Rossini’s Ricciardo e Zoraide isn’t performed all that often but it has appeared a number of times at the Pesaro Rossini Festival. In 2018 it got a new production there from the creative team of Opera Atelier with a rather starrier cast than is usual in their Toronto productions followed by a DVD/Blu-ray release. It’s actually not too hard to see why the piece isn’t done more often despite its many good qualities. It requires four tenors; at least two of which need to be absolutely top notch Rossinians and a soprano of equal quality. None of the roles are easy. It’s also a bit mixed dramatically. The libretto is a rather convoluted crusader story set in Africa. Agorante has captured Zoraide and wants to make her no.2 wife. No.1 wife Zomira is unimpressed. Ricciardo disguises himself to try and rescue Zoraide. Zoraide’s father shows up. Agorante is about to have essentially everyone executed when the crusaders, led by Ernesto, rush in and everybody makes up. There are some really effective scenes and others that just seem to drag on. Musically it’s pretty good though. It’s never less than well crafted and at times; the first half of act 2 especially, there’s some great music including a crackerjack tenor duet, a fantastic display aria for soprano and some really good ensembles.
Marshall Pynkosky’s production is set in a palace and it’s not over the top. There’s a sort of gallery/gantry affair that is used effectively. Costumes are very Opera Atelier with muscular bare male chests, heaving bosoms and bright colours. The ballet is used mostly sparingly and mostly to enliven some rather “park and bark” moments. Only the usual foil twiddling fight scene seems a bit much. The choreography (Jeanette Lajeunesse Zingg of course) is a bit different from OA’s usual baroque fare. The ladies wear flat slippers, not heels, and are rather more athletic. This probably accurately reflects what was happening in Paris at the time but whether it would have happened in 1818 Naples I really don’t know (or care). All in all it’s a very serviceable production; OK if you are a bit jaded about OA’s production style, probably quite fresh and exciting if you aren’t.
The glory of this recording though is the music making. Ricciardo is sung by Juan Diego Flórez and if he’s, as always, playing JDF his singing is magnificent. He’s matched by Sergey Romanovsky as the “baddy” Agorante. He’s perhaps firmer, less pretty, than JDF but he’s got equally killer high notes. They make a great pair. Then there is Pretty Yende as Zoraide. It’s a simply lovely voice. Her coloratura is absolutely precise and her high notes are beautifully burnished with no hint of harshness. She also manages some tricky slow, descending runs with great skill.
The rest of the cast are excellent too with another excellent bit of tenoring from Xabier Anduaga as Ernesto, some very muscular bass work from Nicola Ulivieri as Ircano and the lovely, smokey mezzo of Victoria Yarovaya as the scorned Zomira. The orchestra (Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI) and the chorus (Coro dell Teatro Ventidio Basso) are very good and Giacomo Sagripanti does an excellent job in the pit. There are a lot of complex ensembles and keeping it all together must be quite challenging.
Ariella Beddini directs the film. It’s a mostly unobtrusive and effective job though she does feel the need to introduce fades and superpositions in some of the park and bark scenes. On DVD the video quality is just about good enough. It’s actually excellent as DVD goes but it’s sometimes a busy and dark stage picture which I’m sure would look better on the available Blu-ray. LPCM and DTS 5.1 sound are both fine. The only extras are some trailers and the booklet contains a track listing and synopsis plus a rather self-congratulatory puff piece. Subtitle options are English, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Korean.
All in all, Ricciardo e Zoraide is a piece worth exploring. This disk is a good intro. There’s some top notch singing and Pynkosky’s production is very watchable.