The passing of Alberto Zedda earlier this year was an incredible loss to the international Rossini community. Many are still in denial and the loss won’t seem real until this year’s edition of the Rossini Opera Festival his presence will greatly be missed. Those who did not have the chance to know or work with Maestro Zedda may get an idea of the magnitude of the loss from the following tributes and recollections which we have gathered here.
Everyone who was approached about making contributions kindly agreed; No doubt there are many more who would have contributed had we been able to contact them. Our apologies to those who are not included. Some contributions are in Italian and in some cases difficult to translate. We include the Italian text with a few highlights translated to English. Read More
Among the “Incontri” offered this year is a “conversation” with Larry Wolff, featured in our recent interview.
It will be held on the 21st of August at 11 AM in the Sala Della Repubblica of the Teatro Rossini. This is a unique opportunity to hear Professor Wolff discuss issues in his book “The Singing Turk”. Admission is free.
The Rossini Opera Festival will be featuring Le Siège de Corinthe this summer in Pesaro. It will be quite a historic event because in addition to the ROF debut of Luca Pisaroni it will feature “new” music not heard before in performance.
In anticipation of this performance we invited Professor Larry Wolff, Professor of History and Director of the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies at New York University and author of the recently published “The Singing Turk: Ottoman Power and Operatic Emotions on the European Stage from the Siege of Vienna to the Age of Napoleon“, to give us some insight into why composers have been drawn to Turkish characters and settings. What he says may change your understanding and appreciation of both Mozart’s and Rossini’s “Turkish” operas.
Q. Your recently published book “The Singing Turk”, has arrived at quite an interesting time! With ROF’s performance of Turco last summer, to their performances of Siege and Pietra this coming summer. And of course the Met’s L’Italiana last fall! What do you think continues to fascinate audiences with these themes today? Read More
The Rossini Opera festival announced today, May 11th, that Luca Pisaroni will be Mahomet in this summer’s Siege. This will be Pisaroni’s first Mahomet (although he has sung Maometto to great acclaim). There is extra good news for his fans in that his recital in Pesaro will not be canceled, but simply postponed. We will share more details as we get them. Be sure to read our interview with him here!
Anthony Barrese’s conducting career includes many engagements on both sides of the Atlantic but he is perhaps best known to many Americans for his work with the Florida Grand Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Opera North, and Boston Lyric Opera. A winner of the Georg Solti Foundation award, he is both a conductor and a musicologist. Of particular interest to Rossini lovers is his work with Opera Southwest where he is artistic director and responsible for presenting a broader Rossini repertory than is common in the United States.
He will be conducting Semiramide at Opera Delaware next month and in that connection we are pleased to bring you this interview.
We are delighted that Anthony Barrese agreed to take time from his busy schedule to answer some questions for RossiniAmerica. Maestro Barrese, in addition to being the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of Opera Southwest in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a Rossini connoisseur and continues to present Rossini’s works at OSW In addition, he will be at Delaware Opera which will be presenting a Festival later next month featuring Rossini’s Cenerentola,Semiramide,and Petite Messe Solennelle.
Q.Presenting so many Rossini operas, particularly the less-often performed ones at a regional opera company is quite an ambitious project. What inspired you to do so? Read More
Inspired by a tribute from Ilaria Nari of the Fondazione Rossini in Pesaro, we will assemble tributes ( with translation) to post at a later date.
In the meantime,it is worth considering her observation:
” It can certainly be said without exaggeration that Alberto Zedda was the greatest Rossini opera ambassador from the ’70’s to the present… he revealed the face of a composer whose work was largely disappearing”
Our loss is profound.
Already for ROF 2017, this Italian national treasure, the RAI orchestra, will appear in two of the principal works, as well as the closing Stabat Mater.
This collaboration will extend through the following two seasons. Reason to celebrate. See you there!
As long as there are Rossini lovers in the world, Alberto Zedda will be with us. Those who knew him, worked with him, studied with him, know how much he has meant to all of us; those who were not fortunate enough to know him will continue to benefit from his passionate advocacy,scholarship,and teaching through the legacy he has left us. There will be more tributes to come. Thanks to the Rossini Opera Festival for sharing their picture.
Thanks to Dana Pentia for this first-hand account!
We live in times of abundance. These days you don’t have to travel far (though a trip to Pesaro during the ROF festival is still unequaled) to experience highest quality Rossini opera. Abundance of riches came over the past two weeks to Philadelphia where Opera Philadelphia presented a staged production of Tancredi in its Ferrara ending (more about the ending(s) later). The production of stage director Emilio Sagi, set designer Daniel Bianco, and costume designer Pepa Ojahguren was seen previously at Opera de Lausanne and Teatro Municipal de Santiago. I attended the last performance of the run, in the afternoon of Sunday, February 19th 2017.
Tancredi was the first commissioned opera seria composed by Rossini when he was only 21 years old. Up to that point he composed 9 other operas. These were some of the most fertile years of Rossini’s creative life, in some years composing up to 5 operas per year. Teatro la Fenice requested specifically an opera seria for the carnival celebrations of 1813. Rules of opera seria had to be followed: unity of time and place, arias and duets interspaced by secco recitatives that move the action forward, each aria expresses one emotion, and liberal use of ornamentations in arias and duets. The librettist Gaetano Rossi chose a happy ending to Voltaire’s tragic play Tancrède for the Venice premiere. After the success of the opera in Venice, the opera with its original cast traveled to Ferrara. The aristocracy of Ferrara however could not accept a happy ending to the tragic story previously told by Voltaire, and a new tragic finale had to be written. The eminent Rossini scholar Philip Gossett recounts in his book Divas and Scholars how he found the Ferrara ending in the family library of the descendants of the poet that re-wrote the final scene of the libretto for Ferrara.
While still a very young composer, Rossini’s distinctive ingenious style, which will make him so highly acclaimed later, is evident. Sprinkled within the score are musical motives that will find their way later in operas like L’Italiana in Algeri, Cenerentola, or Armida. Even his last opera Guillaume Tell reverberates with some echoes from Tancredi. The interplay of strings and winds, the intricate leads of the flutes, the very elaborate role of the timpani, all show the genius of the young composer which captivates us to these days. It is a well-known fact that Rossini resorted frequently to borrowing from his own previous compositions, thinking that many were never to be heard again. Such is the case with Tancredi. The overture is entirely taken from the previous opera La Pietra del Paragone. While the arias and duets and recitatives and choruses are all on par with other Rossini best compositions, the Ferrara finale has a completely different structure from all the other opera finales, and from the conventions of the time. It is actually so unusual that it proved to be too revolutionary for the time and it was poorly received. Rossini was very much ahead of his time in composing this ending which is more or less a declamatory cavatina of the dying Tancredi accompanied only by strings. There is no grandiose full force full orchestra ending, the music just dies with the title character.
The opera describes a political situation in Syracuse, Sicily in the year 1005. Internal conflicts between rivaling families of Argirio and Orbazzano had to be resolved in order to confront the external threat of invading army of Solamir, the Saracens from the east. In order to seal the peace, Argirio offers his daughter Amenaide as bride to Orbazzano. However Amenaide is in love with the exiled Syracusan soldier Tancredi. A slew of misunderstanding, malevolence, and missed opportunities lead to Amenaide being mistrusted by pretty much everybody. Villain Orbazzano intercepted a love letter of Amenaide to Tancredi. Smart woman as she was, she left out his name to protect him. Orbazzano believes that the letter is addressed to Saracen Solamir, practically inviting him to conquer the city of Syracuse. Tancredi, who returned incognito to Syracuse, buys into the intrigue that Amenaide has been unfaithful to him and fell in love with Solamir. Her father, Argirio, in a move of extreme weakness, also believes her treacherous and poor Amenaide is condemned by the senate to execution. Tancredi however, still feeling love to Amenaide, challenges Orbazzano to a duel to save Amenaide’s life. He triumphs over Orbazzano and Amenaide’s life is saved, but he still believes she betrayed him. Being the new hero in town, Tancredi next leads Syracusan army in battle with Saracens. He defeats the invaders but emerges mortally wounded. As he is dying, he learns that Amenaide has been faithful and the letter was actually addressed to him. Tancredi’s dying wish is for Argirio to marry him to Amenaide, which he dutifully does, and he dies in her arms as her husband.
Photo credit: Opera Philadelphia
This staging of Emilio Sagi is minimal but very elegant; minimal activity happens, true to the opera seria rules. The sets and directions beautifully enhance this opera presentation. The timing is moved from 1005 AD to the time of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. The set consists of marble and granite walls, floors, and columns, with occasional mirror walls appearing. The set looks indeed like an approximate replica of the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles where the Treaty was signed. The walls slide forth creating closer spaces, and also revealing a stained glass back wall is painted in a characteristic art nouveau style. The costumes are also elegant beginning of 20th century style: men wear colorful military uniforms, while women have beautiful belle epoch gowns.
I believe the lighting design was conceived to highlight the action, and would’ve enhanced the beautiful sets. What I can only assume to be bad maneuvering of the lights left some action and main characters in the shade. Also direction of the singers was minimal, limited to basic blocking. It felt that the singers were left to their own devices to develop their respective characters. Some did it more successful than others. But these are small quibbles in an otherwise gorgeous production.
Stephanie Blythe is a veteran professional and her years of stage experience are evident. We should be grateful that she wanted to do this role, as it is not easy to find a mezzo/contralto capable of singing the long and difficult music Rossini wrote. She knows how to own the stage and the music. She delivers the type of performance where you know that everything will go right and you don’t have to worry about anything. She possesses a sizable instrument with impressive low notes. Tancredi is written for a contralto with high extensions. It felt that the role was a bit too high for Stephanie Blythe. The tone turned too bright and glassy in the upper middle and high registers. Her type of voice, at this stage of her career doesn’t seem to be the perfect match for bel canto, while she was following the dynamics of the music, the voice simply wasn’t coloring the phrases in the right way. She did warm up more in the second act, however her tone was still too harsh and shrill to make a truly moving performance. While in the first duet her voice and Brenda Rae’s soprano blended decently, in the duet at the end of the second act, the blending was severely lacking, Blythe harshly covering Rae, and simply displaying a voice of a different nature. At the end of the opera it seemed that Brenda Rae was also getting tired, and her voice lost a bit of the aplomb that characterized her singing up to that point. Blythe’s stage presence was also quite mechanical. She just gave the impression of going through the motions without really engaging with the music, or the text, or the drama. For example: the provocation to duel of Orbazzano, one of the climaxes of the story, should not elicit laughs from the audience, which it did on Sunday afternoon due to the insincerity of it. Even the last scene, the heart-wrenching expiration of Tancredi was lacking the necessary underlying meaning and emotions.
Soprano Brenda Rae was a complete revelation. Her voice is powerful with beautiful coloration, easy and brilliant top and good coloratura. She threw herself at Rossini’s difficult music with assurance, and one could tell she was enjoying singing this music. Soon her voice will probably move in the direction of a full lyric soprano, as the shades of fuller, darker registers are present. Her stage presence was regal and imposing. The way she portrayed Amenaide was not as a powerless victim, but as a woman that knew her worth, that would not submit to the whims of powerful men or to political plays without a fight.
Photo credit: Opera Philadelphia
Michele Angelini was probably the most Rossinian of the singers in this production. Rightfully so, as he is an alumni of the Accademia Rossiniana of Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, and the base of his repertory consists of Rossini tenor roles sang throughout the world. The understanding of the style was immediately obvious, the coloratura was spectacular, and he tossed high Cs and high D with ease. The voice is on a smaller size, but he remains true to his voice and the style, doesn’t push, and delivers the music with great beauty and elegance.
Daniel Mobbs’ voice is anything but small. His baritone was at ease in the role of Orbazzano, and he seemed to enjoy playing the villain. He even seemed delighted to get a handful of boos at the curtain call, the obligatory show of engagement of the audience nowadays for the malevolent characters. The audience though loved him, and cheers erupted wholeheartedly.
Allegra De Vita acquitted herself honorable in the role of Amenaida’s confidant Isolda. Her voice is sizable and dark, and it is not hard to imagine her as Tancredi in a few years. Anastasiia Sidorova delivered a lovely and tender Roggiero – Tancredi’s squire. She sang her aria beautifully. It was unfortunate that her costume and make-up made her look more like an awkward teenager, more like a Cherubino without the hormonal angst in hand me down military uniform, than a squire to a brave soldier.
In any Rossini opera, orchestra plays an important part. The music director of Opera Philadelphia Corrado Rovaris led expertly the orchestra. What was a delight to the ears was also a delight to the eyes, as I was watching the musicians of the orchestra play and respond to conducting. Several of them were bouncing and dancing in their chairs, clearly enjoying the music they were playing. This is a sign of a great conductor, one that can not only deliver truthful and beautiful music, but one that can also infuse joy in the process of executing this music. The chorus also sang exquisitely the music that Rossini wrote for them.
Overall it was a very pleasant afternoon at the opera, showing that great opera can happen in less prestigious places very successfully.
In our interview with Sean Kelly last spring ( in anticipation of LoftOpera’s “Le Comte Ory”) Sean said “Ory will certainly not be the last rarity I conduct with LoftOpera, I promise!”
And,keeping his promise, Kelly is back with Rossini’s even rarer “Otello”, playing in March at Lightspace Studios in Brooklyn.
In spite of the intense preparation for these performances, Sean was kind enough to answer some more questions for us.
Q. Musically, what appeals to you ( as a Rossini lover) about this score? Some have said it has a particular “tint” which makes it different from other Rossini operas. Any thoughts?
A. There is so much in this score that I love. Many times with Rossini’s serious dramas, the scope is really big, (think Semiramide, Ermione) huge choruses, large casts etc. Otello is such an intimate opera, much of it really feels like a chamber work.
Q. You are of course credited with being the conductor, but some people may not know the additional responsibilities of a music director. Is this an extra challenge with an “unknown” opera?
A. One of the challenges with this opera is finding 3 distinct tenors that don’t sound like each other. Otello has this virile, martial vocality that is unique and very exciting to hear, compared with high-flying Rodrigo’s romantic, languid music. Of course Iago is the archetypal bad guy, smooth, elegant, and manipulative. As with all of Rossini’s operas, attention to detail in articulation and phrasing is of the utmost importance, and this opera is no different. The beautifully introspective slow movements of Otello are especially tricky. Among the many responsibilities as music director, I cast the shows and prepare the chorus as well.
Q. Some say that had Rossini entitled this opera Desdemona, then it would not have been overshadowed by Verdi’s Otello. The stories are quite different, but do you feel that Desdemona is more central to
this opera than Verdi’s ?
A. Rossini did such a beautiful job telling Desdemona’s story. We really get to see this woman’s journey, unlike in the Verdi where she is far more one-dimensional. The act 2 finale is such a riveting moment when we see her absolute breakdown, and all of act 3 is so poignant and heartbreaking. Rossini has already met Colbran, and was probably already in love with her, so it’s no surprise that he gave her so much beautiful music. Cecilia Violeta Lopez, our Desdemona, is a wonderful and committed artist both vocally and dramatically, so I have no doubt she’ll walk away with everyone’s heart.
Q Aside from the vocal challenges, does this score present any particular orchestral challenges??
A.Otello is the first opera Rossini composed ‘from scratch’ for Naples. He found himself surrounded by some of the best musicians on the peninsula, and you can really hear that in his writing. Complete virtuosity is required from all the winds, with many moments rich with sublime filigree.
Q. Are you as excited about these upcoming performances as we are?
A. New York hasn’t seen a staged production of Otello in decades, and I’m really very excited to be a part of it. I’ve been working individually with several of the principals for months, and I can not wait to start the rehearsal process. This one is going to be really special. Tickets are going fast, so don’t wait too long!
Thank you Sean Kelly and thanks for bringing Otello to us!
Excerpts from earlier interview below:
One of the fundamental challenges of keeping the Rossini revival alive is continuing to present his “less popular ” operas; this is a particular problem in the US where we are not blessed with the density of opera houses found in Europe. We can hardly expect the Metropolitan Opera to carry the “burden” since there doesn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiasm for Rossini among the “powers that be”.
In the old days we had the New York City opera to help out; those days are gone.
So what does it take? A music director with a passion for Rossini certainly helps. New Yorkers are so lucky that LoftOpera will soon be staging “Le Comte Ory ” under the guidance of Sean Kelly whose Rossini credentials ( playing ‘non più mesta’ on the horn, and accompanying Paolo Bordogna at the drop of a hat, are among them) auger well
Frontspiece of “Le Comte Ory”
Kelly was kind enough to answer a few questions for Rossini America .
Q. Since we are “Rossini oriented” please tell us how you came to be a Rossini enthusiast!!!
Rossini has always been close to my heart! Many years ago I played the horn, and I actually began music school as a horn major. I would use ‘non più mesta’ as an exercise, (and my teacher would roll his eyes and laugh) and for my final jury before switching to piano, I played his ‘Prelude Theme and Variations’.
Q. You were a fantastic accompanist for the recital that Paolo Bordogna gave at the Casa Italiana in conjunction with the presentation from the Rossini Opera Festival! In fact it seemed like Rossini was second nature. Is it?
Thank you very much! I guess I’ve always understood his ‘language’, and the technical challenges of playing his music have always been a joy for me to try to conquer. His music seems so naturally fluid, and collaborating with an artist like Paolo was an absolute dream. I look forward to the next time!
Q. “Selling” Rossini in the US is not easy. The preference is for Puccini and after that Verdi. Any thoughts on why that is?
I wish I had an answer to that. It seems American audiences are lazy these days, and Puccini is much more of a ‘quick fix’ that doesn’t require much concentration from the audience. It breaks my heart that companies these days completely ignore the majority of operas of the early 1800’s in favor of the same 10 titles over and over that they believe ‘sell’. As artists and music makers, we’re obliged to challenge audiences to think a bit harder, and try to see or hear something they didn’t previously. Why they think Rossini won’t do that, but some third-rate modern piece will, is beyond me.
Q. Much as we all love Barbiere ( as Beethoven did) there is so much more to Rossini. You are leading LoftOpera’s venture with L’Comte Ory, which isn’t exactly standard fare. What prompted that choice ( or perhaps it was not yours)
Le Comte Ory is a true masterpiece! It has rich orchestrations, gorgeous choral writing, a myriad of brilliant roles, and it’s truly funny! I’ve been dying to do it, and when the stars align and the right singers, director and venue are all available, you can’t miss the opportunity. It will certainly be the most ambitious production we’ve done this far at LoftOpera. Last year I had the pleasure of conducting Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia with LoftOpera, another gem that’s unfortunately under-appreciated and woefully under-performed in the US. The audiences absolutely adored it!! Ory will certainly not be the last rarity I conduct with LoftOpera, I promise.
Q. OK, we should not be asking this, but…. do you have a favorite Rossini opera. And, after that, are there specific passages in Rossini that you feel illustrate his magic?
Oh that’s hard to answer! I adore so many of them.. L’italiana always makes me laugh, the Colbran operas are all divine. Viaggio and Ory are both such brilliant ensemble operas. Guillaume Tell is one of the proofs of the existence of God. How could I possibly choose?
We hope lots of Rossini fans will come to enjoy LoftOpera’s performances ( check out LoftOpera.com for details) Thanks to Sean for being the driving force behind this! Not sure that Tell would fit in the Loft, though!