Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Swiss Patriots

Right, so for my first Met visit I lucked into a good one. A well cast and sung opera I did not know well, or how it ended, in a serviceable production I'm going to call it. The things that were needed were there, there a few gimmicks, but nothing that took    away from telling the story. And a number of items that with thought may end up being quite telling to the director's thoughts on the opera.

First though, how good is it to be in a theatre where the sound does not turn to mush. After the clarity of the overture onward, going back to the sound of the orchestra pit at Sydney Opera House will be something I won't relish. 

The new production is the one mounted by the Dutch National Opera, by Pierre Audi, who clearly had a good handle on the characters and story, nothing jumped out as out of character, even if a couple of the characters do seem 1 dimensional. Why is Gesler such a cartoon style villain? The libretto does not tell us, and it seems just accepted that he is the evil vicious governor on behalf of the Austrians, with no indication that anyone else objects. Until Mathilde decides to stand up and use her imperial rank to overrule him over Tell's son 

So, to the singers. There was a big cast in WT, and all of then were clearly audible, despite being in the balcony, a considerable distance for voices to carry. As Tell, we had Gerald Finley, bringing both flexibility of tone and dignity to the role. It's a long role, and he never showed signs of flagging, as he portrayed the famous hero of the piece. This was a role that showed why he is one of the most sought after singers in the world today, it was a remarkable performance. Why he was dressed like a Jedi master, I am not sure.

As the tortured and lovelorn second hero Arnold, we had Bryan Hymel, bringing all his power and high notes, and considerable flexibility to this role. If Tell was the soul of the piece, Arnold was the heart, torn between family and homeland, and the imperial Mathilde, who he met in the past, who returns his love. Loving the enemy never ends well, in these things, and this couple provides much of the complications.

The princess herself was sung by Marina Rebeka, bringing a highly flexible, focused, if somewhat hard sound to her florid writing, but that bloomed wonderfully into a big lush sound in her more lyrical moments. Her costumes seemed variations on Victorian era riding habits, changing from black to white as she begins to distance herself from Gesler and his regime. 

The evil Gesler was played by John Relyea, being loud and obnoxious, as he is well capable. It's not a voice you expect in Rossini, but then, it is not written full of his usual complex flexible vocal lines, this is more Verdi-style villain writing, which he clearly enjoyed. 

I keep mentioning things as being unlike Rossini's normal style, and indeed, at times it did not feel like Rossini. The final chorus especially, has moments where you think, Rossini wrote this? It sounds 20th century. Other times, it is very clear, this is the same composer who wrote the Barber of Seville. The long well known overture is clearly his, with its long crescendi and strident calls to arms. Yet, the same composer writes proto-20 century music to end the night? It all seems a little unexpected. What isn't unexpected is Rossini's need of a good editor. This is NOT a short opera, and frequently the same music and words are repeated over, thus, there are times when it seems what would be a whole aria, but is only part in Rossini's world, is repeated, just to emphasis how lovely it was, and how heartbroken/eager to fight/in love they really are. A ruthless editor could easily chop 1/10 from the piece I think, if the repeats were killed. But, then, this was a French grand opera, where nothing is short. 

Speaking of French grand opera, the big ballet scene in Act 3 was handled very well, it helped to build the antagonism between the Swiss and the Austrians, demonstrating their heartlessness towards them. It was also one of those situations where the chorus has to take part (always fraught), but thankfully their dance part was fairly simple in a large complex scene. But pity the chorus who had to go from singing to dancing energetically to singing... 

So, all round a great night. Lots of great singing, a chance to see a piece I am never likely to see mounted in Sydney. And a rollicking good story, even if it took far longer to tell, than it needed to. 

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