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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Guglielmo Tell

I'll be honest: for the longest time I didn't know much about Rossini's William Tell except that its famous overture was the "Lone Ranger" theme. I also knew the tenor part was so murderously difficult that almost no one can sing it and it's supposed to be almost five hours or so uncut. This afternoon's rousing performance of Guglielmo Tell (thus called because the Italian translated version was used) at Carnegie Hall was my first live experience of this wonderful opera. It was one of those happy, music-affirming, life-affirming experiences that left the audience giddy with joy.



First things first: wow what an astounding score! The storyline is kind of weak (there's a revolution and a guy has to shoot an bow into an apple placed on top of his son's head is about all I could make out of it), but the score sounds like an imaginary operatic collaboration between Beethoven and Verdi, with Rossini's own melodic talent thrown into the mix.

The orchestra often employs the famous Beethoven thunder, as well as the Beethoven-esque dialogue between different sections of the orchestra. For instance, in one section, the strings would open the conversation, the percussion would respond, and on and on until it became a huge wall of sound. The rousing, nationalistic spirit of the opera and the heavy use of the chorus reminds one of early Verdi. But make no mistake, this is also unmistakably a Rossini opera: there are endless forays into the stratosphere for the tenor, fiendishly difficult cabalettas, rip-roaring crescendos and accelerations that drive everyone onstage and the audience into a frenzy. But the final chorus sounds celestial and, uh, I know Rossini and Wagner weren't really of the same era of music, but it most reminded me of the finale of Parsifal.

The performance this afternoon was led by Gianandrea Noseda and the Teatro Regio Torino. You could argue with using the Italian translation, you could argue about some of the cuts that were taken to fit the running time into a hair under four hours (the opening Act Two chorus was nixed entirely), but you could not argue with the amazing energy and commitment of the conductor (five stars for watching him jump up and down for four hours), orchestra (five stars for following Noseda's often breakneck speeds), chorus (if I could give them 10 stars I would, they were spectacular), and performers in this large cast.

John Osborn was pretty amazing in the inhumanly punishing role of Arnoldo. Osborn doesn't have a beautiful voice, but his voice has both the ease into the stratosphere and the heroic squillo that this role demands. He also has musicality and is one of those performers who brought energy into the often staid concert opera format. Osborn was thrilling in "O muto asil del pianto," and received a prolonged ovation and an appreciative shout from a guy in the galleries. Noseda and Osborn both blew a kiss at the extra-vocal fan. Osborn was psyched, you could tell -- his face had the expression like he'd simultaneously won the lottery and scored a date with Jennifer Lawrence. But unfortunately during the barn-storming cabaletta "Corriam, corriam" his upper register started to give way. You could hear his voice breaking and all the discipline it took for him to not crack completely. Because he's obviously a pro, he soldiered through the rest of the aria. He looked crestfallen. This didn't take away from his overall outstanding performance.

I know he's capable of absolutely hitting a home run here, and I look forward to hearing him in La donna del lago in the winter at the Met.



Angela Meade (Mathilde) has now established herself as the go-to girl for concert versions of semi-obscure primo ottocento operas. She seems to be a quick study and rarely cancels, and for that I give her respect. With that being said, I hated listening to her. I was trying to think of a way to describe her, and I finally came up with one: an ugly-voiced stimme-diva. If you have the voice of Montserrat Caballé, you can get away with a more placid, generalized interpretation of a role. But that's the point: you have to sound like Montserrat Caballé. There are singers today whose beauty and purity of voice justifies their stimme-diva approach to roles. Elina Garanca for instance isn't the most exciting performer but who cares when her voice is so beautiful? Meade's voice has lost whatever freshness it had in its early years and now has a sharp, curdled edge and an intrusive vibrato that is crossing the line into flat out unsteadiness. She often falls short of pitch. The lower register is gargled and sometimes inaudible and the coloratura runs are dispatched with all the passion of a court stenographer recording a patent infringement trial. She had neither the float for "Selva opaca" nor the dynamic energy for the duet with Arnoldo. She can throw in a high note here and there and most of the audience claps. I guess I should say something nice about her so I will: she has really pretty hair. Seriously. It's long, silky, and curls in princessy ringlets at the ends like Duchess Kate.

Here's a soprano whose voice was not conventionally beautiful but could bring a thousand times more beauty to everything she sang:



Luca Salsi was solid if not outstanding as William/Guglielmo Tell. It's refreshing to hear a baritone these days who hasn't barked the sheen off his voice. "Corri alla madre" was sung with a reasonable amount of legato. There are echoes of Rigoletto in that aria. Marina Bucciarelli was unknown to me but a delightful Jemmy. Really high, pure soprano. The trio of basses were all outstanding. Marco Spotti (Gualtiero), Fabrizio Beggi (Melchtal), and the Gabriele Sagona (Gessler) all managed to shine and make the most of their moments in this very large cast. Mikeldi Atxalandabaso (Ruodi) had one of those tiny, whiny, bleaty voices that only make sense in Rossini operas where the villain is often given that kind of vocal line.

The finale of Tell is so out of this world beautiful that words can't really do it justice. I've never gone to church in my life except for weddings and funerals but if ever there was music that described the opening of the gates of heaven, it would be this. And so here, without further ado:


What a great opera. I hope to hear it again soon.

7 comments:

  1. I hadn't heard about your blog until you took it down. Thanks for restoring it! Love it! (And loved "Tell" yesterday, too!)

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  2. Another delightful,entertaining and informative article,Ivy. Glad you're blogging again.Though I grew up with the Lone Ranger overture on radio, and have been going to the Met since 1959, I never heard anything else from William Tell until, I think, Pavarotti's early recording of "Coriam! Voliam" and . John Osborne is pretty terrific in the clip you posted. (As for churches, I wouldn't go into one even for a wedding or funeral!)

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  3. Great review, Ivy. I have heard a copy on line already (! Modern Times!!!) and you sound absolutely accurate. I wish I had been there for something is lost when you are not hearing the voices resonate in a real space. But you captured what was obviously an exciting event. I agree with you totally about the singer you don't embrace. The person reminds me of some others embraced by a certain group of people. But look, good luck to her!!! Wonderful to read you.

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    1. Thanks Albert! Great to see you blogging again. I hope blog more!!!

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  4. Mikeldi Atxakandabaso sang Ruodi (the Fisherman),he tenor who sings the solo with high C's at the beginning of first Act. No tiny voice at all...I think you are wrong with the exact role...

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  5. i agree with alex, the tenor who sang ruodi was not bleaty, whiny or tiny.

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