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.
Following on from Massenet’s dreamlike, ambiguous Cendrillon I took a look at a fairly recent recording of Rossini’s much more straightforward, if somewhat moralising, opera buffa on the same theme La Cenerentola. There’s no magic here. The fairy godmother is replaced by the prince’s tutor Alidoro who engineers Angelina’s trip to the ball. There’s no stepmother either but rather a stepfather and it’s unclear what has happened to either of the mothers one imagines must have been involved.
Catalan collective Els Comediants’ production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville is back at the COC in a revival of the 2015 production. Five years ago I described it as a “glorious romp” and, based on yesterday’s performance, I see non need to amend that judgement. It may be even better this time. It still has Joan Guillén’s wonderfully colourful and silly costumes and sets and it still has Joan Font’s inspired directing; perhaps even crisper this time. Once again it has a wonderful cast of international and Canadian singers including a reprise of Bartolo by the admirable Renato Girolami.
Rossini’s Le Comte Ory was written for Paris so it’s appropriate that there should be a recording from the Opéra Comique. It’s directed by Denis Podalydès who chooses to set it around the time of the opera’s creation (1828) with the “crusader” element replaced by the French conquest of Algeria. The sets and costumes are pretty conventional with a heavy emphasis on religious symbolism; some of it rather awry. There’s also a heavy element of sexual frustration. The comedy is all very much there but it’s not too slapstick and there’s none of the annoying cheesiness of Bartlett Sher’s New York version. It all feels very French.
So, by a perhaps odd coincidence, various singers from Kathy Domoney’s stable are involved in productions of Rossini’s Le comte Ory at assorted Canadian houses in the near future; either as principals or understudies, so why not pull together some sort of performance of the work? That happened last night at Trinity St. Paul’s in a “narrated production” by François Racine. I had some ida what to expect as I had talked to François earlier in the week.
There are lots of ways of presenting opera short of a fully staged/costumed performance with an orchestra. In Toronto I’d say “concert” or “semi-staged” performances are probably at least as common as the full Monty; partly for reasons of cost and partly because there aren’t that many venues with a pit and a fly loft. It’s generally pretty clear what “concert” performance means; concert wear and music stands, but what does the average punter expect when they see the words “semi-staged”? I really don’t know what to expect. Surtitles? Costumes? Props? Blocking? Orchestra, piano or something in between? I’ve probably seen all possible combinations of the above described as “semi-staged” and I don’t think I detect any pattern in what works and what doesn’t. Anyway Domoney Artists have a semi-staged version of Rossini’s Le comte Ory coming up on Saturday so I took the opportunity to ask director François Racine about his approach, which turned out to be not quite like any approach I’d come across before.
Off I went to the Four Seasons Centre to see Samuel Chan and Stéphane Mayer perform some Schubert. Sadly Sam was indisposed so what we got was a hastily, but very well, constructed program featuring some of the other singers in the Ensemble Studio.
Things kicked off with the increasingly impressive Anne-Sophie Neher in an accomplished rendering of Mozart’s “show off” piece Exsultate jubilate, in which she showed very decent control in the rather fiendish runs. She was back later with “The Presentation of the Rose” from Der Rosenkavalier which sounded suitably Straussian and sufficiently girlish at the same time. Nicely done. She made a third appearance with one of Adèles’s arias from Le comte Ory. This didn’t quite do it for me but it was fun to hear Stéphane playing around with the very Rossiniesque accompaniment.
The COC 2019/20 season was revealed last night at the Four Seasons Centre. I liked the set up this time. A brief introduction from Alexander Neef, an overture and then a well scripted narrative, read by William Webster, describing the works in turn within the theme of “Once Upon A Time”, with a performance of one number from each opera. And so, what do we get:
Puccini – Turandot – September 28th to October 27th 2019 – 9 performances.
This is the Robert Wilson production from Madrid. Tamara Wilson and Marjorie Owens share the title role with Sergey Skorokhodov and Kamen Chanev as Calaf and Joyce El-Khoury/Vanessa Vasquez as Liu. Carlo Rizzi conducts. I’m not a huge fan of Wilson’s elegant but static productions but I could see it working for Turandot. I’m told the usual Alfano completion will be used.
Yesterday’s concert in the RBA, the first I’ve been to in a while, featured the five members of the Orchestra Academy; violinists Joella Pinto and Gloria Yip, violist Carolyn Farnand and cellists Erin Patterson and Alison Rich, with Joel Allison and Samuel Chan and Rachael Kerr on keyboards. It was an interesting concert in many ways. We don’t get to see the young instrumentalists much nor do we often see Ensemble members sing with a chamber ensemble. It was also interesting to hear the contrast between Joel’s dark toned bass-baritone, often singing in a very low tessitura, with Sam’s much brighter, lighter baritone which sometimes was well up in tenor territory.
Yes, there is a Rossini opera with a Canadian character. Well, OK it’s a bit ambiguous whether he’s Canadian or American and the librettist doesn’t seem quite sure that they aren’t the same thing. Anyway, likely the earliest of an appearance of a Canadian in opera unless one counts the Les sauvages d’Amérique section of Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes. The opera is the early one act comedy, La cambiale di matrimonio. It’s a bit of a one trick pony. An English merchant has contracted to marry his daughter to the Canadian, Snook, but she’s already unofficially engaged to another. After much faffing about Snook makes the contract over to the other suitor and makes him his heir. The joke, such as it is, is that all this is carried out in the language of commercial contracts. For example, when Snook minds out that Fanny is engaged he considers the “merchandise” to be “mortgaged” and so on. Still it provides a back drop for some showy singing and the usual rapid fire Rossini ensemble numbers.