Small picture of Donizetti




Rossini at the 2011 Pesaro Festival

Teatro Rossini, August 10 - 23, 2011.

Photographs courtesy of  the Teatro Rossini, Pesaro

Photographs from three of the productions at the 2011 Pesaro Festival:- Rossini's Adelaide di Borgogna, Mosè in Egitto and La scala di seta.  

Nick Hawkins has kindly given permission to reproduce his review of the two new Pesaro Festival productions that first appeared in the October 2011 edition of Capriccio,  the newsletter of the Rose Bruford College opera course. The photographs are courtesy of  the Teatro Rossini, Pesaro

This year the Rossini Opera Festival celebrated, along with the rest of Italy, the 150th Anniversary of United Italy. The operas receiving new productions this year could be said to celebrate freedom, if not unification.

Fortunately, the new productions were somewhat different. Mosè in Egitto was first performed during Lent in Naples in 1818, and described as an Azione tragico-sacra, and again in 1819 in an extensively revised version that included the famous Preghiera. This prayer with a text more suitable for the occasion was played at Rossini’s funeral, his re-interment in Florence in 1887, and at the unveiling of his monument there in 1903. The opera was one of those he re-fashioned for Paris after his nomination as Director of the Italian Opera, where it was given under the title Moïse et Pharaon, ou Le Passage de la Mer Rouge in 1827.

Graham Vick’s controversial production of Mosè in Egitto was a miracle of crowd handling and Personenregie. I must confess that I am not keen on the updating of operas of the past to reflect current world conflicts, but when they are handled with such dexterity, I give in to the moment. The Italian press was rather upset, as were some of the audience, by the resemblance of Moses and the Israelites to followers of the Prophet rather than Jehovah, but one glance at the prayer shawls much in evidence should have shown which team we should be supporting.  This was not the only red herring that Vick threw at us.  The audience came in to an auditorium with photographs of missing persons pinned to the orchestra pit; as the overture began refugees in various states of distress and affliction appeared among the audience.  There was further confusion when the opera opened and officialdom was seen wearing Palestinian type headdresses. These troubled people were the enemy, the Egyptians; the Israelites, to add further confusion, were busy making suicide bombs in the basement of the palace. God was definitely supporting the Israelis, but we were in no position to judge who was the oppressor and who the oppressed. The restoration of light was an amazing coup de theatre, as a huge brilliantly lit chandelier rose majestically to the heights of the palace in time with Rossini’s splendid music for this miracle. The same chandelier was later to fall on, and cause the death of, the first born in the shape of the Pharaoh’s son, Osiride, closely followed by a gas attack.


Mosè in Egitto - Elcia (Sonia Ganassi),  Mosè (Riccardo Zanellato)


Unfortunately the Egyptians fielded a rather stronger home team vocally than the Israelites, Alex Esposito as Pharaoh was in splendid voice, dominating the multi-level set both physically and vocally. Riccardo Zanellato as Moses was less certain (why did they cut his second act aria?), Dimitry Korchak was an effortful but accurate Osiride, and Yihjie Shi, much improved since his appearances in 2009 (Le Comte Ory) and 2010 (Demetrio e Publio). Shi not only sang extremely well, but also played Aaron as a wily publicist for Moses to great effect. The ladies were not quite in the same league; Sonia Ganassi as Osiride’s Israelite lover, Elcia, sounded tired, while Olga Senderskaya as Pharaoh’s wife and secret follower of Jehovah, was a pale singer. Where the monk, Francesco Ringhieri (the author of the play upon which Tottola based the libretto of Mosè), found the evidence for these interesting relationships I am not sure, but they certainly added interest to the proceedings. The Orchestra of the Teatro Communale di Bologna sounded superb under the direction of Roberto Abbado.


Mosè in Egitto - Finale


But the main plaudits must go to Graham Vick for a though-provoking and exciting production. I came away from the performance convinced that if we are victims today, we stand every chance that we will be the oppressors tomorrow. The opera ends, in Vick’s production, with a scene of reconciliation between the driver of an Israeli tank that destroys the Egyptian soldiers, and an Arab boy wearing a suicide vest. I never saw the tank despite going twice to see the opera – but maybe that is for the best, since I am not so optimistic as Graham Vick.

Adelaide di Borgogna (Rome, December 1817) brings us more into the standard territory of a two-act dramma per musica, written a few months before Mosè, for Rome. Here we come up against the problem of earlier works of Rossini: what, where and how he borrowed the music for a particular opera. Given the operatic culture of the period, coupled with the lack of time available to the composer, it is not surprising that Adelaide di Borgogna enjoys an introduction which started life as a Sinfonia in E flat (1809), was re-written as the overture to La Cambiale di Matrimonio (1810) and finally appeared as the overture to Adelaide, with enriched orchestration. The opera was not a critical success; it must be said that the libretto is not one of the strongest, based on the mid-tenth century revival of Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire by Otto I, King of Germany, and later of Italy, whose father, for those of a serendipitous nature was Henry the Fowler, Duke of Saxony – and a protagonist in Wagner’s Lohengrin. More one does not need to know, apart from the fact that Adelaide is fought over by Otto, Berengario and Adalberto the latter’s son. The opera had a few productions elsewhere, and disappeared from the repertory until it was given its first revival since 1825, a concert performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1978. Much music from this opera lived on, notably in Eduardo e Cristina (Venice, 1819). 

Despite all I had heard about the weakness of the opera, I was not prepared for such rousing choruses, wonderful concerted pieces, duets, trios and arias. True, there is not much action, but we are here in a different world, where the sheer beauty of the singing transcends the exigencies of a coherent plot. We were very lucky to have Daniela Barcellona as Otto, and Jessica Pratt as Adelaide. I have watched Signora Barcellona emerging over the last few years as a leading Rossini mezzo-soprano, specialising in the breeches roles for which Rossini is rightly famous. She did not let us down in this opera! In addition to owning a magnificent voice, her stage presence was made even more commanding by a uniform that lent her credibility both as a dashing military figure and as the ardent wooer of Adelaide, around whose freedom the plot revolves.  Jessica Pratt, clad in a serious of handsome gowns, was a heroine to die for. She has appeared in London as the Queen of the Night at ENO, but I was not prepared for such command of bel canto.  Her first act cavatina was sung with great delicacy and feeling on both occasions I attended the opera, as was her aria, Cingi la benda candida in the second act. If I concentrate on these two singers, it is because they gave me so much pure pleasure. Bogdan Mihai as Adelberto has a phenomenal technique, but a slightly unpleasing voice – somewhat hard and tight, but he certainly knows how to sing Rossini. It was also a pleasure to see Jeannette Fischer, whom I saw in Les Mamelles de Tirésias at the Opéra Comique recently, here singing Eurice.


Adelaide di Borgogna  - Ottone (Daniela Barcellona) , Adelaide (Jessica Pratt)


Pier’Alli was responsible for the sets, projections, costumes and production.  The set consisted of 3 panels upon which were projected a series of images of crowns, castles, rain, soldiers, umbrellas and more rain – often in bewildering sequence too many and too small, often about 36 rapidly changing images, to make any real impact. The best effect was the dissolving of an image of a crown (Italian circa 1861?) into a castle, presumably representing Canossa, where much of the action took place. That was most effective, as was the final projection of what I can only guess was the royal coach of the House of Savoy. The coronation of Otto and Adelaide enabled the opera to end with a triumphant bow to modern Italy, with the chorus wearing favours in the Italian colours – red, white and green.  A DVD has been made of this production; it will be worth tracking a copy down just for the pleasure of the singing of Daniela Barcellona and Jessica Pratt.


Adelaide di Borgogna  - Ottone (Daniela Barcellona) , Adelaide (Jessica Pratt)


All told this was a most successful Rossini Opera Festival, but I must end on an all too familiar complaint about the acoustics of the Adriatic Arena – true, Graham Vick used the vast stage to great advantage, but the acoustics are still appalling.

©  Nick Hawkins, October 2011.



 The other production was a revival of La scala di seta


Germano (Paolo Bordogna), Giulia (Hila Baggio)



Giulia (Hila Baggio),   Dorvil (Juan Francisco Gatell), Germano (Paolo Bordogna), Blansac (Simone Alberghini)




Page initially published in  2011