The Rossini Festival
An operatic extravaganza on the Adriatic
Pesaro, a delightful city on the Adriatic coast, is the birthplace
of Gioachino Rossini. Since 1980 it has hosted an annual festival
devoted to the production of the operas of its illustrious
native son, in particular the long-forgotten scores. The most
notable was the first revival of Il Viaggio
A Reims (The Voyage to Reims). Following four performances in 1825, Rossini withdrew
the score and it was presumed lost. Accidentally rediscovered,
it was revived in Pesaro in 1984 and has now entered the international
Although he composed some 39 operas, until the Rossini revival
(in large measure due to the efforts of the Pesaro Festival),
the only one regularly performed was the Barber of Seville.
Rossini worked prodigiously fast
and claimed to have written the Barber in 13 days, to which
Donizetti is reported to have said, "Ah yes, but Rossini was always a lazy fellow." Rossini
completed Semiramide in 33 days, remarking, "for once
I was able to take my time."
The 2003 festival featured five
operas, the highlight being a new production by the Catalan
artist, Llu’s Pasqual,
of Rossini's penultimate opera, the light-hearted comedy Le
Comte Ory. With the aid of the librettist, Eugene Scribe,
Rossini recycled many of the numbers of Il
Viaggio into this
opera. The plot revolves around the escapades of a dissolute
Don Giovanni-like character, Comte Ory, who attempts to win
the heart of the Comtessa Adele. Like his predecessor, the
Comte is equally unsuccessful.
Pasqual's innovative set featured a billiard saloon with chandeliers
and rich decor, all part of a highly original parlor game.
Juan Diego Florez in the title role is a great vocal artist
in his prime and delivered a sumptuous performance. His purity
of voice and vocal athleticism was a marvel. Whether playing
the part of the count, a fake hermit, old woman or passionate
lover, his commanding and imposing presence dominated the performance,
holding everyone, both in the audience and on stage in thrall.
However this was not a one-man show
and he was ably supported by an excellent cast, notably his
ensign Isolier, Marie-Ange Todorovitch, a mezzo in the Cherubino
and Octavian mold who sang with fluidity and assurance. Also
impressive was bass-baritone Bruno Pratic˜ in the comic
role as the count's friend. The Comtesse Adele, soprano Stefania
Bonfedelli, was a little unsteady early on but rapidly settled
into the role.
Semiramide is a convoluted story of the Babylonian Queen Semiramide,
who together with Prince Assur, assassinated the king. Assur
in turn expects to win her hand. At the same time, Semiramide's
son disappears. These events occurred before the curtain rises.
During the course of the opera, the army commander Arcase returns
and Semiramide is enamored with him. Arsace, turns out to be
the son of Semiramide but only the high priest Oroe is aware
of this. At the climax of the opera, the three principals meet
in the tomb of the murdered king. Arcase tries to kill Assur
but Semiramide intervenes and is mortally wounded.
This opera requires a soprano and contralto capable of doing
justice to the demanding roles of Semiramide and Arcase. This
production certainly had the contralto, Daniela Barcellona,
who as Arcase delivered all the goods. Her voice was large
and rich with a marvelous range of color.
There was some beautiful singing in the duets with Darina
Takova, who took the title role. Marco Spotti as the high priest
Oroe, was impressive with his sonorous bass. Bass Ildar Abdrazakov
successfully portrayed the villainous character of Assur.
William Orlandi's imaginative multipurpose set featured a
large terrestrial globe and mirrors, evoking impressions of
the space age (not unlike a Star Trek movie), a meeting in
the UN Security Council, a gambling saloon or venue for a fencing
A revival of Rossini's rarely performed Adina was a real revelation.
As was his usual practice, Rossini resorted to much self-borrowing
from forgotten operas of his youth for the score. Set in a
harem in Baghdad, the plot is reminiscent of Mozart's Abduction
from the Seraglio. Commissioned by a wealthy Portuguese, this
one act opera received only two performances prior to a revival
The current production was first staged in Pesaro in 1999.
In this revival, all singers complemented each other well,
in particular soprano Joyce Di Donata in the role of Adina
who floated her high notes beautifully. Equally impressive
was tenor Raul Giminez as her lover. Giovanni Carluccio provided
handsomely carved ornate settings.
To be continued next month.