Small picture of Donizetti




Rossini's William Tell

Welsh National Opera, September 12 - November 29, 2014

Photographs by Richard Hubert Smith, courtesy of  Welsh National Opera


This was a new production by Welsh National Opera, which ran in a short season with Rossini's Moses in Egypt and, rather oddly, Bizet's Carmen under the general banner of "Liberty or Death!" and toured it in several Welsh and English cities. Although using the English title, the opera was sung in Italian.

Alan Jackson, the Society's Treasurer, saw the performance in Oxford on October 18, 2014 and has provided the following review.

If we were a bit short on scenic splendour, and despite some other shortcomings mentioned below, Welsh National Opera nonetheless did Rossini and grand opéra proud. With one interval the evening lasted 3¾ hours and we were treated to a fairly full text and the ballets, which might have been an expected casualty, were well in evidence – the dancers, whether as peasants or occupying soldiers, both somewhat stylised, certainly earned their fees, and were especially good in the wedding dances of the first act.

I found rather more questionable features in David Pountney’s direction than I did with the previous evening’s Mosè in Egitto. Firstly, Gisela Stille (Mathilde) sang her Act II aria "Sombre forêt" to a background of writhing bloodied dancers (souls of the casualties from the pillage of the village at the end of Act I? - though no deaths are actually indicated there). Then Barry Banks (Arnold) sounded uncomfortable with his first statement in the slow movement of his duet with Mathilde, unsurprisingly as he was lying on his back – raised to his knees the repeat was much better. Then, without me spoiling what happened, Pountney’s solution to the shooting of the apple was a fudge; an ingenious one, but still a fudge. But I liked the depiction of occupation and rebellion, and the relationships and characters were well caught: the warmth between Tell and his son, the enforced duty between Mathilde and Arnold, the vileness of Gessler. The setting was 19th century, with suggestions rather than realistic representations of Switzerland.

The singing was pretty good if not world class, but better a conscientious and musical ensemble than stars being stars however good their voices. So while I remember more honey in his voice in his ENO days, David Kempster was a believable Tell, moving in his appeal to his son to be still for the apple-shooting. Stille caught well the dilemma of an aristocrat at odds with her class and co-patriots in her love for Arnold and belief in right – “morally without flaw” as the programme booklet put it. I just wanted a bit more finesse with the decorative passages. Barry Banks gave us an Arnold that to start with was world class, the tone burnished and the high notes fearless. I thought he tired for Act IV – not clear enough in the descending scales of "Asile héréditaire" and sounding thankful that the second verse of "Amis, amis, secondez ma vengeance" was cut. Am I alone in feeling that in this circumstance leaving in both statements of the stretta unbalances the cabaletta? The famous ascents to top C were ‘there’ if not effortless. Clive Bayley’s Gesler (in a wheel-chair) was impressively dark-toned and villainous. Among the sound supporting singers, Fflur Wyn’s Jemmy impressed and gave a brilliant sheen to the top line in the ensembles.

Despite Donizetti’s description "the second act was written by God" (did he really say this?) I found that the tension flagged during the arrival of the men from the three cantons. Heretically I think the fault is Rossini’s rather than the artists’. Indeed, Andrew Greenwood’s conducting was magnificent – this was his only scheduled performance, the rest are advertised for Carlo Rizzi – and the final paean to nature and liberty was more overwhelming than I remember from any other performance, live or recorded. There was a pretty full house in Oxford. If you can get a ticket for the remainder of the tour, take it.

Russell Burdekin, the site webmaster, saw the performance in Southampton on November 29, 2014 and has provided the following review

David Kempster and one or two of the other singers found it hard to make an impact in the unhelpful acoustic of Southampton's Mayflower theatre, which did leave something of a hole in the performance.  However, Barry Banks, Gisela Stille and Clive Bayley, in particular, all managed to produce fine performances, particularly Banks, even if he didn't quite cut it as an heroic figure. The chorus and orchestra gave able support. A nice touch  was the solo cello on stage for the overture and later in the opera.

The staging was uncomplicated and sufficient, although the scaffolding towers, which seem to feature in every WNO production, have become a bit tiresome. The firing of the arrow was rather ingenious with the arrow being passed along the chorus (see below). Gessler as a cripple in a wheelchair was a cartoonish villain, which sat uneasily with the opera as a whole and the limited chorus numbers rather detracted from the visual impact even if their sound was certainly rowsing enough.  

Despite these caveats, an enjoyable performance, although I'm not sure cut price grand opera can ever achieve full satisfaction.


The Team


William Tell - David Kempster

Arnold - Barry Banks

Mathilde - Gisela Stille

Gesler - Clive Bayley

Jemmy - Fflur Wyn

Hedwige - Leah-Marian Jones

Melchthal/Walter - Richard Wiegold

Ruodi - Luciano Botelho

Rodolphe - Nicky Spence

Leuthold - Aidan Smith



Conductor - Carlo Rizzi /  Andrew Greenwood (Oct 18)

Director - David Pountney

Set Designer - Raimund Bauer

Costume Designer - Marie-Jeanne Lecca

Lighting Designer - Fabrice Kebour

Choreographer Amir Hosseinpour


Orchestra and Chorus of Welsh National Opera


Ruodi, Melchthal, Jemmy, Hedwige



Melchthal, Leuthold, Hedwige



Hedwige, Tell, Jemmy






Jemmy, Arnold, Tell,  Hedwige






Shooting the arrow (Jemmy, chorus, Gessler, Tell)