Frank and I saw a new production of Rossini's *Guillaume Tell* at the Met on 11/2. It's the last opera Rossini wrote - - he was the most famous and successful opera composer in the world, he had recently moved to Paris and was a big hit there. He was only 38 and lived until he was 76, and no one really knows why he stopped writing opera.
The director was Pierre Audi. The production was a little odd, but it didn't get in the way. Some arresting and/or pretty images, some inventive ideas, and best of all, he told the story in a coherent and engaging way. That's about all you can ask for. My favorite moment was in the third act. You can probably guess that the opera is about William Tell shooting an apple off of his son's head, and Schiller (the German playwright who wrote the play the opera is based on) built a story around that event, about the native Swiss being oppressed and rebelling against the controlling Austrians. There's a ballet in the third act, and Audi staged it as the Swiss chorus being forced to dance by the evil Austrians. I'm not sure everyone in the chorus appreciated the opportunity to shimmy on the stage of the Met, but I sure enjoyed watching it.
Tell was played by baritone Gerald Finley, gorgeous singing from start to finish. Such a lovely voice and a supreme musician, gorgeous feeling for the French. He sang a lot all night, but I was a little worried that the soprano and tenor were walking away with the show because they were get more stand-alone solo opportunities. And hey, he's the title character, what gives? But then Rossini gave him a glorious aria in the third act, and all was well. Finley is the real deal.
Marina Rebekah was the bad girl turned good. My friend Michael heard her in *Don Giovanni* a few years ago and raved about her, so I was looking forward to hearing her. I liked her a lot - - her voice has an interesting balance of delicacy and muscle. Her second act aria was the one bit of music (besides *The Long Ranger* theme) that I knew, and she sang it beautifully, with classic bel canto line.
I talked with Michael about the opera a few days after I saw it and he asked me, "If it's so brilliant, then why isn't it done more often?" The problem is the tenor role. It's like Tristan: lots of big singing all night long, big demands on the voice, and then you end the night with a huge long punishing scene. That's a lot to ask. The Met had up-and-coming tenor Bryan Hymel for all of the performances but one, and John Osborn for that one performance in the middle. Frank checked out both these guys on youtube and decided that it was Osborn we should hear, he has the more authentic Rossini sound. And he was fantastic! He really knows how to manage his voice, knows when to hang back and when to pour it on. He has great skill singing high and light, he's asked to do a lot of that, especially in the duet with the soprano. He had one shaky moment, on literally the LAST NOTE of his show-stopping final aria - - he hit the high C and it seemed like the might lose his grip. He was hanging ten, standing on the edge of the precipice, gazing down into the abyss, but bless his heart, he kept it together. (Please note that my "hanging ten", "edge of precipice" description is only a metaphor - - he wasn't actually on a surfboard at the edge of a cliff.)
I have to give a quick mention to conductor Fabio Luisi and the Met orchestra. They are the greatest, and he is as good as it gets. I've heard him conduct a lot, everything from Rossini to Berg, and he is supreme.
Back to the issue of why did Rossini quit opera - - I think maybe he thought he couldn't do any better than *G Tell*! It's a masterpiece. Every aspect of the opera was expertly crafted: the overall plan, the orchestration, the writing for the voice (which doesn't get any better), the sense of drama, the sensitivity to the text, and so much just plain beautiful music! The ending was the highlight: the Swiss have conquered the Austrians, and the chorus and Swiss leading characters are onstage singing about how now everything is going to be great. Rossini wrote a harmonic progression that's surprising and hypnotic, ecstatic and serene. The solo vocal lines are chant-like, magnifying the sense of holiness. It was ravishingly beautiful.