United Kingdom Rossini, La Gazzetta: Soloists, Chorus, Royal College of Music Opera Orchestra, Michael Rosewell (conductor). Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, 24.6.2014 (MB)
Lisetta – Filipa van Eck
Doralice – Hannah Sandison
Madama la Rose – Angela Simkin
Filippo – Luke D Williams
Alberto – Gyula Rab
Don Pomponio – Timothy Nelson
Anselmo – Matus Tomko
Monsù Traversen – Julien van Mellaerts
Donald Maxwell, Linda Ormiston (directors)
Nigel Hook (designs)
John Bishop (lighting)
Louisa McAlpine (choreography)
With but one exception, I am delighted to report with great enthusiasm on the Royal College of Music International Opera School’s summer show, Rossini’s La Gazzetta, performances and staging alike at least the equal of last year’s sparkling Offenbach production, La Vie parisienne. Donald Maxwell and Linda Ormiston update the action, such as it is, to the 1990s, though I cannot help but think that their synopsis overplays the idea of ‘the power and reach of newspapers’, in the opera at least, if not necessarily in Goldoni’s original play. At any rate, we have an array of madcap antics, colourfully designed by Nigel Hook, brilliantly lit and choreographed by John Bishop and Louisa McAlpine. The Neapolitan figure of fun, Don Pomponio, has his erstwhile assistant turn glamorous female (and thus now Tomassina); vividly portrayed by Kelly Mathieson, despite her total lack of words and music, this is intended as a ‘tribute to Italy’s most famous care home assistant’, the attitude and words of other characters reflecting that Berlusonci-like turn. And so, from the opening hotel lobby sequence, in which hotel guests (a Welsh male-voice choir!) sing something inconsequential, until the ‘Turkish’ disguises and inevitable, unsurprising ‘revelations’ of the finale, in which again something inconsequential is sung, visual spectacle is impeccable.
Vocal performances were splendid too. This is not easy music to sing, but bar the odd intonational slip here and there, every member of the cast offered something promising. Timothy Nelson’s Don Pomponio succeeded – a tricky task, with an English audience – in conveying the ‘peculiarity’ of the character’s Neapolitan dialogue. Filipa van Eck stole the show more than once as his daughter, Lisetta; there is quite a range here, and estimable accuracy to boot. She clearly also relished the stage opportunities – wonderfully tasteless costumes included – her nouveau riche character offered. Gyula Rab had an excellent line in the imploring, lovelorn tenor, generally singing as handsomely as his unmistakeably Italianate costuming suggested. Hannah Sandison’s tone hardened at times, but was for the most part focused, strong and yet, when required, touchingly vulnerable. Luke D Williams proved himself once again an excellent baritone with real stage presence. Angela Simkin’s Madama la Rose proved far more than the mere foil to which the plot more or less reduces her, possessing genuinely ear-catching moments of her own. The roles of Anselmo and Monsù Traversen are smaller, yet there could be no complaints concerning the contributions of Matus Tomo and Julien van Mellaerts, likewise from the chorus of soloists who completed the action. Though small in size, the orchestra conjured up a truly Rossini-like sound under Michael Rosewell. If Rosewell had the overture stop and start a bit too often – largely Rossini’s fault, but such faults can be mitigated – then precision, colour, and vivacity were very much to the fore later on. Wind solos in particular were highly distinguished.
That sole reservation? The opera itself, I am afraid. I shall not dwell on the matter, especially since such performances are intended at least as much as a showcase for highly talented young singers as anything else. (In that respect, I should not be surprised to hear more from all of them over the coming years.) It is difficult, ultimately, to imagine, however, why anyone should care about these characters, and the ‘fizz’ soon wears off. La Gazzetta is not a short work, and such slight material – someone placing an advertisement in a newspaper for a potential husband for his daughter and the all-too-typical disguiges, misunderstandings, etc. – can hardly support the considerable length of such a work. As so often with Rossini, the music is curiously interchangeable; would it really matter if any of it were moved anywhere else, or indeed to a different opera? Such ‘æsthetics’ have their apologists, of course; tedium sets in quickly for the rest of us. Parsifal seems far shorter by comparison.
Nevertheless, many congratulations to the cast and production team for displaying such commitment to an opera whose merits remain dubious. If you are a Rossini enthusiast, you certainly should not hesitate; likewise if you simply wish to hear some fine singing.