United Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2016 (2) – Rossini, Bellini, Verdi – The Opening Concert: Carmen Giannattasio (sop), Marianna Pizzolato (mezzo), Yijie Shi (tenor), Roberto Tagliavini (bass), Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Sir Antonio Pappano (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 6.8.2016. (SRT)
Rossini: Otello, Overture
Bellini: I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Overture
Verdi: Macbeth, Act 3 Ballet
Rossini: Stabat Mater
Now this was an opening concert worth writing about; the national orchestra of Italy doing what they do best. While the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia are, famously, Italy’s major symphonic orchestra, they are well practiced in opera, both in concert and on disc, and the warm spirit of Italianate cantabile flowed through every bar tonight, infusing some Mediterranean sunshine into a showery Edinburgh night.
That cantabile line is what makes them distinctive, and it’s most obvious in the instrumental solos, such as the singing oboe in the Otello sinfonia, or the duetting horns in the introduction to the Stabat Mater’s Fac ut portem; but in plenty of other moments you can sense that they are infused with the long, endless melodic line that composers like Verdi and Rossini imbibed from their operatic experience and transferred from the voices into their orchestral writing. The long, long line of the violin melody in Cujus animam was to die for, as was the perky woodwind accompaniment to the Sancta Mater, but they also weren’t above raising the roof for the terrifying fanfares of the Inflammatus, and the final dash across the finishing line was thrilling.
Antonio Pappano is better known on these shores as the boss of the Royal Opera, so he is uniquely placed successfully to straddle the worlds of the concert hall and the opera house. It helps, too, that he has played (and recorded) the Stabat Mater many times with this orchestra, so they play it like it’s their own. Pappano has a way of bringing out the best in his singers (soloists and choruses), and it’s exciting to see the way he has the orchestra eating out of the palm of his hand because they trust him so completely.
His quartet of vocal soloists would be hard to beat today. The pick of them, for me, was the mellifluous bass of Roberto Tagliavini, singing with impeccable legato in Pro peccatis but also achieving genuine pianissimi in Eja Mater. Yijie Shi, a brilliant find, is as fine a Rossini tenor as I’ve heard in the last few years; his bright, flexible instrument is smooth and winsome, and the high tessitura of the part holds no terrors for him. His voice is a thriller that I’ll watch out for in future. Marianna Pizzolato made an earnest, committed contribution, especially in her Fac ut portem aria, and if Carmen Giannattasio appeared a little less confident than the others then she still hit all her notes with confidence and vigour. The blend between the four of them in the quartets was superb. The Festival Chorus, too, managed a powerful, carefully graded sound that was at its best in the unaccompanied Eja Mater chorus, and they achieved exciting power in the final fugue, even if they were slightly behind the orchestra’s beat for most of it.
Still, that doesn’t detract from the real excitement that this concert generated. Less tangibly, but arguably just as importantly, this concert had a real sense of occasion to it. I can’t remember the last time the EIF was opened by a big visiting international orchestra, and it felt a real treat having the Santa Cecilia here showcasing what they do so brilliantly, together with some intelligent programming around the Shakespeare anniversary. I said last year that the classical music side of the EIF appears to be entering a newly strengthened phase under new director Fergus Linehan, and tonight’s concert (and this year’s programme) reassured me that things are going in the right direction. After all, as Linehan told me recently, “we are a festival, and we need some festive moments!” Tonight certainly provided one of those. Let’s hope the next three weeks bring plenty more!
This concert was recorded by BBC Radio 3 and will be broadcast on Monday 12th September.
The 2016 Edinburgh International Festival runs until Monday 29th August at venues across the city. For full details go to www.eif.co.uk