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Subject: MATILDE DI SHABRAN Royal Opera, London 23 October 2008
From: Rob Gonzales <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Rob Gonzales <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 23 Oct 2008 19:22:58 -0400
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MATILDE DI SHABRAN
Royal Opera House - Covent Garden, London UK
23 October 2008

Conductor ..... Carlo Rizzi
Producer ....... Mario Martone
Sets ............... Sergio Tramonti
Costumes .....  Ursula Patzak
Lighting .........  Pasquale Mari

Matilde ....................  Aleksandra Kurzak
Corradino ...............  Juan Diego Flórez
Raimondo ..............  Mark Beesley
Eduardo .................  Vesselina Kasarova
Aliprando ..............   Marco Vinco
Isidoro ...................  Alfonso Antonizzi
Contessa d'Arco ...  Enkeledja Shkosa
Ginardo ..................  Carlo Lepore
Egoldo ...................  Robert Anthony Gardiner
Rodrigo ..................  Bryan Secombe

Arriving in Pesaro in August 1996, I was taken 
aback when I was told by a friend in the 
production team about Bruce Ford's sudden 
withdraw from the lead male role. But I was 
assured that the replacement, a 23-year old 
chorister promoted to the role of Corradino, was 
something special; "you're in for a treat - and 
someday you may be able to say that you were 
there at the birth of a star" I was assured.

Talk about understatement - audience members 
knew, from Juan Diego Flórez 's opening notes, 
that we were in the presence of something very 
special indeed. Equally important, especially for 
Rossinians, was the restoration of a work that 
had received only one major production in the 
20th century (a truncated 1974 production in 
Genoa). While there were reasons why the work may 
have languished in obscurity (its 2 hour, 10 
minute long first act, for one, the 
hard-to-classify semiseria aspect, another), its 
best musical values rank among Rossini's best.

The Royal Opera tonight presented the 2004 
production from Pesaro (which I did not see but 
which I heard live on the RAI-3 webstream). The 
production, which was completely different from 
the 1996 Pier'Alli production, was designed for 
the intimate Teatro Rossini stage and therefore 
is much more congenial than 
Pier'Alli's  monumental sets for the Palafestival 
(a converted basketball gymnasium).

Mario Martone's production was "traditional" in 
the best way - the character relationships were 
clearly drawn, and the essentially-unit set 
(dominated by a pair of inter-twined spiral 
staircases, deftly placed the action in 
Corradino's castle (without massive walls that 
eat up voices, a fault of Pesaro '96).

The costuming was extremely well done, evocative 
of the story without unneeded frou-frou, and the 
lighting deftly shifted from brightness during 
the omedic ensembles to near-chiaroscuro for the 
more introspective moments (as when Corradino thinks that Matilde is dead),

But this semiseria (or melodramma giocosa, as the 
program states) lives and breathes according to 
the musical values, and with one rather glaring 
exception, everyone delivered the goods (and then some)!

As promising as Juan Diego Flórez was in 1996, 
tonight the audience was treated to a total 
artist, at the absolute height of his powers. The 
biggest change in the ensuing twelve years, other 
than his overall self-assuredness, is his growth 
as actor. From the 1996 singer concentrating on 
the notes, we now have that stellar vocal work 
being delivered with equal attention to the 
dramatic values. His movements were at once 
graceful and athletic, and when called to perform 
comedic action, he kept on the right side of the 
line, never overdoing that aspect. His runs were 
sterling and clear, his high notes cleanly and 
effortlessly achieved, and his softer singing 
(especially in the second-act duet with Eduardo) 
melting. After the 2003 Pesaro Comte Ory, I 
pronounced JDF to be "God", and I see no reason 
to withdraw that deity-hood from him!

Aleksandra Kurzak delivered the goods as Matilde 
- unlike her uneven Norina in this same house 
(also with JDF), she combined beautifully 
articulated runs with a well-supported power when 
called for, Her voice, more powerful than Annick 
Massis (Pesaro 2004) and far more Rossinian than 
Elizabeth Futral in 1996, had a distinctive 
clarity that served the role well, especially in 
the finale, where some interpolated high notes 
came off solid and unstrained. Her acting was a 
bit more subdued than JDF's, but I think that this in the libretto.

Vesselina Kasarova brought strong stage presence 
to the trouser role Eduardo, portraying 
Corradino's "enemy"  with a natural masculinity 
(aided by a good costume), and with 
easily-supported singing at both ends of the 
scale. She easily outclassed both Hardar Halevy 
(Pesaro 2004) and, to a lesser extent, Patricia 
Spence in 1996, who had the advantage of being 
closer to a true contralto, but who had a stiff 
production that did not help her cause (one of 
the important aspects of the Martone production 
was portraying the nature of the 
Corradino/Eduardo interaction). The only odd 
thing was where she selected to take breaths in 
the second aria - essentially in mid-line.

Alfonso Antonizzi brought a completely different 
concept to the poet Isodoro than did one of my 
favorites, Bruno Pratico (Pesaro 96). I thought 
that his first act introductory aria was a little 
too soft-grained, but after that he came into 
musical focus. His acting was wonderful, like JDF 
never lowering into over-clowning, and 
interacting especially well with the other 
singer-actors on stage. They were quite 
noticeable for someone who knows the music, but 
probably weren't noticed by the general audience 
(from the conversations in the hallway at 
intermission and when leaving, I doubt that very 
many had any exposure to this music before tonight).

Enkeledja Shkosa was a bit of luxury casting, but 
this major Rossinian singer (I've seen her in 
several parts in Pesaro and elsewhere, including 
a radiant Isabella in Palm Beach) delivered the 
goods as she always does. She brought back 
pleasant memories of the 1999 Pesaro 'Viaggio a 
Reims', when she and JDF stole the second act 
with their love duet. Martone made a running joke 
for her, as her lady in waiting carried a bench 
for the Countess to stand on, as she hurled 
invective towards her romantic enemy.

Marco Vinco was another singer who seemed a 
little unfocused in his first aria, but he soon 
came up to the high standards of his fellow 
singers. Carlo Lepore was "on" from his first 
notes, with the most clarion voice of the 
evening. Both articulated the words well, and 
integrated well into Martone's poltting (these 
two characters were near-ciphers in the Pesaro 96 production).

The one downer of the evening (but he by no means 
did major damage) was the conducting of Carlo 
Rizzi, The tempos in the first half of the first 
act were far too fast, and throughout that act 
there was an overall feeling of a lackluster 
Rossinian line (things did improve somewhat in 
the latter part of the performance). He allowed 
the orchestra (especially the over-bright brass) 
to overshadow the ensemble work (again more so in 
the first act), and matters were not helped by 
some dodgy horn playing in Eduardo's second-act 
aria. Rizzi received a few well-deserved 'boos' 
at the curtain call (including mine).

There were some subtle cuts, mostly the second 
repeats of ensemble cabalettas. The first act in 
Pesaro 1996 timed in at 2h12m. With the cuts and 
those aforementioned tempos, the first act lasted 
1h57m. The performance was to have lasted 3h40m, 
and having started at 18:35, was over by 22:05 (3h30m).

Oh, and for those who track these kinds of 
things, we did hear applause at JDF's entrance 
(including some from the Grand Tier, where I was 
sitting). Punters, I suppose..... :)

Rob Gonzales
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida  USA

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