William Tell is coming to New Mexico for the first time ever!
In anticipation of the event, we invited the artists responsible for this, Anthony Barrese to share some thoughts about this masterpiece. Information about the performances (Oct 22, 25, 27, 29 in Albuquerque) can be found on the Opera Southwest website.
Hope you enjoy the Q and A with Maestro Barrese!
Q. To repeat the anecdote of Rossini being met in the street with the news that the Paris Opera would be giving Act Two of Guillaum Tell, May we ask of your performances, as Rossini did, “What the whole of it?” Or to put it another way, what cuts (assuming there are some), are you making and what influenced your to make the specific cuts you have?
A. The question of cuts is a long and labored one. I will say that there are no cuts that we’re doing that weren’t done at some time in Rossini’s life. Most of the cuts have to do with the ballet which don’t advance the plot. And there are internal cuts (2nd verse of Arnold’s cabaletta, which was almost never done in Rossini’s time), but we’ve also restored some music that wasn’t done at the premiere (like the Act 4 trio, and Hedwige’s prayer). All in all we tried to strike a balance between not going too far overtime, but still keeping the plot essentials going.
Q. Many people know the Italian version of Tell, from the wonderful DVD of Muti at La Scala and the recording with Pavarotti ( in his only Rossini role). A recent concert version at Carnegie Hall with Noseda was also presented in Italian. How do you feel the two versions, French vs Italian, compare?
A. I saw the Noseda version when it came to Chicago, and while I admired the musicianship greatly, I do not think this opera should be done in Italian. I understand that that’s how it was done for a long time, but that was in the days before supertitles. Philip Gossett dedicates an entire chapter in his book Divas and Scholars to why these operas need to be done in their original language. Most importantly because the Italian translations that are used not only have very little to do with the original text, but, more importantly, they are created for poetic reasons, and the rules for French vs. Italian poetry are very different, thus necessitating the composer (or arranger) shoe-horning syllables into melodic lines, and distorting the original melodic structure.
Q. Concert versions have a certain advantage of making the audience focus on the music. Many may not really appreciate Tell’s beautiful aria, “Sois immobile” (before he shoots the apple off his son’s head) because stage business ( setting up the apple etc) can be a powerful distraction. Do you feel staged vs concert versions play a role in audiences’ attention?
A. To be sure there is some fantastic music. When I saw the Noseda production, it was concert, and it was absolutely thrilling. But I also don’t think there is any substitute for a live production of a staged opera. But I think any way you slice it, the 4th act finale is celestial no matter if it’s in concert or staged. It’s simply some of the greatest music written in C major, and, in my opinion, Rossini’s greatest “Rossini crescendo.”
Q. Just as Falstaff is very different from anything Verdi wrote before, but only Verdi could have composed it, do you feel this is true for Rossini and Tell as well?
A. Absolutely. There are very few pages that sound like the Rossini that we all know. It looks forward to Bellini (Norma was only written 2 years later), the operas of Donizetti, and even early and middle Verdi. “Sois immobile” is unlike anything he ever wrote before, and the monumental ending mentioned above is like nothing else. Having said all of that, there is a clear trajectory towards this kind of music in his career. Especially when he moved to Paris, something changed. The opera he wrote just before Paris, Semiramide already has some of the grandeur of Tell, and his French works, most notably Le comte Ory have an orchestral writing that goes further in its exploration of woodwind colors than anything he’s done before. I think the most important thing to remember about Tell is that The Parisians wanted something original. Before Tell all of his “French” works were re-workings of Italian works (some older than others). The French weren’t going to accept just a re-working, no matter how brilliant (as in the case of Ory which was a relatively new re-working). They wanted something on an epic scale. And Rossini had a longer gestation period on this piece than any other that I can think of. So it is fascinating to see what he could do when time and resources weren’t an issue.
Q. The singers you have assembled for these performances, are they experienced Rossini singers, and if not, what kind of specific preparation do you provide them?
A. Most of them have sung Rossini operas before. Our Tell, Sean Anderson for example has done his share of Dandinis. The only person in the cast who I believe has never done Rossini professionally before is our Arnold, Matthew Vickers. But we all know that Arnold is really unlike any other Rossini tenor role that came before it. In fact, in the mid and late 19th century, the opera became more about the Arnold than the Tell even! Arnold very much looks forward to other, more stentorian tenors (one of the earliest Arnolds, Gilbert Duprez went on to create the role of Edgardo in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lamermoor). For me, Tell is a bridge to the Romantic period. Even though Rossini thought of himself as a child of the classical era, Tell definitely looks forward in many ways. One of the things I’m most proud of with this production is that our orchestra has probably played more Rossini than any other American orchestra, with the exception of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. We’ve done early works like Tancredi and Turco in Italia as well as more polished middle works like Cenerentola and Otello. I believe that the piece is too often approached in an overly Romantic way. Having played so many other Rossini works, our orchestra has a historical perspective that I think will serve us well.
For information about these upcoming performances, visit.