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Notes and Editorial Reviews
There is surely no opera more famous in musical history but less well known in fact than William Tell. It is often referred to as Rossini's masterpiece but how many people can actually confirm from having heard it that they agree? Everyone knows the Overture and the Ballet Music; few know even the most outstanding arias, ensembles and choruses. It is an astonishing fact that this celebrated work has not been performed at Covent Garden for 85 years (although it has had more or less incomplete revivals at other London theatres). Even in Paris, where one would have thought that it would be regarded as belonging to the national heritage, it has not been performed at the Opera since 1932 and the New York Met has done no better by it. Only in
Italy has it been revived fairly frequently, always of course in Italian (which can be seen as a certain falsification) and usually heavily cut. Last year's performances under Riccardo Muti at the Maggio Musicale in Florence were perhaps the herald of better treatment: it was given absolutely complete for the first time for very many years. Of course even severe cutting had started shortly after the first performance. There is a famous story of a meeting on the Boulevards between Rossini and the then Director of the Opera: "Ah, Maestro", said the latter, "we are performing the Second Act of Guillaume Tell this evening". "What", remarked Rossini dryly, "the whole of it?". Perhaps Rossini's spirit if it knows of such things will now be pleased not only by the Florence performances in Italian but, dare we hope, even more by the new recording in French of this great work, the last manifestation for the operatic stage of Rossini's genius.
That the work has problems in performance there is no denying. It is too long and, as every commentator even the most enthusiastic, has noted, the libretto has grave weaknesses. The great difficulty of some of the vocal parts has also, during the last half century or so, been a drawback. Until the recent revival of interest in early nineteenth-century opera there have been few singers willing to undertake the exacting roles of Mathilde and, particularly, Arnold. The tenor is required, among other things, to sing six top Cs (seven if he takes the almost inevitable final one not prescribed by Rossini) during the three minutes of the final section of his Fourth Act aria with chorus! In this connection it is interesting to note that Duprez who in 1837 did much to revive the opera's popularity by his sensational singing of the part was in fact not carrying out Rossini's wishes. Duprez took the high C from the chest, the so-called Ut de poitrine, and after he had demonstrated his prowess to Rossini, the composer's first act was to look anxiously at the delicate Venetian glass in the room and remark: "Nothing broken, that's wonderful!". When Duprez asked him whether the C had pleased him he replied: "Very sincerely, what pleases me most about your C is that it is over and that I am no longer in danger of hearing it!". Rossini tells us that he had been quite pleased with the head-tone produced by Nourrit, the first singer of the role, and he obviously would have been more than happy with the lighter and more lyrical approach which some latterday tenors such as Nicolai Gedda have restored.
But it is, to my mind, not even in the arias, superb as many of them are, that we find the most remarkable features of the opera. It is surely in the ensembles and particularly the choruses. It is through these, its general breadth of style and its often adventurous orchestration, that Tell may justifiably be regarded as a work almost as much French as Italian. Rossini remained an Italian composer but Tell could only have been written for the Paris Opera. For this reason alone it is, I think, of significant importance that it should be performed in French. The charm of many of the First Act choruses, the dramatic excitement of others (notably the superb Second Act finale with the gathering of the men from the three cantons) and, most wonderful of all, the pure C major sunshine of the final pages of the Fourth Act are landmarks in opera. At last we can hear them whenever we wish, in their proper context, performed in the correct language under a conductor with an obvious feeling for Rossini's style. Lambert° Gardelli.
Long before this recording had even been suggested I had, through studying the score and hearing some more or less inadequate performances, become convinced that this was a work which should be given a full recording with the best forces we could muster. But operas which occupy ten LP sides have to be as well-known and as popular as Meistersinger before they can even be considered by recording companies, so it did not look as if Tell would materialize for a very long time. One day however a young and enthusiastic opera lover, Mr Robert Slotover, approached EMI and told them that, under certain conditions, he would be willing to help to finance the venture. Once the details of this generous offer were settled it was essential to complete the casting and other arrangements as quickly as possible. In the gramophone world there is always the possibility, even with a work as unlikely as Tell, that another company will be on your heels and get in before you with a 'first-ever' recording. At first glance the choice for the conductor and the principal soloists was not difficult: it was an entirely different story to find dates when they could all be at our disposal in the hall and with the orchestra we wished to use. Nicolai Gedda was the only tenor for Arnold and he was singing the role complete earlier in the same year. For Tell himself Gabriel Bacquier seemed the obvious choice. For Mathilde we felt that Montserrat Caballe would be ideal. She had never sung the role but was at once very interested and agreed in principle to learn it. For the boy, Jemmy, Mady Mesple would provide just the right difference in timbre from the other soprano role. Gradually the other roles were filled but as the winter of 1971-72 progressed the possibility of actually recording the work with these artists in the summer seemed progressively to recede. I still have a file in which every date remotely possible is written in one long column and other columns opposite are headed with the names of the singers, conductor, orchestra and studio. Hardly ever do the ticks which mean 'available' coincide and there are many more crosses (meaning 'unavailable') than there are ticks. As I have said elsewhere, planning an opera recording with a team of celebrated singers is like doing a terribly complicated jig-saw puzzle with a specially devilish feature: quite often, as soon as you have fitted in one piece it jumps out again and cannot be replaced anywhere. But somehow or other, with a great deal of goodwill on the part of everyone concerned, all the difficulties were resolved.
Once in the studio things became easier and everyone was full of enthusiasm for the wonderful music which many of us were hearing for the first time in its complete form. A gramophone recording of Guillaume Tell avoids some of the pitfalls of a stage performance more especially the drawback of its length. It is after all not essential to sit down and listen to it for nearly five hours on end although I hope some people will give themselves this remarkable experience —the only way in which one can fully appreciate the epic grandeur of Rossini's conception. Perhaps even Beethoven, if he could have heard it, would have withdrawn his advice to Rossini to stick to the opera buffa. Much of course is lost: the scenic grandeur should match that of the music and I still hope to live to see a production put on regardless of expense, with exquisite taste and absolute naturalism, including every waterfall and the snow glittering on the Alps in the sunshine of the final scene! But in the recording we have tried our best to give you some illusions. Rossini was particularly intrigued by horn calls; they must have suggested to him the kind of sound he imagined one would hear echoing round the mountains. We had a busy time placing our horn players at just the right distances to give the impression that the peasants were calling from a nearer to a further alp or that the wicked Gesler with his hunting party was approaching or going further away. Villagers singing as they come down the mountain-side with a church bell tolling in the distance add 'scenic' charm but in the storm we have withstood the temptation to add any real thunder: Rossini's big drum and timpani are quite effective enough. In the great finale of the Second Act something of the atmosphere of the Rtitli at dead of night can be achieved by the arrival from different directions and distances of each group of patriotic conspirators. But Tell is not an opera that lends itself especially to sonic effects. It is the music that counts all the way. I hope that the new recording will raise in other listeners the same enthusiasm for the music which the making of the records raised in all my colleagues and in me.
Ronald Kinloch Anderson,
Works on This Recording
Guillaume Tell by Gioachino Rossini
Jocelyne Taillon (Mezzo Soprano),
Gabriel Bacquier (Baritone),
Nicolai Gedda (Tenor),
Louis Hendrikx (Bass),
Gwynne Howell (Bass),
Kolos Kováts (Bass),
Charles Burles (Tenor),
Leslie Fyson (Baritone),
Mady Mesplé (Soprano),
Montserrat Caballé (Soprano),
Nicholas Christou (Baritone),
Riccardo Cassinelli (Tenor)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,
Ambrosian Opera Chorus
Written: 1829; Italy
Date of Recording: 1973
Venue: EMI Abbey Road Studios, London
Length: 230 Minutes 33 Secs.
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Wagner's Question April 5, 2012
By Anthony G. (Valley Stream, NY) See All My Reviews
"It is a mystery to me that an opera of this quality, Rossini's last opera, Guillaume Tell, is not hailed and performed as much as Verdi's Aida, one of his last operas. Rossini's William Tell is far superior to Verdi's enigmatic,inaccessible, and lethally dully last opera, Falstaff. I say this because there is a theory, or tradition, that the latter compositions by the great composers are their finest masterpieces. I am comparing these 2 last operas simply because they are the last 2 operas by great Italian opera composers of the last century. There is no comparison. Let me make my case by reporting that it was alleged that none less than Richard Wagner asked Rossini "why he stopped composing opera after William Tell?." Wagner's question "tells" [pun intended] all. Also, wisely, this recording was done in the French original not the later Italian version-truly a good idea and sagacious judgment.
The cello opening in Rossini's overture is, in my estimation, the great piece of music written for the cell albeit brief, and, fragment. Would that Rossini had recycled it as a cello concerto or sonata. "
The under appreciated Rossini March 30, 2012
By Stephen Schoeman (Westfield, NJ) See All My Reviews
" Rossini should rank as one of classical music greatest composers. Unfortunately, most people know him only as the composer of The Barber of Seville and the Lone Ranger theme music. Rossini was a most versatile composer. Opera buffa like The Barber of Seville and The Italian in Algiers. Tragedies like Othello and The Siege of Corinth. Extraordinary religious works like the Stabat Mater and the Petite Messe Solennelle. Songs of Old Age. Various works for solo instruments. String music.
There are very few composers who can match Rossini's versatility. Not even Verdi who only wrote two comedies. Or Puccini who only wrote one. Nor Beethoven or Bizet or Bellini.
Donizetti too had Rossini's versatility.
Rossini has rightfully been called "the Italian Mozart" because of his wonderful melodies which seem to flow like water from a faucet. Rossini was some faucet!
People who enjoy classical music would do well to explore the vastness of Rossini's creative genius.
Classical music must no longer be about Bach and Beethoven and Mozart and Haydn and Tchaikovsky. And even with them their lesser known works should be heard AND
performed a great deal more. Some are rarely heard or performed at all!
What better place to begin than with Arkiv.org!"