L’occasione fa il ladro is a rather typical early Rossini piece (he was only nineteen when he wrote it). The plot is extremely silly but it’s quite short (90 minutes) and the music is tuneful and well crafted. To cut a short story even shorter, Count Alberto is off to collect his bride, Berenice, who he has never seen. On the way his luggage gets mixed up with that of the chancer Don Parmenione, who decides t take the opportunity to grab the bride for himself. Meanwhile Berenice has swapped places with her maid Ernestina so she can check Alberto out at a safe distance. Inevitably confusion ensues but it all ends happily with Alberto paired off with Berenice and Parmenio with Ernestina, who, of course, is not really a maid at all.
Claus Guth has a way with Mozart. At his best; with his Salzburg productions of the da Ponte operas for example, he’s superb while I was unconvinced by his Glyndebourne Clemenza, despite its ambition. I was really keen to see what he would do with an opera like Lucio Silla which, despite some lovely music, is formulaic and potentially very boring.
Handel’s Belshazzar, written as an oratorio, was staged at the Aix-en-Provence festival in 2008. It works really well as a stage work. The plot is straightforward but dramatic. Impious Babylonian king Belshazzar is being besieged by the virtuous Cyrus of Persia. Babylon is impregnable but a combination of Babylonian impiety and divine intervention on behalf of Cyrus(*) leads to Cyrus’ capture of the city, the death of Belshazzar and, almost incidentally, the liberation of the Jews.
Rossini’s Il Viaggio a Reims is a curious work. It was written as part of the celebrations for the coronation of Charles X of France, a leading contender in a relatively large field for the title of “most utterly useless king of France”. It doesn’t really have a plot and, in a sense, is a three hour riff on “An Englishman, a Frenchman and a German go into a bar”. It also has a huge cast; twenty solo roles of which ten or twelve are quite substantial and require no little virtuosity. It’s small wonder that it’s not seen all that often.