Small picture of Donizetti







Pesaro 2015

Beginnings and Growth

by Nick Hawkins

(This article is from the January 2016 issue of Capriccio, the Newsletter for the students of the Rose Bruford Distance Learning Opera Course, whom we thank for permission to reproduce it)


One of the great difficulties I have with reporting the Rossini Opera Festival is that of deciding what might be the theme that binds the operas chosen for that particular year. This year has been particularly difficult in that it involved two revivals of previous productions and only one new production - perhaps an indication of the financial hardship affecting most opera companies and Festivals. However, you will see from my heading that I think I have found a thread running through the productions offered this year from a very early work, L'Inganno Felice (farsa: Rome, 1812) the first work of Rossini performed outside Venice and Bologna; then La Gazzetta (opera comica: Naples, 1816); and finally La Gazza Ladra (grande opera semiseria: Milan, 1817). These three operas illustrate different stages in the development of Rossini with 1817 being, for me the turning point; not that he gave up the writing of the occasional comedy, I am happy to say.

For no apparent reason, I chose to see the operas in the 2015 season in reverse order, which proved to be a fortunate choice, as the reader will soon learn. That meant that my first opera was the revival of La Gazza Ladra, the director of which, Damiano Michieletto, has gained notoriety in London as the director of the recent new production of Guillaume Tell. Mr Michieletto has progressed from the barbarities performed on the poor Gazza Ladra (2007) via cruelty to La Scala di Seta (2009), pausing only to torture Sigismondo to death (2010). I have already written of my dislike of this director's productions, which, in the case of La Gazza Ladra, includes making the magpie of the title become a young women who falls asleep as a result of her frenzied activity during the overture, but wakes up in order to confuse the action throughout the course of the opera. As a result, a complicated plot becomes more convoluted. Add in a set that looks in the first act as though it had been borrowed from the Springtime for Hitler musical number from the film The Producers; and in the second act the set is literally water-logged making Singing in the Rain seem like a mild spring shower! The only unalloyed pleasure was the performance of Alex Esposito as Fernando Villabella, for which I was profoundly grateful!

I pinned my hopes on the second opera I saw, La Gazetta. (I had found the previous production, by Dario Fo, less than charming, given its relentless "humorous" activity.) I was to be severely disappointed. In an elegantly spare acting space, beautifully designed costumed and lit by Manuela Gasparoni Maria Filippi and Fabio Rossi, the director, Marco Carniti piled the Pelion of frenetic activity onto the Ossa of a supernumerary actor in an attempt to make the old production seem arthritic; he succeeded. No note of music was left without its attendant activity, no mobile piece of scenery was left unmoved, repositioned or unclambered over. The chorus marched, manoeuvred, shifted said scenery, and occasionally sang, bobbing up and down like Promenaders on the Last Night! It was a nightmare. An already fragile plot and some lovely music was made even more incomprehensible by the introduction of yet another supernumerary character, a servant of the main comic character: he was on stage for far too long performing "funny" commedia dell'Arte mimes to remarkably little effect. He was, I regret, much applauded at the end of the evening. All was not lost, however, since Nicola Alaimo gave a great performance as the Neapolitan Don Pompione Storione, Maxim Mironov sang sweetly as the first tenor, and Vito Priante redeemed the whole evening for me; he was sensational as the man who finally gets the girl. This baritone who also sings Bach and Mahler is scheduled, according to the 2015 ROF booklet of artists' biographies, to sing Figaro at Covent Garden {in which opera, and when is not stated}. He has already sung Escamillo in London, but I urge my readers to attend any performance of his. Any joy in the evening came from Rossini's score, slightly ploddingly conducted by Donato Renzetti. Gianni Fabbrini was the witty fortepiano player in the recits - always a pleasure to listen to him!

Several friends who had seen Graham Vick's production of L'Inganno Felice at its first outing in 1994 told me that they were originally bored by this one act farsa, thinking it dark and without interest. Their amazement at the revival, mounted by Vick himself, showed how one's judgement changes over the years. Perhaps it was the productions I have described above, with their wilful misinterpretations and eccentric production details that made us all susceptible to this simple tale, simply told and beautifully sung. I thought Richard Hudson's set perfect in almost every detail; no waste; you knew where you were, and the touch of the distant vessel moving across the rear stage was beautifully handled. Costumes were in period and there was not a superfluous gesture or movement.



I loved the archetypal story, of betrayal and loyalty leading to the punishment of the guilty and triumph of goodness - it could have been set anywhere at any time, but its simple grounding in the period gave the whole production an innate seriousness that belied the opera's description of farsa. Thank goodness for this lovely production, and thank you, Graham Vick, for restoring my faith in a story told with the respect it deserved. The photograph is of the line-up at the end of the opera. The whole cast responded with delicacy and wit to this fine production.

I cannot finish without my appreciation of the concerti di belcanto given every year, and the opportunity to hear secular and religious works by Rossini. Wonderful!

I also note that the Festival may be returning to a refurbished Palafest in the town in 2016. No more Adriatic Arena!?



Initially published in December, 2015