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In Review > International

Ricciardo e Zoraide, Adina, Il Barbiere di Siviglia 

Rossini Opera Festival

In Review Pesaro Ricciardo hdl 918
Pretty Yende and Juan Diego Flórez, Zoraide and Ricciardo at Pesaro
© Amati Bacciardi

SINCE ERNESTO PALACIO became artistic director, and more recently sovrintendente, production values at the Rossini Opera Festival have adhered more tellingly to the musical dramaturgy of scores that are usually performed uncut in carefully prepared critical editions. The Nubian settings—enhanced, stunning painted backdrops—devised by scenographer Gerard Gauci for this year’s inaugural production of Ricciardo e Zoraide reflected the not inconsiderable musical beauties of the score to a degree that is rarely achieved nowadays. This dramma serio with a happy ending, composed for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples two hundred years ago, proved a stimulating choice for a festival commemorating the 150th anniversary of Rossini’s death. The work is rarely revived (it was last seen in Pesaro in 1996), partly because of the vocal challenges of leading roles conceived for singers of legendary dexterity and partly because the libretto by Francesco Berio di Salsa—derived curiously from a mock-heroic poem—is lacking in both clarity and psychological insight. The director, Marshall Pynkoski, made no attempt to correct these limitations by superimposing a dramaturgy of his own but sought more modestly to lend fluidity to the action by introducing ballet sequences (choreographed by Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg and performed by eleven dancers) that were never less than stylish and generated extra excitement during the armed combat in Act II. The character who emerged most coherently on August 20 was the jealous queen Zomira, neglected by her husband Agorante, who has fallen in love with Zoraide. Russian mezzo Victoria Yarovaya made every gesture and vocal inflection tell, although the impact of the text was blunted slightly by an artificial darkening of her lower register. In vocal terms, Juan Diego Flórez was close to his best as Ricciardo (his eleventh Rossini role), in spite of having his hand in a cast, owing to an offstage injury a couple of days earlier. He delivered the florid music without his former insouciance of manner, but with no sacrifice of precision or musical insight, and although he lacks the appropriate physique for the character—a bold crusader—one delighted in both the Chaplinesque sense of humor that emerged unexpectedly and the sensual abandon with which he intertwined his voice with Pretty Yende’s. The South African soprano adapted the Colbran role of Zoraide to her higher-lying voice with considerable skill, and although she failed to bring this rather reticent character entirely to life, she sang every phrase of the part with clear diction, limpid tone and exquisite musicality. The phrasing of bass Nicola Ulivieri, as Zoraide’s father, Ircano, also gave much pleasure (although he should have been made up to look older), as did the contributions of the supporting singers and the chorus of Ascoli Piceno’s Teatro Ventidio Basso. Sergey Romanovsky, as Agorante, conveyed the willfulness of the monarch effectively enough and dispatched the coloratura without embarrassment, but his emission of tone was too strenuous to give much musical pleasure. There was some fine solo playing in the overture from the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI, but conductor Giacomo Sagripanti didn’t always allow the instrumentalists sufficient freedom to phrase expressively. In the rest of the opera, however, his accompaniments were both flexible and finished, highlighting the inventiveness of Rossini’s orchestration.

In Review Pesaro Adina hdl 918
Lisette Oropesa, Levy Sekgapane and Davide Giangregorio in Rosetta Cucchi's production of Adina
© Amati Bacciardi

THE ONE-ACT COMIC OPERA Adina has a plot that parallels that of Ricciardo e Zoraide and was also composed in 1818. The work’s premiere didn’t take place until some eight years later, at Lisbon’s Teatro São Carlos. The new production at the Teatro Rossini will be remembered above all for the local debut, in the challenging title role, of Lisette Oropesa. The American soprano combines an individual timbre with an impressive technique (her trills are a delight) and phrasing of exceptional emotional impact. Since she is also an actress of considerable charm, she seems destined for great things, proving as impressive in her way (she naturally favors a higher tessitura for melodic variants) as Joyce DiDonato, who made her Pesaro debut in the same role back in 2003. In this intimate setting Vito Priante’s lightweight bass proved ideal for the Califo—Adina’s aspiring husband, who turns out to be her long-lost father. His aristocratic presence was much appreciated, as was his impeccably stylish phrasing. South African tenor Levy Sekgapane has an engaging personality and a very fast-moving voice that rises effortlessly above top C. On August 21, however, he employed too much nasal resonance to win the audience over entirely as Adina’s young lover Selimo. The other tenor, Matteo Macchioni, gave a delightful portrayal of the guardian Alì, who in this production reveals a penchant for transvestitism in his A-major aria. As the gardener Mustafà, baritone Davide Giangregorio sang strongly but lacked the special buffo talent the character begs for. There was an excellent rapport between the singers and the Orchestra Sinfonica G. Rossini, led by Diego Matheuz, while the efforts of the chorus of Fano’s Teatro della Fortuna were nullified initially by a stage overcrowded with extras, whose activities were unrelated to the words being sung. However, the set by Tiziano Santi, consisting of a huge cake prepared for the wedding of Adina and the Califo, had some charm, and director Rosetta Cucchi gradually brought the action into focus, her flights of fantasy undeniably delighting the audience.

In Review Pesaro Figaro hdl 918
Davide Luciano and Aya Wakizono, Figaro and Rosina
© Amati Bacciardi

AUDIENCE ACCLAIM WAS EQUALLY UNEQUIVOCAL at the end of the August 22 performance of Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Adriatic Arena, Pier Luigi Pizzi’s first-ever production of Rossini’s masterwork. The opera was performed uncut—all the twists and turns of the plot were clearer than is often the case—and the cast included a masterful Pietro Spagnoli, whose Don Bartolo aroused laughter without losing his dignity; a chillingly calibrated Don Basilio from Michele Pertusi; and a memorably detailed portrait of Berta from Elena Zilio. Alongside these veterans, Aya Wakizono’s Rosina seemed somewhat bland, although she looked stunning and her phrasing was agile and appropriately pointed. Davide Luciano proved an ever-confident, if unduly cynical Figaro, and Maxim Mironov demonstrated that he has both the acting skill and the vocal agility for Almiviva, though his aristocratic demeanor is not matched by a timbre of similar authority, and his ardor in Lindoro’s love songs seemed more simulated than real. The opening scenes, indeed, were the weakest part of Pizzi’s production: the humor of Fiorello’s exchanges with the chorus was ill-matched to the action, and the decision to present both Almaviva and Figaro improbably stripped to the waist smacked of pure self-indulgence on the part of the eighty-eight-year-old director/designer, whose exclusively white sets proved over-elegant in their stylization in spite of some telling splashes of color. The playing of the RAI Orchestra, conducted this time by Yves Abel, was both rhythmically responsive and alert to verbal inflection. —Stephen Hastings 

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