Adelaide di Borgogna is one of those rather odd “serious” Rossini works where bel canto collides with opera seria. The plot is fairly accurately based on an episode from 10th century history and is most definitely not a comedy. The form has progressed well beyond a succession of da capo arias with multiple ensemble numbers and quite a few choruses. But there’s a throwback to an earlier tradition in the use of high voices for heroic male roles though it seems that by 1817 castrati were rather rare and the crucial role of Ottone, the German emperor, was from the beginning sung by a female contralto.
The plot is fairly straightforward. Adelaide is the widow of king Lothar (presumably king of Italy. This isn’t entirely clear but the action takes place at Canossa. She has been deposed by the usurper Berengario, who may also have murdered Lothar. He plans to marry her to his son Adelberto. The emperor Ottone is persuaded to come to her rescue and promptly falls in love with her. After sundry plot twists Ottone defeats the usurpers, marries Adelaide and adds Italy to the Empire.
The work hasn’t been performed much in modern times but Pier’ Alli’s production was given at the Pesaro festival in 2006 and 2011 when it was recorded. It’s an interesting production. Costumes are a sort of musical comedy 19th century but very effective use is made of multi-framed video projections; sometimes reflecting the stage action sometimes commenting on it. The piece moves along at a crazy pace so anything that clarifies what is going on is a help. I can see why Stendhal was so enamoured of Rossini without entirely sharing his enthusiasm.
The music, it hardly needs saying, is crazy difficult. Lyric coloratura, dramatic coloratura and sheer power are all called for in most of the roles and the cast bear up remarkably well. The stand out may be bass Nicola Ulivieri as Berengario but there are fine contributions too from Jessica Pratt as Adelaide, Daniela Barcellona as Ottone and Bogdan Mihai in the tenor role of Adelberto (this despite looking uncomfortably like Eric Idle in the “nudge, nudge” sketch.) The chorus is excellent and Dmitri Jurowski gets a sprightly performance from the Comunale di Bologna orchestra.
Video direction is more problematic. It’s hard to film shows with video but Tiziano Mancini’s direction is often just plain irritating. Close ups of singers with indecipherable fragments of video behind them just don’t work very well. Sound and picture on DVD are decent enough though it’s likely that the Blu-ray version is superior. There is moderately interesting “making of” feature included as a bonus. The documentation includes a track listing, an essay and a synopsis. Subtitle options are English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Korean and Japanese.