Italy Rossini, Maometto 11 Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro dell’Opera, Rome. Chorus master, Roberto Gabbiani. Conductor, Roberto Abbado. Sets and costumes by Pier Luigi Pizzi with his 2005 production from Teatro La Fenice, Venice. 1.4.2014. (JB)
Paolo Erisso – Juan Francisco Gatell
Anna, his daughter – Marina Rebeka
Calbo- betrothed to Anna – Alisa Kolosova
Maometto 11 – Roberto Tagliavini
Let’s begin with the conductor. Roberto Abbado has learned much from his more illustrious uncle. Not least is his meticulous attention to every detail of the score –and almost militaristically so. I can’t help feeling that that would cause an ironic chortle from the composer were he to be looking down on the proceedings. (If you go in for these upstairs-downstairs arrangements of the moral stratosphere, you will have to agree that Rossini must surely be benignly looking down ; he had too much sense of humour –too much awareness of his own ridiculousness, to end up in the lower regions.) But as with uncle Claudio, Roberto Abbado’s meticulousness is so finely judged that it avoids any possible hint of being slave-driven. That, of course, would snuff out the light of the Rossini sparkle. And therein is the driving force of both Abbados.
There is an hour and a half of music in each of the two acts with a half hour interval. But whereas the music of Act 1 is merely superlative, in Act 2, Rossini goes into overdrive and shocks the ears off the audience with music unequalled in the operatic repertory. The opera first saw a staging when Rossini was Director of the Naples San Carlo in 1820. Isabella Colbran (later to become Mrs Rossini) was Anna. The opera was a flop. But the old boy couldn’t leave it alone. He rewrote it for La Fenice in 1822 with a changed, happy ending. It would then resurface for his Paris debut in 1826 in French and called Le Siège de Corinthe.
Fast forward to 2005 when Pier Luigi Pizzi created his staging for La Fenice. This is the version which graces the boards of the Rome Opera. And as always with Pigi, it is immensely dignified, unfussy and settling into those tableaus much beloved of this director, which magically and graciously move the show forward through the unexpected grace of freezing it still.
Quite an eyeful infact. But it is the earful which is the unmitigated pleasure of the evening. And this not least because Rome has found four singers who handle perfectly the composer’s outrageous demands. Thank you again, Artistic Director, Alessio Vlad.
Music chatterers like nothing better than speculating what kind of voice La Colbran must have had. The agilità is certainly there in the writing, but it is almost always in the lower register. That has led some colleagues to use the term coloratura mezzo-soprano. The Lithuanian soprano, Marina Rebeka, has an unmistakable soprano voice but with an unusual, rather dark, attractive colour to it. And the coloratura? As meticulous and note perfect as Roberto Abbado. So if anyone knows of a singer on today’s scene with a better set of vocal attributes for the role of Anna, please write to tell me about her. Anna ends the opera with a marathon performance of unmatched virtuosity. Marina Rebeka brought the house down. A well-earned ovation.
The theatre thanked the Russian mezzo soprano, Alisa Kolosova for agreeing to sing in spite of an indisposition. If she sounds like this indisposed, what must she be like on full form? Hers was the trouser-role of Calbo. Lots of coloratura here too and with all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed. Her voice is fuller and richer than Rebeka’s, making the appropriate contrast. And it also makes the delivery of the coloratura all the more impressive.
Juan Francisco Gatell is a favourite of the Rome Opera. And with good reason. He is as handsome as a peacock and moves with the agility of a ballerino, though this production afforded him little to display that talent. His most remarkable vocal asset is the projection of the quietest passages. He participates in two outstanding trios with the two women in Act 1. His voice has nothing like the power of the ladies’. But the projection must be the finest on today’s operatic stage. He cuts through all their power with a precisely placed pianissimo, thereby providing some of the most memorable passages of a memorable evening.
Maometto 11 is really Rossini’s Mustafa (L’Italiana in Algeri) with all the comedy flushed out of him, the infidel who will stop at nothing to get the innocent Christian girl. Roberto Tagliavini is appropriately commanding of voice and person. His great height towers him above the others. And this is a bass who knows how to convey nastiness in memorable, beautiful tones. His greatest moment is the second Act duet with Anna, where they go in for what Anna Russell used to call, some very competitive singing: anything you can sing, I can sing better. He wins. And the audience left him in no doubt about that. But as I’ve already mentioned, she gets the last word of the show. So prizes for all.