Review Roundup: Opera Orchestra of New York’s William Tell

Opera Orchestra of New York Opens 2005-05 Season with William Tell
“The Opera Orchestra of New York opens its 35th season at Carnegie Hall tonight with a concert production of Rossini’s William Tell starring Marcelo Giordani.”

Guillaume Tell (Sieglinde’s Diaries)
The night before, I decided I wasn’t going to the OONY Guillaume Tell. I’m tired. I’m poor.

Forty-five minutes to curtain, I get a three text messages: (1) “Zaza is here she needs a ticket”; (2) “Scotto is n da lobby”; and (3) “Everyone here you crazy”

Giordani Gleams In Thrilling “William Tell” Under Queler
“After a long, strenuous evening, in which Mr Giordani proved himself both an heroic and sensitive Arnold, sometimes scaling the voice back to an intimate piano, he tackled his last act aria and cabaletta with passion and great magnetism. The long, legato lines of the aria were handsomely sung and the cabaletta, with men’s chorus (a call to arms), with its high Cs picked out of the air and final, long-held C were met with such thunderous applause that Mr Giordani repeated the cabaletta to roaring approval. I dare say New York has heard nothing like it since Pavarotti first dazed the Met in Donizetti’s “La fille du regiment,” 35 years ago.”
(Classics Today; thanks, Siobhan O’Leary!)

That Rossini Could Swash Buckles With the Best of Them
Published: November 15, 2005
At 11:25 on Sunday night, there was still one scene to go in Eve Queler’s concert performance of Rossini’s seldom-heard “William Tell” with her Opera Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall. You might have expected the audience to be restless, as the performance approached the four-hour mark. But after the Italian tenor Marcello Giordani, singing the treacherous role of the tormented Swiss patriot Arnold, gave a fearless account of the cabaletta “Amis, amis, secondez ma vengeance,” his rallying cry to vanquish the Austrian occupiers of 13th-century Switzerland, soaring over the orchestra with clarion top notes and thrilling high C’s, the audience threatened to stop the show with a frenzied ovation. So with a nod from Ms. Queler, Mr. Giordani sang the aria again.

“William Tell,” performed here in its original French version (“Guillaume Tell”), was the final opera by Rossini, first performed at the Paris Opera in 1829, when he was just 37 and about to begin a long and lazy retirement. Finding a tenor to sing Arnold is only one hurdle in producing this work, though the role is, if anything, longer and certainly showier than the title role for baritone. Ms. Queler’s Tell was Marco Chingari, who sang with robust sound and dignity but was overshadowed by Mr. Giordani, in virile voice all evening. Passing moments of patchy legato and grainy sound hardly mattered in Mr. Giordani’s portrayal of a role that suits him ideally.
There are other reasons for the neglect of “William Tell,” which has not been at the Met since 1931. As written, the opera is ineffectively long. Rossini admitted as much by acquiescing when various productions took sizable cuts. Ms. Queler took some, too, though she proudly included an elaborate aria for Jemmy, Tell’s son, which she discovered in 1971 in the library of the Paris Opera.

Rossini had cut the aria before the premiere. Ms. Queler hand-copied the music and performed it in New York when the Opera Orchestra first presented “William Tell,” in 1972. It was sung here beautifully by the soprano Ellie Dehn.

But Rossini’s score is filled with sweeping ensembles, opulent arias and a beguiling mix of the heroic and the hokey. In its swashbuckling style, it anticipates Errol Flynn adventure films.

The soprano Angela Maria Blasi brought a rich voice and lyrical intensity to the role of Mathilde, an Austrian princess Arnold secretly loves. The supporting roles were ably sung by an appealing cast, including the tenor Paul Mow, the bass Malcolm Smith, the mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson, the tenor Stephen Costello and the baritone Christopher Burchett.

Ms. Queler drew an involving performance from the orchestra and the New York Choral Society, though there were forgivable shaky moments and stretches of inert dramatic recitative. Smiles of recognition broke out all over Carnegie Hall during the final section of the 12-minute overture, immortalized as the theme music for “The Lone Ranger.” How popular culture has changed. What television producer today would dare to propose a Rossini overture as theme music for a popular television western?
(New York Times, 11/15/05; thanks, Ellen Sleeter, Gary Press and Peter Gourevitch!)

Not Just a Famous Overture
By FRED KIRSHNIT November 15, 2005 For a moment I wondered whether to take my blanket and pillow to Carnegie Hall on Sunday evening for the Opera Orchestra of New York presentation of a concert version of “William Tell” by Gioacchino Rossini. “Tell” can be a long go, as versions exist in three, four, and five acts, at the corresponding number of hours. Like Verdi’s “Don Carlo” and Berlioz’s “Les Troyens,” “Tell” was written – in French – to the specifications of the Paris Opera. It thus includes a ballet placed approximately in the middle of the evening, meant to increase its entertainment value (Wagner even included castanets in his Paris “Tannhauser”). New York legend Eve Queler dealt with this prodigious length by making several adroit cuts in the score. This was a reading with no sets or costumes, so the ballet would have been out of place and unstageable (the orchestra took up almost all of the valuable real estate). Ms. Queler also jettisoned the extensive recitative, a judicious excision but one that created some jarring of sensibilities when radical key changes were left exposed. She did, however, manage to get us out of there in less than four hours. It would have been even quicker had not Ms. Queler insisted on such a high quality of performance; several long ovations interrupted the flow of the evening. The opera is unique in that love of country triumphs over love between man and woman – it is the anti-“Romeo and Juliet.” The famous overture is really the archetype of the Lisztian symphonic poem, with no fewer than three distinct sections – the storm, the dawn, and the gallop – well known even in the world beyond our classical borders, although perhaps not always identified as part of a Rossini opera. For better or worse, a performance of this multifaceted tapestry is significantly colored by the realization of its overture. Here the orchestra sounded especially pleasing, although the conductor seemed to be going for a version devoid of dramatic effect. The excellent brass, a motive for the entire night, was kept too quiet for my taste. Considering what a solid night the horn section had, including spectral calls from the Carnegie rafters during the ranz des vaches, it was frustrating to hear it so muffled for the overture. Additionally, tempos were oddly homogenous, mirroring the performance as a whole. But you could argue that the beauty of the work was emphasized over its tension. Vocally, the memorable, and extremely difficult, role is not baritone William Tell at all but rather the tenor Arnold. Not only is there a lot to do, but two famous notes define the parameters of the part. The phrase “Trompons l’esperance homicide, arrachons,” which ends on a sustained high C, was a specialty of Paris tenor Gilbert-Louis Duprez, although Rossini described his intonation as “like the squawk of a capon whose throat is being cut.” In the duet “Oui, vous l’arrachez a mon ame,” there is a passing note even a half-step higher, a moment that Duprez simply omitted from his performance. Marcello Giordani starred as Arnold and did not disappoint. He adopted a very French style of singing, employing a nasal voce di testa throughout his performance. This allowed him to hit his interspersed high notes on a regular basis without resorting to falsetto, but limited his vocal characterization to a monochromatic, unvarying sense of color. Marco Chingari was an able Tell, but suffered somewhat from audibility problems when the orchestra played loudly. This is always a concern during a concert version, as the instrumentalists are directly in back of the singers rather than in a pit. Sometimes Mr. Chingari simply seemed overmatched, but bass Philip Cokorinos was excellent as Walter. The best voice of the night belonged to veteran basso Malcolm Smith as Arnold’s father, Melchtal. Others were less polished and attractive, including the rather pedestrian Mathilde of Angela Maria Blasi, who simply never moved me. Heather Johnson as Hedwige was shrill in spots, but Ellie Dehn was sweet in the trouser role of the son Jemmy (you know, the apple on the head and all). But the shining light of the evening was, as usual, Ms. Queler herself. New York is so fortunate to have three major conductors, the others being Vincent La Selva and Leon Botstein, who tirelessly unearth great gems that are hardly ever performed any longer. Maestra Queler has been excelling at this musical archaeology for so long that some of her discoveries have entered the standard repertoire at the Metropolitan, for example the Czech-language version of Jenufa. I still cherish her recording from the early 1970s of Massenet’s “Le Cid” with a young Placido Domingo and the great Grace Bumbry. One more question about “William Tell.” Since all of the bad guys are Austrian, is it ever performed at the Vienna Opera? (New York Sun)

Opera Orchestra of New York: Guillaume Tell By Bruce-Michael Gelbert The evening’s singing began in style with tenor Stephen Costello’s fisherman’s air, “Accours dans ma nacelle,” in which he was able to field his own estimable high C. Veteran bass Malcolm Smith, who sang in OONY’s second performance at Carnegie, Meyerbeer’s “L’ Africana,” in April 1972, proved, as Melcthal, Arnold’s father, who appears only in Act One, that his voice remains an instrument to reckon with. Bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi made a sonorous villain, Gesler. The New York Choral Society made its mark in, among other numbers, “Jurons, jurons pars nos dangers,” the Swiss patriots’ call for vengeance and uprising against their Austrian oppressors, which ends Act Two.” ( Thanks to Tim Gilles.

(Thanks to Peter Gourevitch and Marty Finkelman).

Wearysome & Wondrous WILLIAM TELL (OONY)
Last night, Eve Queler & Opera Orch. of New York offered up Rossini’s WILLIAM TELL in French. It was a bit too long, and yes, at times, dreary. A cut of the ballet music in Act I would have been welcome, and even more snips elsewhere would have ended the evening earlier than the very late 1140 PM. Past that, many treats were in store from the wonderful choral work of the New York Choral Society from the onset to the finale.

Tenors, as they often will be in Rossini, were in command last night. From young STEPHEN COSTELLO with his ringing FIsherman’s aria (catch him soon as Rodolfo in Ft. Worth!) to Gesler’s henchman Rodolphe, ably sung by PAUL MOW; I only wish he had gotten an aria to show off!

But, the star of the evening was MARCELLO GIORDANI as Arnold, who shined from his opening duet with William Tell receiving massive applause to the amazing final “Asile hereditaire” Act IV with its treacherous high notes in the cabaletta all so effortless and perfectly sung. Even more amazing, was that we got an ENCORE of the cabaletta, sung equally as well the second time around!

This recalled great memories of a multi-encored William Tell 21 years ago with Ms, Queler at the helm. The “aux armes” repeated finale is even more amazing than Verdi’s “all’armi” Trovatore’s “Di quellapira.”

Act II brought on the beautiful ANGELA MARIA BLASI as Mathilde in what seemed to me an over- vibrato “Sombre foret.” She did seem to warm up in Act III and finished off the show quite well. Perhaps, it was nerves.

A second soprano star was the Jemmy of ELLIE DEHN, who got to sing the aria discovered by Ms. Queler years ago in Paris. It was a treat of apiece, “Ah que ton ame” sung as Tell is about to shoot the apple off his son’s head, but has an oddly abrupt ending; Ms. Dehn shone, but also excelled in the many ensembles she shared with the others.

PATRICK CARFIZZI, as Gessler, got some nice music to show off his big booming bass voice with. Hard to believe he was singing the Innkeeper in Manon at the Met last month, talking about luxury casting.

The rest of the cast did superbly, and despite the dragginess at times, it was well worth the effort:
Hedwige-Heather Johnson
Melcthal-Malcolm Smith
Leuthold-Christopher Burchett
Furst-Philip Cokorinos

Washington, DC

“Guillaume Tell” at Carnegie Hall last night
I felt that more information was needed on this list concerning a very important operatic event that occurred last night. As far as I know, this is the first time in New York City that Rossini’s seminal opera “Guillaume Tell” was performed in its original language and in a critical edition and with minimal cuts. The last time the Met did it was in the 1920’s with Ponselle and Martinelli and the last two times OONY performed it (with Quilico and Jerome Lo Monico in 1971 and with Franco Bonisolli and Cappuccilli in 1984) it was in Italian in a cut and poorly translated edition. The Calisto Bassi text for “Guiglielmo Tell” is rife with political and religious censorship, alters the recitatives and misrepresents the structure and prosody of the original. Philip Gossett threatened Riccardo Muti that he would withdraw the rights to use the critical edition of the score if Muti performed the Bassi translation at La Scala. Muti was obliged to use a new more accurate Italian translation for the La Scala production with Studer, Zancanaro and Merritt.

This was in French and the evening lasted from 8 p.m. to about 11:35 p.m.There were cuts in dance music and choral repeats but the soloists’ music was complete and they added Jemmy’s aria. This was a huge success for OONY – right up there with “Huguenots”. Eve Queler really covered herself with glory up there (she can either be great or incompetent)- the conducting was firm and coherent and the soloists ranged from unbelievably superb to decent. It was a really impressive evening that revealed a seminal, crucial operatic masterpiece that changed the course of 19th century European opera in all its glory with no compromises or distortions. I was not bored but I agree that the work varies in musical inspiration and the structure can be unwieldy in places. I also agree that each act has peaks of musical and dramatic inspiration. The story is powerful and supports the grandeur of the setting.

The night belonged to Marcello Giordani who seems to be in touch with greatness each time he steps foot on the Carnegie Hall stage with Queler. Excellent French pronunciation, clean tone, free and easy tops with dynamic variety and heroic swagger. He was just glorious. The ovations after “Asile Hereditaire” (sung in an anguished piano) and “O mes amis, secondez mon vengeance” were roof-rocking. Queler just sat down after the cabaletta (finished with two Corelli-like high C’s) and let Giordani take the bravos alone. Then they nodded to each other, talked a bit, Queler talked to the concertmaster and they ENCORED THE LAST VERSE OF THE CABALETTA!!! Another two mammoth held high C’s – even longer than the first time – he outdid himself! I was laughing while I screamed BRAVO!!

Marco Chingari has a nice dark, juicy baritone. The part is actually bass-baritone and it lay low for him. His French was mediocre. He had lots of vocal presence.

The audience loved the lyric coloratura rendition of Mathilde by Angela Maria Blasi(the Italian tradition prefers a spinto e.g. Tebaldi, Cerquetti et al but it was also one of Cornelie Falcon’s role who followed the creator Mme. Cinti-Damoreau). Blasi was vocally light but she sang skillfully all the restored cadenzas in her arias that are always dropped and were put in by Rossini to show off the leggiero skills of Laure Cinti- Damoreau, the original Mathilde. She came off as a little small-scale (especially next to the ringing tones of Giordani) but vocally succulent with lovely French, lushly limpid tone and clean scale work. She was also rather vulnerable and touching. They kept the little scene with her and Giordani with her aria where she learns that Gessler murdered Arnold’s father Melcthal.

Others who stood out were soprano Ellie Dehn as Jemmy who had firm top notes and clean scales (big hand after the aria) and Malcolm King (a blast from the past) showed a large black bass as old Melcthal in the first act. Philip Cokorinos was a little woolly as Walter but the rest were fine. Special kudos to young Stephen Costello the tenor who sang the opening of Act I fisherman’s serenade with floating high C’s and stylish phrasing. Solid support by Patrick Carfizzi as Gessler and Heather Johnson as Hedwige who were a little youthful and light-toned for their villainous and motherly (respectively) assignments.

Great evening and the audience knew it.
Gualtier Malde
(Gualtier also wrote: “I also was impressed with the choral contribution – the NYCS not only had good vocal quality and ensemble but seemed to have worked hard on their French pronunciation. You could make out a lot of the words because the diction was clear. “)

“Guillaume Tell” at Carnegie Hall last night
I was there, and I felt that it was easily one of the best performances I have ever attended. Marcello Giordani was possessed. One monster high C after another. The cabaletta to Arnold’s big aria “asile hereditaire” is one of the most intense and difficult pieces of music ever written for a tenor. Much harder than “di quella pira” even though it directly influenced the latter, Giordani, who was already having a fantastic night, handled the aria itself with aplomb (his face turning very red at the high C#), and received the first of his well-deserved loud ovations. Then came the cabaletta, and here Giordani was really pumped, walking about the stage vigorously, as if he really was delivering a call to arms. Unfortunately, somewhere in the middle of that drama, somebody lost the place in the score and Giordani rushed back and was anxiously flipping through his. For the remainder of the cabaletta, and orchestra and chorus were several beats apart, and the tenor jumped back and forth between the two. However, that did not stop him from belting those monster high notes. And, needless to say, this brought the audience to its feet cheering as if this was a rock concert (albeit just one person who was booing, understandably why so.) At this point, it became quite obvious that were going to get an encore of the cabaletta, even though the look on Giordani’s face was of disbelief that he just pulled that off. The second time, the cabaletta was performed flawlessly by all parties, and the tenor capped it off with an even longer final high C, alla Nicolai Gedda. Now, this brought the audience to its feet even faster. We all got the sense that something historic had just happened in front of us. I found it hard to sit back down, and listen to the rest of the performance, which was still had 20 more minutes of great music left. Marcello Giordani does in fact sound a bit like Gedda, only more Mediterranean phrasing. His French was superb. After that night, there is no doubt in my mind that Marcello Giordani is today’s best active tenor in the Italian and French repertory.

Of course, I was seated four rows from the stage, so I remember all of this in vivid detail. Aside from Giordani’s excellence, Marco Chingari in the title role was a little bland IMO. This role was a bit low for him, so that took away much of his presence. But, when he got a high note every now and then, it was clear that he has an excellent top to his voice. Nevertheless, he delivered a very impressive “sios immobile.” Also, it appeared that he was uncomfortable with the language. In fact, I notice that Tell’s music sounds better in Italian, it looses bite and authority in French (however Arnold’s music does sound better in French over Italian.) Queler kept all of the musical numbers, but cut a lot of the recitatives, so some felt that Tell’s role seemed shorter, since so much of his part is in the recitatives. (My favorite Tell is Georgio Zancanaro in the la Scala video, and I was surprised that so many did not care for him in this role.)

I felt that Angela Maria Blasi was excellent as Mathilde, the equal Caballe or Freni on the recordings. The soprano who sang Jemmy was flawless. The rare aria that Queler discovered is quite beautiful, but the problem with is it is in an odd place dramatically, and it cuts in on the spotlight of “sois immobile” which is the real highlight of the third act. Veteran bassos Malcolm Smith and Philip Cokorinos as old Melchthal and Walter Furst respectively brought lots of volume and made great contributions. But, Patrick Carfizzi was not imposing enough to portray the villain Gessler. Young tenor Stephen Costello sang the fisherman’s difficult music with
ringing tone and easy high notes. The rest of the roles were well done.

Queler was having a good night on the podium, and for the majority of the time, the OONY players sounded like a first class orchestra. The heavily populated New York Choral Society sounded equally first-class. The mighty overture sounded great in Queler’s hands, but the last movement was a tad slower than usual. The cuts in the recitatives were alright, but too much was taken out of the beautiful ballet music. Personally, I don’t think any music should have been cut. If we can sit through 6 hours of “Gotterdammerung” than we can sure sit though 4 hours of “William Tell.” I highly disagree with anyone claiming that drama is boring. All you need to change your mind is a good stage production, like the one that was just revived in Vienna. Tell is definitely one of my favorite operas, and I am very glad that I was able to be at this rare and historic live performance.

Alex Nathanson (“Thank you for the most excellent performance on Sunday night. Your chorus did fantastic work all night long.”)

When Elaborate Productions Lack
A pair of operas in concert demonstrated that elaborate production values are no match for the one-two combination of superstar singer and suitable vehicle….La Millo made an appearance the following night at Opera Orchestra of New York’s “Guilliame Tell,” cheering on tenor Marcello Giordani’s portrayal of the hero Arnold.

Guillaume Tell (Sieglinde’s Diaries)
The night before, I decided I wasn’t going to the OONY Guillaume Tell. I’m tired. I’m poor.

Forty-five minutes to curtain, I get a three text messages: (1) “Zaza is here she needs a ticket”; (2) “Scotto is n da lobby”; and (3) “Everyone here you crazy”. I cave in….But here are Renata Scotto (left) and Aprile Millo, seated in the center box, first tier, chatting about Marcello Giordani during the second intermission.

My hero. (Night After Night)
Giordani did it for me again in the Opera Orchestra of New York’s William… er, sorry, Guillaume Tell at Carnegie Hall tonight. The voice was spot on, secure and ringing even — especially! — from my odd perspective at fifth row, center. His pièce de résistance, of course, was the one-two punch of “Asile héréditaire” and “Amis, amis, secondez ma vengeance.”

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