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.
One thing the Donizetti Festival in Bergamo is noted for is unarthing Donizetti rarities. The 2016 edition was Rosmonda d’Inghilterra; a dramatically rather slight piece based on the story of Henry II’s mistress, generally known as “The Fair Rosamund”. In the opera version Rosmonda is locked up in a tower by her lover Edegardo who has promised to marry her except he’s really Henry II (Enrico) and Leonora (Eleanor of Aquitaine) is going to have something to say about that. Complicating matters; Enrico’s page Arturo is in love with Rosmonda and her dad, Clifford, is the king’s principal counsellor and not at all happy about his daughter carrying on with a married man. Clifford’s plan to save the family’s honour is to have Arturo take Rosmonda off to Aquitaine and marry her. Rosmonda’s is to retire to a convent (as, apparently, the historical Rosamund did) . Enrico’s is to divorce Leonora (given Enrico’s problems with the church this seems highly implausible but, hey, bel canto) and make Rosmonda his queen. Leonora isn’t having any of this and shows up at the tower and kills Rosmonda. Finito. Along the way there’s lots of very workmanlike Donizetti music which sounds pretty much like most Donizetti operas.
I rather like recordings from the Macerata Festival where the performances take place in the enormous amphitheatre of the Arena Sferisterio. Bellini’s Norma is a good choice for such as setting and the 2016 production directed by Luigi di Gangi and Ugo Giacomazzi makes good use of the space. It also uses string. The sets are stringy. The very scruffy Gauls wear shapeless tunics with lots of string over them. The slightly smarter Romans also wear string. And everybody plays with string. There are more strings than in the Princeton Physics Department. There’s lots of face paint too. The production also makes use of a spectacular multi-coloured lighting plot but, apart from the visuals, is pretty conventional and straightforward.
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.