Rarely Performed Rossini Disappoints

Guillaume Tell-500
Guillaume Tell Photo Courtesy Bayerische Staatsoper 

GermanyGermany  Rossini: Guillaume Tell, Orchestra and Chorus of the Bayerische Staatsoper, Dan Ettinger (conductor), Nationaltheater, Munich, 2.7.2014 (JMI)


Guillaume Tell: Michael Volle
Arnold: Bryan Hymel
Mathilde: Marina Rebeka
Jemmy: Evgeniya Sotnikova
Gesler: Günther Groissböck
Hedwige: Jennifer Johnston
Walter: Goran Jurić
Rodolphe: Kevin Conners
Ruodi: Enea Scala
Leuthold: Christian Rieger
Metchal: Christoph Stephinger

New Production:
Direction: Antú Romero Nunes
Sets: Florian Lösche
Costumes: Annabelle Witt
Lighting: Michael Bauer


Rossini’s final opera is quite atypical, the least Rossinian among all Rossini operas. The vocal demands are very important and more heroic than in his earlier works, the number of characters is quite large, and it is long. As a result, there are few opportunities to see it performed. The Munich Opera Festival has decided to offer it in the original French version, but with numerous cuts.

This is a new production by the young German régisseur Antú Romero Nunes, whom I believe is making his debut in opera. The action is brought up to modern times, which isn’t a problem since the occupation of one nation by an invader is as common today as in the Middle Ages. Obviously, the temptation is to show Nazi Germany as the invader; this is not explicitly presented, but there are details that prevent any doubt (black military uniforms and boots, army parades). The sets consist of numerous suspended metallic tubes that are in almost constant movement to configure the different scenes. In the end, this movement of tubes in every possible position becomes boring. The costumes offer a contrast between the dark uniforms of the supposed Austrians and the more colorful ones for the Swiss. The stage is always very dark, which allows the lighting to become almost a protagonist in the opera.

Mr. Romero Nunes’ direction is quite good when it comes to moving masses of people, and it proves him to be an experienced man of the theater. But there are moments when it really seems as if he doesn’t like the opera, particularly in the first half where he offers superfluous and childish details. Moving the overture to the beginning of the second part of the opera, which takes place here in the middle of Act III, is not a happy decision. During the so-called overture there is a parade of the invading forces, where the Nazi identification offers little doubt, joined by the ongoing movement of those tubes. All this becomes rather tedious, and I was not surprised that the end of the overture was received with loud booing.

Conductor Dan Ettinger’s performances in the pit have never seemed outstanding to me. He is a reliable and efficient, but his dramatic, noisy reading of Guillaume Tell was short on nuance and emotion. Rossini requires a different kind of conductor on the podium. As usual, there was a fine performance from both orchestra and chorus.

The great vocal disappointment came from Michael Vollein the leading role. William Tellis a complex character, and elegance and feeling must always be present in his singing.Mr.Volle was wrong in his approach to the role and seemed to be singing Alberich instead of Tell. He was vociferous, with no grace or emotion if we except the arioso “Soisimmobile.” Neither his vocal quality nor his capacityas a singer are in question  ̶  he has proven them on many occasions  ̶  but he was far from singing Rossini.

Tenor Bryan Hymel was Arnold, and he was one of the few singers who showed a proper Rossini style. He was compelling both vocally and dramatically, but with the usual caveat: his voice is rather small. I did enjoy his performance as he faced with good taste all the difficulties of the score, including the fearsome high Ds that Rossini wrote.

Soprano Marina Rebeka was well-suited to the role of Mathilde. She and Bryan Hymel were the only singers in the cast whose French could be understood. Her aria “Sombre forêt” was not especially good, but she improved in both the duet with Arnold and in her aria in Act III, where she was at her best.

Evgeniya Sotnikova gave a fine performance as Jemmy, and mezzo soprano  Jennifer Johnston in the part of Hedwige left a positive impression.

Günther Groissböck was the evil Gessler and he was good, especially on stage, although I found him vocally below previous occasions. Goran Juric as Walter gave a fine performance, and Kevin Conners as Rodolphe was faultless. I found Christoph Stephinger as Metchal mediocre, and Christian Rieger too rough as Leuthold. Finally, Enea Scala did well in the part of Ruodi.

The Nationaltheater was again fully sold out.

José Mª Irurzun

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