We know Rossini’s Guillaume Tell. American television, The Lone Ranger and “Hi Ho, Silver!” have etched about 15 seconds of the overture into the collective consciousness.
Antonio Pappano and the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia brought us the other four hours of music in Rome, prior to a German tour next week. Even given a knowledge of Rossini’s opera seria, the arrow and the apple, the evening was revelatory.
Rossini wrote his 39th and final opera for Paris. Even though he lived a further four decades, he never wrote again for the stage. On the basis of this concert performance, it was as if he packed all the ideas and skill of his career into one last opera. Where could he have gone from here?
Guillaume Tell, with its four long acts and murderously high tenor role, might be hard to perform, but it is worth the effort. Rossini crafted something modern for the Paris audience, with their taste for spectacle and grandeur. The result is a taut, fast-paced thriller.
Anyone who still believes that the words “Italian orchestra” and “technical precision” do not belong in the same sentence should have heard the performance. The orchestra is fleet and wonderfully together, with crunch, buoyancy, a keen sense of collective phrasing and its own very distinctive sound.
An excellent cast, led by Gerald Finley, on magnificent form in the title role, brought drama and momentum. Pappano made swathes of judicious cuts in Rossini’s score and kept tension high. His singers brought meaning to every phrase, giving us driven, motivated vocal lines. John Osborn sailed through the stratospheric reaches of Arnold’s tenor heights with sweetly lyrical roundness. Malin Byström was a sublimely elegant Matilde.
Guillaume Tell has the dark complexity of late Verdi. A revolutionary opera in more senses than one, it made the censors uncomfortable, and caused them to ban it in Milan, Rome, London and St Petersburg. Today, the problem is not censorship but finance. Italian musicians are rebelling against huge cuts in government spending on the arts, but – on the evidence of this performance – the Accademia Naziolane di Santa Cecilia seems to be doing well. ()