Tancredi in Philadelphia, Review

Thanks to Dana Pentia for this first-hand account!

We live in times of abundance. These days you don’t have to travel far (though a trip to Pesaro during the ROF festival is still unequaled) to experience highest quality Rossini opera. Abundance of riches came over the past two weeks to Philadelphia where Opera Philadelphia presented a staged production of Tancredi in its Ferrara ending (more about the ending(s) later). The production of stage director Emilio Sagi, set designer Daniel Bianco, and costume designer Pepa Ojahguren was seen previously at Opera de Lausanne and Teatro Municipal de Santiago. I attended the last performance of the run, in the afternoon of Sunday, February 19th 2017.
Tancredi was the first commissioned opera seria composed by Rossini when he was only 21 years old. Up to that point he composed 9 other operas. These were some of the most fertile years of Rossini’s creative life, in some years composing up to 5 operas per year. Teatro la Fenice requested specifically an opera seria for the carnival celebrations of 1813. Rules of opera seria had to be followed: unity of time and place, arias and duets interspaced by secco recitatives that move the action forward, each aria expresses one emotion, and liberal use of ornamentations in arias and duets. The librettist Gaetano Rossi chose a happy ending to Voltaire’s tragic play Tancrède for the Venice premiere. After the success of the opera in Venice, the opera with its original cast traveled to Ferrara. The aristocracy of Ferrara however could not accept a happy ending to the tragic story previously told by Voltaire, and a new tragic finale had to be written. The eminent Rossini scholar Philip Gossett recounts in his book Divas and Scholars how he found the Ferrara ending in the family library of the descendants of the poet that re-wrote the final scene of the libretto for Ferrara.
While still a very young composer, Rossini’s distinctive ingenious style, which will make him so highly acclaimed later, is evident. Sprinkled within the score are musical motives that will find their way later in operas like L’Italiana in Algeri, Cenerentola, or Armida. Even his last opera Guillaume Tell reverberates with some echoes from Tancredi. The interplay of strings and winds, the intricate leads of the flutes, the very elaborate role of the timpani, all show the genius of the young composer which captivates us to these days. It is a well-known fact that Rossini resorted frequently to borrowing from his own previous compositions, thinking that many were never to be heard again. Such is the case with Tancredi. The overture is entirely taken from the previous opera La Pietra del Paragone. While the arias and duets and recitatives and choruses are all on par with other Rossini best compositions, the Ferrara finale has a completely different structure from all the other opera finales, and from the conventions of the time. It is actually so unusual that it proved to be too revolutionary for the time and it was poorly received. Rossini was very much ahead of his time in composing this ending which is more or less a declamatory cavatina of the dying Tancredi accompanied only by strings. There is no grandiose full force full orchestra ending, the music just dies with the title character.
The opera describes a political situation in Syracuse, Sicily in the year 1005. Internal conflicts between rivaling families of Argirio and Orbazzano had to be resolved in order to confront the external threat of invading army of Solamir, the Saracens from the east. In order to seal the peace, Argirio offers his daughter Amenaide as bride to Orbazzano. However Amenaide is in love with the exiled Syracusan soldier Tancredi. A slew of misunderstanding, malevolence, and missed opportunities lead to Amenaide being mistrusted by pretty much everybody. Villain Orbazzano intercepted a love letter of Amenaide to Tancredi. Smart woman as she was, she left out his name to protect him. Orbazzano believes that the letter is addressed to Saracen Solamir, practically inviting him to conquer the city of Syracuse. Tancredi, who returned incognito to Syracuse, buys into the intrigue that Amenaide has been unfaithful to him and fell in love with Solamir. Her father, Argirio, in a move of extreme weakness, also believes her treacherous and poor Amenaide is condemned by the senate to execution. Tancredi however, still feeling love to Amenaide, challenges Orbazzano to a duel to save Amenaide’s life. He triumphs over Orbazzano and Amenaide’s life is saved, but he still believes she betrayed him. Being the new hero in town, Tancredi next leads Syracusan army in battle with Saracens. He defeats the invaders but emerges mortally wounded. As he is dying, he learns that Amenaide has been faithful and the letter was actually addressed to him. Tancredi’s dying wish is for Argirio to marry him to Amenaide, which he dutifully does, and he dies in her arms as her husband.

Photo credit: Opera Philadelphia
This staging of Emilio Sagi is minimal but very elegant; minimal activity happens, true to the opera seria rules. The sets and directions beautifully enhance this opera presentation. The timing is moved from 1005 AD to the time of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. The set consists of marble and granite walls, floors, and columns, with occasional mirror walls appearing. The set looks indeed like an approximate replica of the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles where the Treaty was signed. The walls slide forth creating closer spaces, and also revealing a stained glass back wall is painted in a characteristic art nouveau style. The costumes are also elegant beginning of 20th century style: men wear colorful military uniforms, while women have beautiful belle epoch gowns.
I believe the lighting design was conceived to highlight the action, and would’ve enhanced the beautiful sets. What I can only assume to be bad maneuvering of the lights left some action and main characters in the shade. Also direction of the singers was minimal, limited to basic blocking. It felt that the singers were left to their own devices to develop their respective characters. Some did it more successful than others. But these are small quibbles in an otherwise gorgeous production.
Stephanie Blythe is a veteran professional and her years of stage experience are evident. We should be grateful that she wanted to do this role, as it is not easy to find a mezzo/contralto capable of singing the long and difficult music Rossini wrote. She knows how to own the stage and the music. She delivers the type of performance where you know that everything will go right and you don’t have to worry about anything. She possesses a sizable instrument with impressive low notes. Tancredi is written for a contralto with high extensions. It felt that the role was a bit too high for Stephanie Blythe. The tone turned too bright and glassy in the upper middle and high registers. Her type of voice, at this stage of her career doesn’t seem to be the perfect match for bel canto, while she was following the dynamics of the music, the voice simply wasn’t coloring the phrases in the right way. She did warm up more in the second act, however her tone was still too harsh and shrill to make a truly moving performance. While in the first duet her voice and Brenda Rae’s soprano blended decently, in the duet at the end of the second act, the blending was severely lacking, Blythe harshly covering Rae, and simply displaying a voice of a different nature. At the end of the opera it seemed that Brenda Rae was also getting tired, and her voice lost a bit of the aplomb that characterized her singing up to that point. Blythe’s stage presence was also quite mechanical. She just gave the impression of going through the motions without really engaging with the music, or the text, or the drama. For example: the provocation to duel of Orbazzano, one of the climaxes of the story, should not elicit laughs from the audience, which it did on Sunday afternoon due to the insincerity of it. Even the last scene, the heart-wrenching expiration of Tancredi was lacking the necessary underlying meaning and emotions.
Soprano Brenda Rae was a complete revelation. Her voice is powerful with beautiful coloration, easy and brilliant top and good coloratura. She threw herself at Rossini’s difficult music with assurance, and one could tell she was enjoying singing this music. Soon her voice will probably move in the direction of a full lyric soprano, as the shades of fuller, darker registers are present. Her stage presence was regal and imposing. The way she portrayed Amenaide was not as a powerless victim, but as a woman that knew her worth, that would not submit to the whims of powerful men or to political plays without a fight.

Photo credit: Opera Philadelphia
Michele Angelini was probably the most Rossinian of the singers in this production. Rightfully so, as he is an alumni of the Accademia Rossiniana of Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, and the base of his repertory consists of Rossini tenor roles sang throughout the world. The understanding of the style was immediately obvious, the coloratura was spectacular, and he tossed high Cs and high D with ease. The voice is on a smaller size, but he remains true to his voice and the style, doesn’t push, and delivers the music with great beauty and elegance.
Daniel Mobbs’ voice is anything but small. His baritone was at ease in the role of Orbazzano, and he seemed to enjoy playing the villain. He even seemed delighted to get a handful of boos at the curtain call, the obligatory show of engagement of the audience nowadays for the malevolent characters. The audience though loved him, and cheers erupted wholeheartedly.
Allegra De Vita acquitted herself honorable in the role of Amenaida’s confidant Isolda. Her voice is sizable and dark, and it is not hard to imagine her as Tancredi in a few years. Anastasiia Sidorova delivered a lovely and tender Roggiero – Tancredi’s squire. She sang her aria beautifully. It was unfortunate that her costume and make-up made her look more like an awkward teenager, more like a Cherubino without the hormonal angst in hand me down military uniform, than a squire to a brave soldier.
In any Rossini opera, orchestra plays an important part. The music director of Opera Philadelphia Corrado Rovaris led expertly the orchestra. What was a delight to the ears was also a delight to the eyes, as I was watching the musicians of the orchestra play and respond to conducting. Several of them were bouncing and dancing in their chairs, clearly enjoying the music they were playing. This is a sign of a great conductor, one that can not only deliver truthful and beautiful music, but one that can also infuse joy in the process of executing this music. The chorus also sang exquisitely the music that Rossini wrote for them.
Overall it was a very pleasant afternoon at the opera, showing that great opera can happen in less prestigious places very successfully.

Otello in Brooklyn! A promise kept!

In our interview with Sean Kelly last spring ( in anticipation of LoftOpera’s “Le Comte Ory”) Sean said “Ory will certainly not be the last rarity I conduct with LoftOpera, I promise!”

And,keeping his promise, Kelly is back with Rossini’s even rarer “Otello”, playing in March at Lightspace Studios in Brooklyn.

In spite of the intense preparation for these performances, Sean was kind enough to answer some more questions for us.

Q. Musically, what appeals to you ( as a Rossini lover) about this score? Some have said it has a particular “tint” which makes it different from other Rossini operas. Any thoughts?
A. There is so much in this score that I love. Many times with Rossini’s serious dramas, the scope is really big, (think Semiramide, Ermione) huge choruses, large casts etc. Otello is such an intimate opera, much of it really feels like a chamber work.

Q. You are of course credited with being the conductor, but some people may not know the additional responsibilities of a music director. Is this an extra challenge with an “unknown” opera?

A. One of the challenges with this opera is finding 3 distinct tenors that don’t sound like each other. Otello has this virile, martial vocality that is unique and very exciting to hear, compared with high-flying Rodrigo’s romantic, languid music. Of course Iago is the archetypal bad guy, smooth, elegant, and manipulative. As with all of Rossini’s operas, attention to detail in articulation and phrasing is of the utmost importance, and this opera is no different. The beautifully introspective slow movements of Otello are especially tricky. Among the many responsibilities as music director, I cast the shows and prepare the chorus as well.

Q. Some say that had Rossini entitled this opera Desdemona, then it would not have been overshadowed by Verdi’s Otello. The stories are quite different, but do you feel that Desdemona is more central to
this opera than Verdi’s ?
A. Rossini did such a beautiful job telling Desdemona’s story. We really get to see this woman’s journey, unlike in the Verdi where she is far more one-dimensional. The act 2 finale is such a riveting moment when we see her absolute breakdown, and all of act 3 is so poignant and heartbreaking. Rossini has already met Colbran, and was probably already in love with her, so it’s no surprise that he gave her so much beautiful music. Cecilia Violeta Lopez, our Desdemona, is a wonderful and committed artist both vocally and dramatically, so I have no doubt she’ll walk away with everyone’s heart.

Q Aside from the vocal challenges, does this score present any particular orchestral challenges??
A.Otello is the first opera Rossini composed ‘from scratch’ for Naples. He found himself surrounded by some of the best musicians on the peninsula, and you can really hear that in his writing. Complete virtuosity is required from all the winds, with many moments rich with sublime filigree.

Q. Are you as excited about these upcoming performances as we are?
A. New York hasn’t seen a staged production of Otello in decades, and I’m really very excited to be a part of it. I’ve been working individually with several of the principals for months, and I can not wait to start the rehearsal process. This one is going to be really special. Tickets are going fast, so don’t wait too long!

Thank you Sean Kelly and thanks for bringing Otello to us!

Excerpts from earlier interview below:

One of the fundamental challenges of keeping the Rossini revival alive is continuing to present his “less popular ” operas; this is a particular problem in the US where we are not blessed with the density of opera houses found in Europe. We can hardly expect the Metropolitan Opera to carry the “burden” since there doesn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiasm for Rossini among the “powers that be”.

In the old days we had the New York City opera to help out; those days are gone.

So what does it take? A music director with a passion for Rossini certainly helps. New Yorkers are so lucky that LoftOpera will soon be staging “Le Comte Ory ” under the guidance of Sean Kelly whose Rossini credentials ( playing ‘non più mesta’ on the horn, and accompanying Paolo Bordogna at the drop of a hat, are among them) auger well

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Frontspiece of “Le Comte Ory”

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Kelly and Paolo Bordogna having fun!

Kelly was kind enough to answer a few questions for Rossini America .

Q. Since we are “Rossini oriented” please tell us how you came to be a Rossini enthusiast!!!

Rossini has always been close to my heart! Many years ago I played the horn, and I actually began music school as a horn major. I would use ‘non più mesta’ as an exercise, (and my teacher would roll his eyes and laugh) and for my final jury before switching to piano, I played his ‘Prelude Theme and Variations’.

Q. You were a fantastic accompanist for the recital that Paolo Bordogna gave at the Casa Italiana in conjunction with the presentation from the Rossini Opera Festival! In fact it seemed like Rossini was second nature. Is it?

Thank you very much! I guess I’ve always understood his ‘language’, and the technical challenges of playing his music have always been a joy for me to try to conquer. His music seems so naturally fluid, and collaborating with an artist like Paolo was an absolute dream. I look forward to the next time!

Q. “Selling” Rossini in the US is not easy. The preference is for Puccini and after that Verdi. Any thoughts on why that is?

I wish I had an answer to that. It seems American audiences are lazy these days, and Puccini is much more of a ‘quick fix’ that doesn’t require much concentration from the audience. It breaks my heart that companies these days completely ignore the majority of operas of the early 1800’s in favor of the same 10 titles over and over that they believe ‘sell’. As artists and music makers, we’re obliged to challenge audiences to think a bit harder, and try to see or hear something they didn’t previously. Why they think Rossini won’t do that, but some third-rate modern piece will, is beyond me.

Q. Much as we all love Barbiere ( as Beethoven did) there is so much more to Rossini. You are leading LoftOpera’s venture with L’Comte Ory, which isn’t exactly standard fare. What prompted that choice ( or perhaps it was not yours)

Le Comte Ory is a true masterpiece! It has rich orchestrations, gorgeous choral writing, a myriad of brilliant roles, and it’s truly funny! I’ve been dying to do it, and when the stars align and the right singers, director and venue are all available, you can’t miss the opportunity. It will certainly be the most ambitious production we’ve done this far at LoftOpera. Last year I had the pleasure of conducting Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia with LoftOpera, another gem that’s unfortunately under-appreciated and woefully under-performed in the US. The audiences absolutely adored it!! Ory will certainly not be the last rarity I conduct with LoftOpera, I promise.

Q. OK, we should not be asking this, but…. do you have a favorite Rossini opera. And, after that, are there specific passages in Rossini that you feel illustrate his magic?

Oh that’s hard to answer! I adore so many of them.. L’italiana always makes me laugh, the Colbran operas are all divine. Viaggio and Ory are both such brilliant ensemble operas. Guillaume Tell is one of the proofs of the existence of God. How could I possibly choose?

We hope lots of Rossini fans will come to enjoy LoftOpera’s performances ( check out LoftOpera.com for details) Thanks to Sean for being the driving force behind this! Not sure that Tell would fit in the Loft, though!

horn and piano
And, in fact Sean has played this piece on the horn as well!!!

Luca Pisaroni makes his much anticipated ROF debut this August!

.. but not in the opera he was originally scheduled to sing in! Pisaroni will now be debuting Mahomet ( a role he refers to in the interview below)

Most American Rossini lovers will remember Luca Pisaroni as the unforgettable Alidoro in the Metropolitain Opera’s “La Cenerentola” a few season’s back. Fortunately it was transmitted in HD, so people all over the US had the chance to experience this exceptional artist.
Pisaroni is back at the Met this month for “I Puritani”, and those lucky enough to be in New York during this period, should make sure to attend one of these performances.

Pisaroni kindly agreed to answer a few questions for Rossini America, taking a break from his hectic schedule to share some of his perspectives with us.
We thank him, and we hope you enjoy our “interview”!

Background

Q. First of all, even though most people are familiar with you, could you say a few words about what made you love opera and decide to pursue it as a profession?

A I have loved opera for as long as I can remember. I grew up in Busseto, Giuseppe Verdi’s hometown. I was constantly surrounded by his music and by his spirit and that made it very easy for me to fall in love with classical music. One of my most vivid childhood memories is of me listening to a collection of Verdi arias from the music cassette player of my grand-father. I was mesmerized by the amazing sounds that those wonderful artists were able to produce.

Q. Were there particular individuals or institutions that shaped your carrier?

A. There are three people who have been instrumental in helping me become the singer I am today. The first one is Carlo Bergonzi: I listened to his masterclasses when I was a boy and just from being there I have learned so much about diction, phrasing and how to “present” your voice – as we say in Italian “porgere la voce”.
The second one is Nikolaus Harnoncourt: a Maestro who changed the way I think and look at music. I was extremely lucky to make my debut as Masetto with him in Salzburg in 2002. It was an earth-shattering experience for me that transformed my approach to music completely.
Last but not least Thomas Hampson: a wonderful colleague (and also family) who has taught me to always be curious, to never be satisfied, to never give up and to use your voice not just as an instrument that produces sounds but as a tool to express your thoughts and emotions.

Audiences and performance practices

Q. Do you sense a difference between American (that would include Canada) and European audiences?

A. I don’t really see any difference. I think we tend to underestimate the power of music. When we did Maometto II in Santa Fe everybody was a bit afraid of how the audience would react to this relatively unknown opera. It turned out to be the most successful production of the summer. If the creative team and the singers strongly believe in an opera and in its dramatic power, the audience will feel it and they will follow you on the journey.

Q. Do you “scale” your performance (vocal projection and physical movement) according to the size of the house?

A. I don’t change my technique but I pay attention to the size of the house. If you are in a 1,000 seat theater in Europe, you can do things that you are not able to do in a 4,000 seat theater in America. Bigger houses require more sound and more legato, while small houses allow you to have a more conversational approach to the recitatives. Sometimes, one can speak or whisper a few words in a smaller house that would not be audible in a larger house.

Q. How do you feel about concert or semi-staged performances. Not so much as a replacement for fully staged ones, but as a way of presenting a broader repertory?

A. I would love to do more concert or semi-staged performances. You could present some lesser known operas without the financial investment that an entire opera production requires. A dream of mine would be to present Maometto II in concert. I believe so strongly in its dramatic impact that I am sure it would work beautifully in a concert setting.

General

Q. You have sung quite a few Rossini roles. Rossini doesn’t enjoy the same popularity in the US (with the exception of Barbiere and Cenerentola) as Verdi and Puccini. Do you have any thoughts on why this might be? And as a follow up, do you see the possibility of a wider and deeper audience for Rossini in the US, and what could help that come about?

A. I am not sure why. Sometimes presenters are afraid to put on something unknown like “La Gazza Ladra” or “Mosè in Egitto” but I believe the music and the drama are so interesting that audiences would love these operas.

Q. So many people have commented on your Alidoro which they were able to see thanks to the Metropolitain Opera’s HD transmission of Cenerentola. Some of us see a little of Rossini himself in this character. What do you think?
A. I never thought of it, but I completely agree. He looks like Rossini making comments during the performance about what’s going on in the story. A little bit like Alfred Hitchcock appearing in front of the screen in some of his movies.

Q. You have sung both the “Italian” Maometto, and the “French” Mahomet. Although they are not exactly the same character. What role does the difference in language have on your interpretation, if any? As a native Italian do you feel “closer” to the Italian version?

A. I have only sung Maometto II in Italian. I have performed the aria of Mahomet from “Le Siege de Corinthe, which is quite different from the Italian version with less coloratura and fewer embellishments. I hope I get to perform the entire role in the future, it would be interesting to see the differences between the two versions.

Voice and future roles

Q. Non-singers sometimes have trouble understanding vocal categories and what determines role-choices. One of our members observed that many of the Rossini roles you sing were written for Filippo Galli, and was wondering if the roles he sang in other operas were a particularly good fit.

A. I don’t choose roles because they fit into a category. I like roles that have a dramatic development and that represent a vocal challenge for me. I was totally scared of singing Maometto II and while I was studying it I had a lot of doubts. But singing such a challenging role made me push my boundaries and made me realize things about my instrument and my stage craft that I wasn’t sure I had. As a singer, you don’t know if you can sing a role until you actually do.

Q. Any particular “dream roles” that you would like to add to your repertory. Do you see yourself moving “away” from Mozart towards Verdi and Puccini?

A. I have a very long list of “dream roles”. Some are actually becoming reality like Mephistopheles in Gounod’s Faust and others are in my calendar and I will debut them in the next years. I am a huge fan of the French repertoire and I would love to sing Mephisto in Berlioz’s Damnation de Faust and the Four villains in Hoffenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann.
I can’t wait to debut Mustafa’ in L’Italiana in Algeri. I remember seeing the amazing Ponnelle production, which made me fall in love with this opera right away.
I would love to add Verdi to my repertoire, but I believe I have to explore the Bel Canto repertoire before venturing into Verdi. Growing up in Busseto makes me a bit intimidated to approach his music too early.

Opera dogs!

Q. Opera dogs are getting to be quite the thing. Some of our favourite ROF singers have brought their dogs along so we have a standing joke that it is necessary to bring biscuits to the stage door as well as flowers. Paolo Bordogna’s Sulpice is regular. Will you be bringing Tristan and Lenny to Pesaro?

A. Without question. They follow me everywhere I go and I can’t wait to take them to Pesaro. They are going to have an amazing summer and I will try to take them to swim in the Adriatic as much as I can. There is nothing better than going to rehearsal after an energetic walk with the dogs on the beach.

Q. Should another dog ever join your family would you consider naming it after a character in a Rossini opera. Tristan, after all…

A. Absolutely. I would love to have another miniature dachshund and I would like to call him Assur.
Unfortunately, it won’t be possible because with the kind of life I have and the amount of travelling I do, it’s already a challenge to deal with my two amazing dogs. In an ideal life, I would love to have at least four dogs: two golden retrievers and two miniature dachshunds. It would be a complete madhouse, but can you imagine the fun?

Coda

To learn more about Luca Pisaroni, be sure to visit

www.lucapisaroni.com and follow him on FB and Twitter @lucapisaroni

Espana alla Rossini

We are pleased to bring you a review of a CD which explores some non-standard Rossini repertory.
The music on this CD will be presented in several concerts in January with Anna Tonna, Miguel Borallo,and others. In NYC the dates are January 8, at Nola Studios ( 224 W. 54th Street, 11th Floor; January 9 at Casa Italiana ( 24 w. 12th Street ).In Miami the concert will be on January 22nd.For more information about the Miami concert, visit orchestramiami.org.

CD review by Dana Pentia, RossiniAmerica editorial staff.

A new CD titled “España alla Rossini” containing some of Rossini’s lesser known songs with Spanish undertones was created by mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna. In the program notes the Rossini expert Reto Müller informs us about connections that Rossini had with Spain. In 1831 he was appointed “Maestro Honorario” of the Madrid conservatory. Through his marriage to legendary soprano Isabela Colbran, who was also the virtuosic protagonist of his Neapolitan opera serie, he became acquainted with Spain’s “natural disposition for art and song”. Rossini visited Madrid in 1831; during the visit he expanded his contacts with Spain, picked up tunes and rhythms of the country, and also some Spanish (by some accounts became fluent in Castilian). The music for his Stabat Mater also took roots during this visit.
The selection of songs on this CD spans from as early as 1821, when Rossini was at the peak of his Neapolitan opera glory, all the way to 1868, at the end of his life, decades after he stopped composing operas.
The CD starts auspiciously with “A Granada”, a Spanish arietta, a late composition from 1861 on a Castilian text by Ventura de la Vega after Emilien Pacini. Immediately, the mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna transports us to the sunny Andalusian city with clarity and directness of her warm mezzo sound, and an impeccable vernacular enunciation of the text. Anna Tonna has made herself known as a fine interpreter of bel canto and verismo repertoire, as well as of Spanish music. She was a Fulbright scholar in Spain in 2007-2008. Critics praise her as “mezzo who knows how to sing Rossini” with “warm and secure” voice and “bright, brilliant coloratura”.
Two love songs from 1831 and 1835 “Amori scendete” and “Nizza, je puis sans peine” enchant with lyricism and Spanish ardor, the second one being a passionate flamenco accompanied by castanets. These are the years that followed his last opera Guillaume Tell, at a time when Rossini probably was still thinking of composing more operas. The arioso style of “Amori scendete” reveals the great operatic stream that was still flowing from Rossini’s pen. Accounts of those times mention that he was working on an opera based on the story of Ivanhoe. This project however never materialized as a new opera, but a pastiche from his earlier works took the stage some years later. The well-known “Canzonetta Spagnuola”, composed for Isabela Colbran, with its bewitched accelerando in flamenco style brings to mind the famous delightful Rossini crescendos. It was composed in 1821, at a time when his connections to Spain were mostly through the singers he has been working with for his new operas, his wife Isabela Colbran being fundamental in capturing his interest for Spanish melodies and rhythms. Countless singers have sung this song, and every time we hear it, it reminds us of fervors of Iberia. Rossini was able to capture the passionate Spanish spirit probably better than many other Italian composers of the time. Rossini knew how to set the simple yet sweet text of “La passeggiata” in a Anacreonic style to witty and charming music. The next group of three songs: “Aragonese”, “Sorzico”, “Tirana Alla Spagnola” are composed all from 1857-1868, at a time when Rossini settled in Paris for good after leaving his beloved Bologna. These were composed as salon pieces to be performed in intimate living room settings. “Sorzico” is a premiere on this album, its music obtained by permission by Anna Tonna from Rossini eminent scholar Philip Gossett. All three are on the verses of the well know little ditty “Mi lagnero tacendo” of the celebrated poet Pietro Metastasio. This short poem provided a rich source for clever, elegant, charming, and often delicately ironic melodies for the immensely talented Rossini. Some experts claim that he set this song to music more than 100 times, on tunes ranging from happy to sad, from lengthy full blown ariettas to brief sketches of just few measures, each in a different style, never repeating. So much for Rossini’s reputation of self-plagiarizing, this little song alone is proof of his immense creativity. This Metastasio verse appear on this CD no less than five times, in “Aragonese”, “Sorzico”, “Tirana alla spagnola”, and twice more in two very stylistically different Boleros, one from 1832, and one from 1850. While the 1832 one has been known and performed before, albeit rarely, the 1850 one is probably heard for the first time on this CD since performed in Rossini’s salon. Both of these boleros, while very different, have unquestionable Rossini trademark. The program notes informs us that the 1850 score was also obtained from Philip Gossett, making it another novelty of perpetually surprising Rossini. What is not immediately clear, from musical selections or the program notes, is the order in which the songs are presented on this CD. They are not grouped chronologically, or linguistically (languages of the song texts are Spanish, Italian, French, and Latin), or stylistically. Though all selections have some association with Spain, not all are in Spanish style, or spirit, or language. For example L’Invito, part of the “Soirées Musicales” composed between 1831 and 1835 is a very Italianate Bolero, on an Italian text by Count Carlo Pepoli. Pietro Metastasio also provided the lyrics for another morsel from his famous “Soirées Musicales”, “La Promessa”, this having even more obscure Spanish connection, also being one of the better known Rossini songs. One wishes the program notes would make the Spanish ties more clear.
Stabat Mater however has the obvious Spanish connection being initiated during a trip to Spain, as well as being premiered (first version) in Madrid in 1833. It is superfluous to discussion here the profundity of this composition, many scholars have commented on this abundantly.
A good part of this CD is allocated to ensemble pieces. Such collaboration is more than welcomed, presenting the diverse aspect of Rossini’s chamber compositions. The love duet “Les amants de Seville” highlights the vocalism and musicality of the tenor Miguel Borrallo. His clear squillo tenor fits perfectly Rossini’s song, and it is easy to imagine that the tenor for whom it was written had similar qualities. The very last selection is reserved to a quartet interpreted by the” Cuarteto Vocal Cavatina” comprised of soprano Mercedes Lario, mezzo-soprano Marta Knörr, tenor Felipe Nieto and baritone José Antonio Carril accompanied on piano by Aurelio Viribay. They masterfully interpret “O giorno sereno” written in 1827, at a time when Rossini was composing his best operas. This quartet could have very well been part of one of his operas. A more than episodic appearance on the CD is the virtuosic castanets player (dancer?) Cristina Gomez Tornamira who can be heard in “Nizza, je puis sans peine” and “Canzonetta spagnuola”. While the castanets will always spice up any Spanish song, one wishes the balance during recording was adjusted better, as they tend to overwhelm the aural perception of the songs.
It is impossible to ignore the expert stylistic accompaniment of the pianist Emilio Gonzáles Sanz. Rossini’s chamber music is never just accompanied vocal line, but truly duets for voice and piano, many times the piano has the more important, main musical line. His masterful playing highlights the depth, sophistication, and charm of Rossini’s musical creativity.
This CD is a welcomed addition for any Rossini lover who wishes to explore the rich diversity of his lesser known, some never heard before chamber vocal music. A thematic presentation of these pieces, as it is in this case “alla Spagnola” is probably the best way to capture interest in today’s era of fast and short attention span.

Liv Redpath, winner of the 2016 Rossini competition

The Palm Springs Opera Guild of the Desert recently awarded the second annual Rossini prize to soprano Liv Redpath. Among the jury members again this year was the legendary Rockwell Blake. We are delighted to bring this interview with her.
First of all, congratulations on winning the Rossini Award given by the PSOG. Everyone associated with the award is really delighted to have such a wonderful winner!
Thank you so much–it was an absolute pleasure to learn a new side of the repertoire.
A few of our members in the Boston area recall hearing you sing when you were a student at Harvard. You majored in English, so was singing something you discovered while you were at Harvard, or was it something you had always done?
I get asked this question often–I certainly took a non-traditional route to singing, from the outside. Funnily enough, it is because I love singing so wholeheartedly that I chose to study English at Harvard. I was so firm in my commitment to music that I felt studying another subject and attending an academic institution would only deepen and enrich my ability to bring life to characters on stage. I also researched what my time at Harvard could look like extracurricularly and found that, if persistent, I could potentially sing three or four operas a year, sing six mornings a week at Memorial Church in Harvard Yard, and take voice lessons with a world class teacher across the river at Boston University (which is exactly what I did!)
In the master class with Renée Fleming (available on YouTube) you just seem so calm and collected! Were you feeling differently?
Of course I was nervous for what Ms. Fleming would think of my work, but when I get nervous it is because I earnestly want to achieve something, and through that, I find a strange calm.
I woke up for that morning master class at 6 AM in order to warm up and put myself together, was at the space over an hour early, and told myself if I was my best, most musical self, I couldn’t ask for more. Over the years, I’ve recognized this trait in my practice; when I have a goal in a performance or audition I value, I buckle down and center in on what I want and what I can control in the performance–everything else is just noise. I often think to myself how upset I would be were I not to give it my all–that usually pushes me to my best self. It also helps immensely that Ms. Fleming is so kind and compassionate–she came to our sitzprobe for Cendrillon the evening prior, so I had gotten a chance to meet her, and she to hear me, before those special 20 minutes on stage. She is so special, and I look forward to all that she has yet to give the musical community, both as a performer and also as a teacher and artistic leader.
Have you grown up in a musical family? As a follow up, were there some early inspirations that led you to consider this as a career?
My mom loves to sing and has sung for her entire life. My dad didn’t grow up with music, but has been supportive of all of my aspirations from a young age. I was lucky to have parents who valued an arts education so highly–they put me in Yamaha piano lessons from age 4 and I continued through the end of high school, adding trumpet in 5th grade–and of course I sang. Throughout my childhood I had amazing mentors who encouraged me in everything I did musically. Without these teachers and my parents, I would not have achieved and grown in all the varied musical experiences I have been lucky enough to have. I’m also a realist, so although I knew my own dream, I always checked in with various authorities to get their opinion on my growth and if the continuance of my training was valid–thank goodness it has been fruitful!
What was it like to be a student at Juilliard? And what would you say was the most valuable part of your experience there?
Juilliard was a swift introduction to all the nuts and bolts of how the industry of opera (and classical music) works. It truly is a mecca for great and varied artistic training, and I was lucky to be at the heart of much of that in my graduate studies. There is a decent amount of stress involved with being in the center of it all and somehow trying to avoid comparison not only to your fellow students, but to the singing that happens across the street at the Met. However, once you get through that, you come out stronger than ever, making deliberate choices about who you want to be and how you want to interact with and inspire others.
The most valuable thing Juilliard gave me is a gift that will continue to give long after leaving the building: their staff. I have met some mentors who I will look up to, and cite, and remember, for my entire life–the generosity and insight of the artists on their staff is what makes everything work there.
Juilliard, of course, has the advantage of being across the street from the Metropolitan Opera. Were you able to attend many performances while you studied there?
I did attend performances–not as many as I would have liked. My favorites were Le nozze di Figaro, and Lulu with Marlis Petersen. Stunning. I stood through all 4 hours, and it was worth it. I’ve already bought my Lulu score to start working on for years down the road.
Now you are participating in LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist program. Tell us a little about what that is like.
Being a Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist at LA Opera is perfection at this stage of my development. I am truly lucky. I get to work with a staff who are fabulous musicians, know how to have fun, be supportive, and work as a team. I love them, and am improving and learning in my craft because of their strength. I’m also fortunate to be with an immensely talented and, again, fun group of young artists, which makes moving across the country a much easier task!
You have sung and covered quite a diverse number of roles, but not much Rossini. Is this because the opportunities have not come your way, yet? Are there particular Rossini roles you would like to add to your repertory in the near future?
It is precisely that–the opportunities just haven’t come my way yet! I am someone who is immensely curious about the entire operatic canon, so I might take a little longer to cook than a singer who specializes in only Baroque or Bel canto repertoire. My main draw to opera really is for the purpose of musical storytelling–for this reason I can’t just pick one style and be content–I want to make real the worlds of Rossini and Berg and Handel. I read about this competition online and thought, “Well, this is a perfect excuse to learn something new!”. I saw the Met broadcast years ago of Le comte Ory with Damrau, Flórez and DiDonato and knew I wanted to learn Adèle, the countess.
And finally, now what is almost the “obligatory dog question”! Many of the best Rossini singers have dogs that they love and travel with. We understand you have one too?
I do have a dog! Her name is Mimi and she lives in Minneapolis with my parents. She is a yorkie-poodle who is full of life and quirks and brightens everyone’s day. I joke that she is my spirit animal, and an admirable replacement for me at home (my family got her after I went away to college). I’m still waiting for the day they let me take Mimi on a little LA vacation!
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Rossini flash mobini

The Metroplitain Opera’s Rossini “double header” on Saturday October 29th presented a unique opportunity for Rossini fans to show their love for Rossini and their appreciation to the Met for FINALLY mounting William Tell and presenting “L’Italiana in Algerie” in an exquisite production with a fabulous cast.

So, we got to work. The idea for a “flash mob” was born and we printed up posters, had our fliers ready, got some great volunteers to participate, including Sean Kelley who agreed to conduct the motley crowd in some Rossini singing. Nicola Alaimo and Marianna Pizzolato generously agreed to stop by on their way to their dressing rooms before the evening performance.

What could go wrong?

Well, many of you may have read that the “flash mob” turned into an “ash” mob ( we won’t comment) resulting in the cancellation of the final act of Tell ( now THAT’s tragic) and greatly reduced number of participants in our event. But, the ones that remained made up for the loss with their enthusiasm.

Pictured above are Richard Beams and Charles Jernigan longtime members of the Friends,the legendary Fred Plotkin who is a Rossini lover par excellence! and Dana Petina ( who tweets as @ DanaRossini)a great Rossini activist!

When L’Italiana was canceled as well it was clear that our singers wouldn’t show.

Thanks to all for their support!

Fortunately not all was lost. Rossini may have “died” but Verdi had a requiem ready for us the following day. Our beloved Daniela Barcellona along with a superb group of soloists and the orchestra and chorus of the London Symphony Orchestra under Noseda revived our spirits.

Later Daniela Barcellona helped lift our sprits at an informal get-together!
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We did not even need Limoncello after that!

It was a historic weekend at Lincoln center with ROF well-represented both via Friends who attended performances and Accademia alumni who performed or were present in NYC. Now we only have to wait 9 months for ROF 2017.

PS Maybe we should have taken a hint from the Wagnerians and staged our event on the subway! At least it would have been a shorter ride!img_0400

William Tell at the Metropolitan Opera

First, here’s the gift! Read the details below.

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The Metropolitan Opera is making up for its Rossini drought (Il Barbiere di Siviglia being the exception) by presenting William Tell, before its run of L’Italia in Algerie has finished.
Performances run from October 18th to November 12th.

An all-star cast of mostly non-Rossinians ( with the notable exception of Marina Rebeka who sings Mathilde) includes Bryan Hynel as Arnold ( John Osborne sings one of the performances), Gerald Finley as Tell, Janai Brugger as Jemmy, Maria Zifchak as Hedwige ( until Marianna Pizzolato takes over after finishing with L’Itlaiana),with Marco Spotti, Kwangchul Youn, and John Relya rounding out the cast.

Both Rebeka and Pizzolato are graduates of the Accademia Rossiniana and have appeared numerous times at the Rossini Opera Festival.

Fabio Luisi conducts

Before getting to the myths, we would like to explain about the gift. You can click on the link at the top and read an article by Bruno Cagli who is perhaps not well known to Americans, but is the pre-eminant Rossini scholar of our time. Professor Cagli recently edited ALL of Rossini’s letters, and there is not much that CAN be known about Rossini that Cagli does not know. It is worth a read although the translation can seem a tad quirky at times. This gift is made possible through the generosity of the Rossini Opera Festival and their fantastic publications director and archivist, Carla di Carlo. We hope you enjoy it!

So, here are the myths.

Myth # 1 There is a complete version of William Tell.

Although Tell is too often subject to numerous cuts, if all the music written for Tell ( limiting ourselves just to what Rossini wrote) were included in a performance, it wouldn’t work. Not because it would be too long, but because there would be no way to incorporate all the changes in any fashion that would make dramatic sense.

However, cuts should be carefully made respecting both the logic of the story, and the “arc” of the music.

A case in point might be the trio for women’s voices near the end of the opera. Apparently Rossini allowed it to be cut because the figure of Matilde was “too weak”. By cutting it one effectively eliminated her presence in the last act, particularly during the miraculous finale.

One could argue however that by including the trio one gets a MORE complete picture of Matilde and really come to believe that she has “joined” the other side. Musically it is one of the most sublime things Rossini wrote, but of course he may not have felt that way!

Philip Gossett tells the story in his wonderful book, “Divas and Scholars” that Rossini actually ADDED music to accommodate a scene change when the work was first performed. Later it was cut, but when it was re-inserted in a recent production for La Scala, the director was left to figure out “business” for the addition. Cut and paste is hard!!

Gossett’s view on cuts is one that we should consider when we hear complaints about the versions we are presented with:

“When a conductor omits a passage or an entire number because he honestly doesn’t like it, I may disagree while respecting his motivation. When a conductor makes a cut because it is ‘traditional’, on the other hand he is acting without artistic integrity”. Strong words. We might just add, if the conductor doesn’t like Rossini, he should forget about the cuts and just walk away from the opera.

Finally we should mention that a “complete” William Tell was recently given at the Rossini Opera Festival. Marina Rebeka who appears in the Met’s version was Matilde and really helped establish this complex character as “believable”. Surely the trio for women’s voices in the finale helped to bring this about.
The Tell, was Nicola Alaimo who Met audiences are enjoying in L’Italiana. The role fit him like a glove – a perfect caring father. One could really feel his connection with his “son”.

Myth #2 Rossini didn’t really care about ballet.

This is just false. Modern audiences may believe it thinking ” Oh, Rossini was forced to write ballet because he was in Paris” forgetting that he had included ballet music for Armida which was written for Naples. In fact, Rossini took great interest in ballet, and struggled with the placement of some of the excerpts which he could have cut and, indeed, eventually had to. During his time at the Opera in Paris, he often visited the ballet studio in the theater and according to the Danish choreographer Bournonville who was studying ballet in Paris at the time, Rossini would often come to the studio and tell students about a particular singer who was performing that evening and that they shouldn’t miss hearing it!

Somehow in later years, directors felt they had carte blanche and could insert any type of choreography into Rossini’s operas Ballet fans may be surprised to know that Maria Taglioni, danced in the premier with choreography by Filippo Taglioni. Non-ballet fans should note that this dancer and choreographer were considered some of the best in the world at the time.

A few directors have respected this tradition by including choreography consistent with the ballet of the time, including Luca Ronconi who invited people familiar with the choreographic tradition of Rossini’s time to take over the ballet in the La Scala production in 1988.

Will we ever see the ballet as Rossini “intended”? It is not impossible, but it won’t be in this production at the Met.

Myth # 3 Rossini quit writing opera because…..

The list of proposed explanations is long. Most of them are based on incomplete knowledge of both Rossini and the conditions under which opera composition found itself at the time Tell was premiered.

Before addressing the “most likely” hypothesis, it is worth considering one which doesn’t hear often… and that is Beethoven.
Most know about Rossini’s visit to Beethoven, but few probably know that Rossini tried valiantly to raise money for Beethoven during the time Rossini spent in Vienna. Viennese society had turned its back on the person, Beethoven, while still embracing his music. The entertaining book by Gaia Servadio “Rossini” brings some of this to light. We can only speculate that Rossini became more aware of financial security after having seen Beethoven’s fate. Getting his pension in Paris was of upmost importance. Had it not taken so long to secure it, Rossini might have moved on to England where he conceivably might have continued composting operas. But this is pure speculation.

Anyway, the most logical reason is probably the one hinted at in Cagli’s article. To briefly summarize, the conditions for a composer were very different in Paris from what Rossini left in Italy. In Italy, Rossini essentially had to deal with the impresario and of course the censors. Paris was another thing. Verdi termed it “la grande boutique” and according to Gossett, there was general dissatisfaction among Italia composers working in Paris with the way things were done; it was really “opera by committee”.

The birth of William Tell was certainly clouded by this, and although Rossini was fortunate that he had Vicomte de La Rochefoucauld, Minister of the Royal Houshold as an admirer and protector.Cagli suggests that a private correspondence ( had it existed) might have been the key to why Rossini gave up composing opera.

Whatever the explanation is, it is probably wise to listen to Rossini scholars rather than “simple” music critics.

Finally, before another myth gets started, Tell did NOT shot an acorn off his son’s head in spite of what the picture suggests. The image is from a set of playing cards of a type popular in Hungary. Instead of hearts, clubs, etc. acorns are one of the suits.

Florez, honorary citizen of Pesaro, Italy

This summer during the Rossini Opera Festival, Juan Diego Florez was presented with the honorary citizenship of Pesaro. Below is the citation.

Il tenore Juan Diego Florez è nato artisticamente al Rossini Opera Festival diventandone protagonista e presenza assidua. E’ unanimemente considerato il maggiore interprete di Rossini nel mondo. Ha partecipato a 16 edizioni della manifestazione, con 22 esibizioni complessive. Un record e un privilegio che nessun teatro al mondo può vantare, contribuendo all’affermazione internazionale del Rossini Opera Festival e alla diffusione del nome di Pesaro nel mondo.
Pesaro è diventata la sua casa italiana, dove risiede abitualmente durante l’anno”

Here is an approximate translation:
“The tenor Juan Diego Florez had his artistic birth at the Rossini Opera Festival, becoming a protagonist and constant presence. He is unanimously considered the greatest interpreter of Rossini in the world. He has participated in 16 editions of the Rossini Opera Festival , with a total of 22 performances ( with multiple repeats, ed.)A record and a privilege that no other theater in the world can boast, helping the international success of the Rossini Opera Festival i and the spread of the name of Pesaro throughout the world.Pesaro has become his Italian home, where he resides during the year”.
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What color handkerchief will you be waving? Click on picture to learn more!

L’Italiana in Algeri will be starting its Met on October 4th,with an all-star cast conducted by the beloved James Levine, and an absolutely exquisite production by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle which the Met has had the wisdom to retain.

The cast includes Marianna Pizzolato *#,Ying Fang,Rihab Chaieb, Rene Barbera #,Nicola Alaimo *#, Dwayne Croft, and Ildar Abdrazakov.

* graduates of Accademia Rossiniana
# Performed at Rossini Opera Festival

This is an opera to be simply enjoyed! The story is clear and uncomplicated; the music is Rossini at his best; and there are no really “bad guys” just a character who needs a little “attitude adjustment” which is provided by L’Italiana and her co-conspirators.

This does not mean, of course, that this opera is without complication when you dig a bit into its history and what was going on in the world at the time of its composition

We are fortunate that Philip Gossett, one of the world’s foremost Rossini scholars has written at some length about L’Italiana in his book “Divas and Scholars.” We will get to some of his points later.

First it might be good to address the matter of how audiences viewed that part of the world at the time the opera was composed, and how it is viewed today.

Today, nothing says it better than this picture from a recent, award-winning performance at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro. The production is by Davide Livermore, who really went over the top in his irreverent and spot-on take on the story.

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Then there is a more sober account of how audiences viewed that part of the world in the past, found in an interesting new book by Larry Wolf, “The Singing Turk” ( learn more at www.singingturk.com)

Actually it is likely that Rossini and his audiences were more pre-occupied by what was happening among European countries at the time of the premier, than any external threats. The censors certainly weighed in on some of the text ( although Rossini cleverly included a musical reference that most audience members would have picked up on). The example is from Gossett’s book.

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Gossett points out that ” “L’Italiana in Algeri was more problematic to the censors than many other Rossini operas, and he cites the changes to just one aria, the famous “Pensa alla patria” ( Think of your country). Certainly when sung by someone like Marilyn Horne one could easily understand that this might have been a call to “rally the troops”, and in the case of Horne, Americans might have been forgiven for thinking that she was singing to them!

In Rome the censors changed the line to “Pensa allo scampo ” ( think of escape ). Yet another substitution was “Pensa alls sposa” ( Think of your wife). It may be hard to understand that in those days words actually meant so much that the censors felt it necessary to make such changes. Modern audiences have become quite used to the fact that often a libretto’s words have no connection to what is seen on stage.

Gossett also addresses orchestral changes and these are quite interesting because Rossini’s operas are often ill-served in large houses with large orchestras. The changes that piled up over the years affects, as Gossett says, “the very texture of the score”. Just one example serves to illustrate this point. Rossini did NOT use trombones in his operas ( with rare exceptions) but over the years three trombones turned up in the score!

The history of misguided alterations was finally stopped when the Fondazione Rossini “restored the opera to its correct orchestral format” as Gossett says, continuing “The delicacy, lightness,and precision of Rossini’s orchestration was scarified to a late nineteenth-twentieth-century vision of orchestral sonority and was then sanctified by ignorant twentieth-century musicians as belonging to the “tradition,” a “tradition” invented by musicians with no sense of Rossini’s orchestration and totally extraneous to the opera that delighted all Europe during Rossini’s lifetime.”

In spite of all these attacks on Rossini’s score, L’Italiana has managed to survive and in the right hands delights audiences today as it did back when it was first performed.

Oh, the handkerchief! Opera houses in Italy often provide the program books that are real treasures. The Teatro Comunale of Bologna is no different. We have included a picture featured in one of their recent books with a guide to the colors of the harem. When you attend the Met, be sure to look around for signals!!

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