Notes and Editorial Reviews
ROSSINI Adelaide di Borgogna • Dmitri Jurowski, cond; Daniela Barcellona (Ottone); Jessica Pratt (Adelaide); Nicola Ulivieri (Berengario); Bogdan Mihai (Adelberto); Jeanette Fischer (Eurice); Francesca Pierpaoli (Iroldo); Teatro Comunale Bologna O & Ch • ARTHAUS 108 060 (Blu-ray: 137:00 opera + 17:00 bonus) Live: Pesaro 2011
Making of Adelaide di Borgogna
Gioachino Rossini’s opera Adelaide di Borgogna was completed quickly even for that quite prolific composer, premiering less than seven weeks after his previous work, Armida, in a different theater (Teatro Argentina) in a different town (Rome). The libretto, by Giovanni Federico Schmidt, is an old-fashioned opera seria about an Italian queen, Adelaide, whose husband has been defeated and killed by the usurper Berengario and his son, Adelberto in 10th-century Italy. Adelaide’s apparent only choice is to be ignobly forced to marry the son to give a degree of political legitimacy to the new regime. She, however, sends out supplications to Otto (Ottone), the Emperor of Germany, who comes south with his forces to rescue her and fall in love with her. Battle ensues, Berengario becomes a hostage for whom the son will not trade away Adelaide, even at his mother’s impassioned pleading. Mom helps the former queen to escape, Otto is triumphant in battle, and Adelaide is restored to her royal station at the side of Otto. So much for turning Italy over to the Germans, they were much more difficult to get rid of.
Rossini, a seasoned composer by this point in his career (1817), reuses his overture from his first staged opera, La Cambiale di Matrimonio, for Adelaide. If the score does not rise to the level of some of the composer’s masterpieces, there is still plenty of lively, tuneful music to enjoy. The opera was not a hit in Rome and was, in fact, withdrawn from the theater after a run of about three weeks. Rossini reused some of the music in later works, but the opera itself disappeared from the stage completely until disinterred in the late 20th century. The Pesaro staging uses a critical edition of the score by Gabriele Gravagna and Alberto Zedda, though Rossini’s autograph score is presumed lost.
Pesaro’s staging is by Florence native Pier’Alli, a director known for his use of cinematic video effects, of which we get plenty here. The often splitscreen projections on the backdrop meant to be evocative of time and place (sometimes even miming events in the story), are very busy and quite distracting from the real stage action. Alli seems to have updated the setting to the 18th or 19th century based on the costumes, but this production still feels quite traditional, unusual for Pesaro these days. The swordplay with umbrellas in act II is only one of several questionable staging choices made by director Alli.
Musically, this new production gives us a chance to see and hear rising young coloratura soprano star Jessica Pratt in the title role. Pratt has all the goods, a lovely, agile soprano voice, a good high range which she is not reluctant to use, and an ability to comfortably perform the fioratura expected of a Rossinian soprano. Pratt very likely had help from the expert Pesaro staff in preparing ornaments, but she tosses them all off with an ease that is quite impressive. At times, she seems a bit unsure of what to do with herself on stage, but that may be partially due to what stage direction she has or hasn’t been given. Pratt is definitely a talent to keep your eye on. This production is also a star vehicle for talented mezzo Daniela Barcellona in the trousers role of Ottone, but, truth be told, she looks rather ungainly dressed as a heroic warrior, and her singing is not quite up to her usual standards. Barcellona still provides a rich mezzo mid-range but seems rather edgy in her high notes and more uncomfortable with Rossini’s fierce demands on the singer than in the Handel role where I saw her last. The two men, tenor Bogdan Mihai as the son, Adelberto, and bass-baritone Nicola Ulivieri as the father both bring fine voices to bear and are more than adequate in their roles, but the tenor tends to smudge and glide through the fioratura and the bass-baritone to simplify it. Both techniques, of course, have been the modus operandi of many other singers, but it is not what you expect from Pesaro. Conductor Dmitri Jurowski and the Bologna orchestra make as much of the lively Rossini score as possible, and sensitively support the singers. Sound is first-rate in both stereo and multichannel formats and the Blu-ray picture is predictably very sharp.
Despite some of my misgivings about staging and singing, this 2011 Pesaro production is still a pretty good representation of the opera. It is always a bit frustrating when you know some things could have been better, but then, it is what it is, and bel canto fans should be grateful to Pesaro and the dedicated Rossini Fest staff that we now have this rarity in stunning Blu-ray format at all. Recommended.
FANFARE: Bill White