United Kingdom Gioacchino Rossini: Guillaume Tell, Chorus of the Geneva Grand Théâtre, Alan Woodbridge (Chorus Master), Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Jesús López-Cobos (Conductor), Grand Théâtre de Genève, 09.11.2015
Guillaume Tell: Jean-François Lapointe
Hedwige: Doris Lamprecht
Jemmy: Amelia Scilone
Mathilde: Nadine Koutcher
Arnold: John Osborn
Rodolphe: Erlend Tvinnerein
Ruodi: Enea Scala
Furst/Meltchal: Alexander Milev
Gessler: Franco Pomponi
Director: David Poutney
Assistant: Robin Tebbutt
Sets: Raimund Bauer
Costumes: Marieèjeanne Lecca
Lighting: Fabrice Kebourg
Choregraphy: Amir Hosseinpour
Rossini’a final operatic opus is a massive work of 3+ hours, and it is by no means easy to pull off. Geneva’s Grand Théâtre, whose productions are sometimes uneven, deserves our respect for their ability to give us a performance of this stature. There is a “but” which will come later, but first things first: there are many positive points to mention.
Veteran Jesús López-Cobos drew solid playing from the orchestra, and showed a firm hand in his balance and pacing. He let the music flow naturally, and the musicians, who know him, played well. The overture had drive without being exaggerated. There were here and there a few moments when orchestra and soloists were not quite together, but no more than at any premiere of any work in any place.
The Grand Théâtre chorus, a real asset of Geneva, produced homogeneous singing with plenty of nuances. The soloists were quite strong as well. Canadian Jean-François Lapointe’s technique is a model of how to project one’s voice. He displayed authority, and there was no need to look at the subtitles to understand every one of his words. Nadine Koutcher has a lovely voice and never forced her tone or phrasing. John Osborn had the challenge of coping with some taxing high tessitura, and cut a convincing character overall. Alexander Milev had the notes that the part requires but not the command of French. He was at a disadvantage in the tenor/baritone/bass trio. Franco Pomponi, the “bad guy” of the work, had a tendency to exaggerate by forcing his lines. The smaller roles were convincingly done.
David Poutney’s production comes from the Welsh National Opera. There were no histrionics, no rape scene as in last year’s much-talked-about Covent Garden production. The bad guys wore heavy make-up which was reminiscent of Tom Hardy in the first half of Mad Max…. The obligatory ballets were actually fun (and this is not the first time that Geneva has accomplished much with their dancers). The singers provided the action to convincingly fill some slow moving passages.
All in all, this was a very strong start to the new season, and Geneva should feel proud to come up with such a performance. The audience was thrilled and enjoyed every second of it.
So where is the “but”? Well, Guillaume Tell is a drama, and should be a drama. Terrible things are happening, and not just the ordeal of Tell having to shoot an arrow at his son. Did Rossini manage to reflect this in his music? Did he manage to develop characters convincingly? I am afraid not. The music flows with naturalness and charm, but the text is weak and has not aged well. There is no depth nor sense of drama ﹘ it feels like, and is, an old and conventional work. Opera is more than that. No offense to Rossini’s enthusiasts, but Guillaume Tell is not a very strong work.
It’s important to stage neglected works and, for many, it was an entertaining evening. But I am looking forward to the Britten, Mozart and Verdi which will be offered later in the season.