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A box of mixed chocolates

Teatro Rossini
08/12/2018 -  & August 15, 18, 21, 2018
Gioacchino Rossini: Adina
Vito Priante (Califo), Lisette Oropesa (Adina), Levy Sekgapane (Selimo), Matteo Macchioni (Alì), Davide Giangregorio (Mustafà)
Coro del Teatro della Fortuna M. Agostini, Mirca Rosciani (Chorus Master), Orchestra Sinfonica G. Rossini, Diego Matheuz (Conductor)
Rosetta Cucchi (Director), Tiziano Santi (Settings), Claudia Pernigotti (Costumes), Daniele Naldi (Lighting designer)

L. Oropesa (© Amati Bacciardi)

Teatro Rossini sits at the top of the Via Rossini in Pesaro’s historic centre. It is a petite ‘chocolate box’ of a venue which seats 800 and is booked to capacity for these performances of the rarely heard Adina. Constructed in the Italian ‘horseshoe’ style, it has four levels of boxes and a gallery above a ground level parterre. Capped by a frescoed ceiling in pale blue, its chandeliers and gold ornamentation give a real sense of being taken back in time to the era when the Rossini family lived and worked in this city.

Adina is a one-act opera shrouded in mystery: little is known about the commissioning of the work; nothing is known about the female singer for whom it was commissioned; uncertainties surround the sections of the work on which collaborators assisted the Maestro; and no reason had been found for the delay of eight years between the delivery of the completed opera in 1818 and its premiere at the San Carlo Theatre in Lisbon. The subject of intense musicology and research, this is the ideal fare for a festival to be offering. It gives audiences and musicians alike a rare opportunity to learn about Rossini’s compositional style and why he returned to this genre which he had abandoned years earlier. Why too, is the autograph score one of the very few documents the composer kept with him throughout his life? Clearly, this piece held a special attraction for him and is well worthy of re-examination.

For this production, the stage, the auditorium and the street outside have been flooded with costumed supernumerary characters: Bell Boys, Porters, Cigarette girls, Bandsmen and dubious trench-coated gangsters who turn out to be the Calif’s body guard. From the outset it is clear that Director Rosetta Cucci has had some fun creating a comic book confection which re-imagines the plot and diverts attention from the dated early 19th Century fascination with exotic Eastern harems. Updating the opera is a reasonable idea but it becomes a little unclear as to where and when the piece is now set, rendering much of the limited action even more confusing. This is especially so as the action now revolves around the additional performers and often does not involve the principle characters.

In such a tiny theatre, a limited stage became very crowded and the actions of the central characters were frequently over-shadowed by the inexplicable antics of circus performers and others. In short, the constant movement which included ladder climbing, dangling from the ceiling, hanging over high rails and more, distracted from the singing and sometimes left the chorus floundering to find their musical entrances and positions on the stage.

The design is focussed on a giant blue and white wedding cake which is variously, decorated, pulled to pieces, climbed upon or scrambled over. However, most of the use of the set is made by the supernumeraries and little by the five characters or chorus which leads to the question: has the re-imagining of the setting drowned out Rossini’s original rather than enhancing it?

Lisette Oropesa makes her Rossini Opera Festival debut fifteen years after another American – Joyce DiDonato – last brought Adina to the Pesaro stage. She is a vigorous and youthful performer who easily carries the part of the flirtatious and love-struck heroine. She moves athletically, having highly capable performance skills which see her “hamming it up” at several points in the opera. Her voice is a powerful instrument which easily fills the theatre and often has to be held back or risk swamping her fellow performers. Its upper range is silvery toned but the lower register is the real delight: rich and creamy, it has great agility and pin-point accuracy. This was a very convincing performance, particularly in the scene in which she weeps out her grief on the shoulder of one of the non-singing cast, amid gasps, tears and hysterics, earning roars of laughter from the audience.

Since winning the 2017 Operalia award, Levy Sekgapane’s career has moved forward at an amazing pace. He began his performance of Selimo’s character in a very diminutive manner. At first it seemed as if he would not be able to match the dynamism or strength of Ms Oropesa. However, as the opera progressed, he gained strength, rendering some blistering high notes and delivering creditable contributions to the ensemble passages.

Vito Priante’s Calif was the strongest of the male soloists. He was consistent throughout the opera if sometimes seeming a little hesitant. There were a few moments when the conductor had difficulty keeping all singers synchronised as the stage directions had them spread far, wide and high, clearly unable to communicate with one another and only slightly with the conductor. This may have lead too to a number of hesitant orchestral and chorus entries which one would expect to be corrected for latter performances.

Overall, this production is a mixed bag of achievements: some fine singing and acting, set against some inexplicable stage action which over-compensated for the dated nature of the plot and libretto. So many performers on the stage meant that there was quite a lot of noise as they moved about and combined with their activities, this often distracted from the music. ‘Updating’ an opera sometimes works well. However, on this occasion it is questionable whether it brought greater understanding or appreciation of the piece as it seemed that the piece was trying to justify itself as a “full” opera rather than the farsaRossini wrote.

Gregory Pritchard



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