Rossini Opera Festival 2023 Review: Adelaide di Borgogna

Lombardi Steps In At Last Minute And Steps Up To The Mark

By Alan Neilson
(Photo: Amati Bacciardi)

As the orchestra begins the overture of Rossini’s 1817 opera “Adelaide di Borgogna,” the curtain rises to reveal a busy stage with the stagehands running about, moving scenery and props. The singers are scattered about the stage. Some are preparing themselves for a rehearsal, while others are getting a drink from the vending machine or chatting among themselves. Some are costumed, a few have yet to change. The tenor in the starring role of Adelberto is amusing himself with a young female singer, only to be caught by his girlfriend or maybe it is his wife, who also happens to be the lead soprano, cast in the role of Adelaide.

She, of course, is not at all happy and, after a furious row, storms off.

Bernard Blends The Onstage And Offstage To Create A Reading With A Twist

The idea of staging an opera as a rehearsal is nothing new and has been tried on many occasions, often successfully so. Usually, the rehearsal develops over the course of the evening and by the final act, it has morphed into a fully costumed, finished performance. This production for the Rossini Opera Festival, directed by Arnaud Bernard, followed the same pattern.

It did, however, prove to be particularly suitable for this type of reading. Bernard developed a drama outside of the “Adelaide di Borgogna” narrative in which the cast had their own stories, which became interwoven with the opera itself. The characters and the singers started to interact so that their ‘offstage’ emotions, frustrations and issues began to inform their performances ‘onstage.’

In the introduction, for example, Adelaide is raging at Adelberto and Berengario, whose army has invaded her castle. They demand she marry Adelberto, the tenor, with whom she is already angry “offstage.” Her anger takes on a genuine tone, and the tenor almost cowers in front of her. At the end of the scene, she storms off the semi-readied set, her rage unrequited. To reinforce the effect, at other times the soprano produced a deliberately superficial reading while in character by exaggerating her gestures. In fact, Bernard occasionally introduced a little humor into the production by playing up the comparisons between the ‘onstage’ and ‘offstage’ characters.

As in most rehearsals, the cast would watch on as other singers went through their parts, and Bernard used this to create further “offstage” problems. During the love duet between Adelaide and Ottone, for instance, the tenor, who was watching from the side, became increasingly jealous as the “onstage” romance seemed to be becoming uncomfortably realistic.

It was also the case that arias could be interpreted as being sung by the singer, or by their character, or by both simultaneously. The aria “Occhio miei, piangeste assai,” for example, in which Adelaide sings of the new ray of happiness on the horizon, could apply to both the singer and her character.

The scenographer, Alessandro Camera, created a cluttered staging in which dressing rooms, toilets, vending machines, chairs, desks and everything else one finds during rehearsals were piled onto the stage. Scenery dropped down and props were introduced with increasing regularity, which was initially fairly basic, but took on greater solidity as the opera progressed. It was all a bit untidy, but that is the nature of a theatre during rehearsals. Maria Carla Ricotti’s costume designs were a mixture of casual everyday clothes, which were worn by the cast before they changed for the rehearsal, and mediaeval-inspired dresses for the actual performance. This mixture of styles added to the haphazard nature of the scenes as modern and mediaeval costumes were mixed together, but as with the scenery, as the opera progressed, it became more coordinated and unified.

It was the final scene, however, that really brought Bernard’s presentation together for what was a visually spectacular and imaginative climax and that set it apart from the standard productions of this type. The scene was set in a spectacular church in which everything was colored in a golden light. The bishop, the soldiers and the maidens all watched on as Ottone publicly offered Adelaide the return of her crown and declared his love. As the chorus sang out its praises, the happy couple stepped out of their characters, the scenery disappeared and they ran off together as Adelberto/the tenor was left to curse the gods.

Peretyatko’s Standout Performance

In effect, the cast members were all required to play two roles: one as the singer and the other as the singer in character. This applied to all the singers, including the members of the chorus, but the emphasis for the principal singers was on how their “offstage” relationships informed their characters and, to a lesser extent, vice versa. Generally, this was successfully, if somewhat basically, portrayed.

Soprano Olga Peretyatko, however, seemed to enjoy the challenge and engaged with the idea to a far greater degree than the other singers. As the “offstage” singer, she raged at the tenor and was attracted by the attentions of the mezzo-soprano who was playing the role of Ottone, but while “onstage,” she played the role as the typical prima donna, or at least she did so at the beginning. As the opera progressed, however, her “onstage” characterization of Adelaide became deeper and more forcefully projected, and the prima donna façade dissolved as her animosity towards the tenor grew, making her anger towards Adelberto more believable. Likewise, as her feelings for the mezzo-soprano increased, her relationship with Ottone intensified.

It was an excellent portrait incorporating emotional extremes that moved from fiery confrontations to deep declarations of love, founded upon her fabulous singing technique. Peretyatko possesses a secure, versatile voice with a beautiful tone, which she is able to imbue with emotional strength. Her duets with both Ottone and Adelberto were splendidly rendered; the former were characterized by outpourings of hope and love, the latter by anger, defiance and rage.

Her Act two scena, in which she sends Ottone to battle and includes the aria “Cingi la candida a benda,” showed off her vocal brilliance and the emotional power she is able to bring to her singing as she unleashed her spectacular coloratura, produced impressive leaps and embellishments, and danced across her upper register, ringing out her top notes with a crystal clarity, while underpinning it with interpretative honesty. It was not a performance of empty showmanship.

Tenor René Barbera produced a strong singing performance as Adelberto, in which his natural lyricism captured the attention of the audience. Although his acting, at times, lacked a little spontaneity, it was adequate, and his occasional additions of light comedy successfully broadened his portrait of the tenor, who always seemed to be distracted and only made it just in time for his musical cues. He held his own alongside Peretyatko in the duets, showing off his attractive tenor to good effect, but it was the aria “Grida, o natura, e desta,” in which he is forced to choose between Adelaide and his father, that really impressed. Singing with confidence, he opened up the voice for an expansive rendition that moved easily over the range and showed off his beautiful, secure upper register that lost nothing in quality as he pushed further upwards. Embellishments were sensitively and easily incorporated into the vocal line, and his vocal strength was nicely illustrated as he effortlessly soared above the chorus.

Although Ottone is a trouser role, mezzo-soprano Varduhi Abrahamyan convinced as a male as she strode confidently about the stage with a manly swagger. She sensitively and assuredly transposed the attentive and caring manner of the “offstage” singer towards the soprano into a full expression of his love as the “onstage” Ottone. Throughout the performance, she successfully used the rich, dark tones of her palette to fashion her feelings in what was an emotionally strong performance, one that complemented Peretyatko nicely. She was strong in the ensemble numbers, and her recitatives displayed nuance and energy. Arias were pleasingly rendered. She sang the finale, which Ottone largely dominates, with a regal flourish before the lovers ran off the set, taking their love off the stage and into the real world.

Bass Riccardo Fassi created a strong impression as the unpleasant and vicious Berengario. Not only did his voice have the necessary dark coloring and malevolent curl, but he also looked the part with his authoritative, confident manner and strong gestures. His recitatives, which he imbued with the necessary sense of malice, were neatly crafted and very effective. His opening aria, “Se protegge amica sorte,” captured his cold, calculating, forceful nature as he looks forward to reeking vengeance on Adelaide.

The three minor roles were all well-parted. Paola Leoci gave an impressive performance as Eurice, in which her bright, clear-toned, elegant soprano proved to be very attractive.

Tenor Valery Makarov, cast as Iroldo, displayed a resonant, colorful voice that he used intelligently to successfully define his character.

Tenor Antonio Mandrillo produced a solid performance as Ernesto with a clearly articulated, secure and well-presented reading.

Lombardi Seizes The Moment

The performance was to be conducted by Francesco Lanzillotta, but unfortunately, owing to a road traffic accident, he was indisposed. It was left to Enrico Lombardi, the assistant conductor, to step in at the last minute, and a fine job he did too. His directions to the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale Della RAI were clear and confident, and he kept a careful eye on the stage. The performance was bright and rhythmically energetic. Orchestral textures were beautifully revealed, and his ability to allow individual voices to emerge sensitively from the overall sound was impressive. The balance both within the orchestra and between the stage and the pit were sensitively managed. At the end of the evening, the audience and the cast gave Lombardi a well-deserved ovation.

The Coro del Teatro Ventidio Basso, under the direction of Giovanni Farina, acted out its role enthusiastically and sang with energy and sensitivity.

Maybe this was not the most imaginative production at this year’s festival, but it was well-presented and kept the audience entertained. On the musical side, the singing was strong throughout, with Peretyatko producing the standout performance. Lombardi can also feel very pleased with his confident, professional and effective leadership as the last-minute stand-in conductor.


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