WFTM network. More information as it becomes available at Forum Rossiniano on this site.
Special offer from ROF and the American Friends of ROF.
Listeners who would like an electronic copy of the program book for Armida from last summer’s Festival, are encouraged to email
firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Armida” and you will receive the program.
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.
This year’s Festival concluded with a performance of Aureliano in Palmira
with Jessica Pratt and Michael Spyres in the leading roles.
Here is a sample of what went on behind the scenes in preparation for the first-ever performance of the critical edition.