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Stendhal loved it. Some see it as Rossini’s first great work but The Touchstone (1812) is more a harbinger of greater things to come than an accomplished work. Like Cenerentola it presents two bad girls vying with a goodie, here the disinterested Clarice, and both operas get their business done in the first act, leaving the second as an epilogue. Played straight it would take the best singers around to keep our attention. The advantage of this joint venture staging by Giorgio Barberio Corsetti and Pierrick Sorin, shared with Parma where it was unveiled in December, is that their virtuoso video work papers over the cracks.
Corsetti, who seems stylistically rooted in the 1950s, displays Technicolor costumes in interiors inspired by Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle. Sorin uses small closed-circuit video cameras to project the cast on to screens containing various decors beamed up from models at the side of the stage.
It is endlessly inventive, plugged into contemporary zapping culture and side-splittingly funny. The drawback is that the audience has to take in three different levels – if you count the surtitles – and the gags set off gales of laughter that cover some rather fine ensemble singing. But it demonstrates the power of video in theatre when it is used interactively with a cast rather than as an inert backdrop.
Parma got Michele Pertusi as Count Asdrubale, the man the girls are after. Paris is lumbered with François Lis, a fine actor but a tuneless, rasping bass who makes mincemeat of bel canto line. Sonia Prina easily compensates – she plays Clarice as a more mature version of Despina with Mireille Mathieu hair, and rattles off the coloratura with startling accuracy. José Manuel Zapata’s loveable Giocondo is an excellent, full bodied Rossini tenor and Christian Senn sings beautifully as the sweetly deluded Pacuvio.
Jean-Christophe Spinosi, conducting his Ensemble Matheus, is alert, precise but arguably too spick and span. But I liked the joke off-key portamenti in the overture from strings and wind.
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