Student Gazzetta

26 Jun

Another opera off the “to do” list in my quest to see all of Rossini’s operas. As soon as I saw that the RCM were doing La Gazzetta, I booked even though the one performance that I was due in London for was the night before an excessively early train. It seemed worth it at the time and I went to the Britten Theatre on 24th June hugely looking forward to an becoming acquainted with the opera.

I don’t think that Rossini was really trying when he wrote this piece. The plot. based on Goldoni, starts with the premise of a self-made millionaire, Don Pomponio, advertising in a newspaper for a husband for his daughter, Lisetta. She is actually in love with Fillipo, the owner of the hotel in which they’re staying. There’s a second father trying to marry of his daughter Doralice to an elderly suiter, but she falls in love with the tenor, Alberto. The opera proceeds with a series of silly disguises and padding to the obvious ending. There are lots of tropes from other comedies here and this is emphasised by the fact that he borrows music from Il turco in Italia for the masked ball, from La pietra del paragone for a mock duel. Much of this is stuff that he did better in other operas and you have the slight sense of a composer dragging together in a hurry a few situations that he’d used before and which could readily be recycled.  He reused the overture in La Cenerentola.

The opera also emphasises, if only by its absence, that, while Rossini did write some of the greatest arias in the repertory, much of his greatest work is in the ensembles, the duets, trios and so forth where voices play against each other, contrast, unite and display the different emotions. These are in relatively short supply here and most of the arias struck me as enjoyable but no more. One of the gems is the duet for Lisetta and Filippo in the second Act as they quarrel and make up. Another is the trio for Lisetta, Don Pomponio and Madama Rosa in that act, as Lisetta tries all that she can do to prevent him taking her away. But otherwise there isn’t a lot of true emotion and this struck me as a rather heartless, inconsequential farce.

That said, it got an enjoyable performance here. Donald Maxwell and Linda Ormiston, directing, have updated the piece to the 1990s with plenty of stylish, colourful costumes and a nicely swaying Paris Opera for the finale to Act I. Sensing the weakness of the piece, they’ve added a nice lot of silliness to help the piece along – in the best tradition of a student performance.  The men’s chorus is a male voice choir (Amici di Verdi di Cwmbran) and they appear in a variety of silly disguises including a camel and a group of vicars and tarts; the Palais Garnier (the opera is set in Paris) sways to the chaos of the Act I finale.  None of these gags had anything much to do with the situation or characters and, while entertaining enough, you sensed a slight desperation.  I couldn’t help wondering if a witty English translation by, say, Jeremy Sams, might not have helped the evening even more.

The music was excellent: there are some very classy young singers here.  At the performance I saw, Filipa van Eck was a really stylish, assured Lisetta who sang her arias with great aplomb.  As Filippo, Luke D Williams sang and acted with wit and intelligence.  I’m not sure that his gritty baritone is necessarily ideal for Rossini but he struck me as someone to watch.  Gyula Rab has an attractive tenor which sounds good in this music and, maybe, needs just an ounce or two more sparkle to be ideal.  He was well up to the acting side.  Hannah Sandison was a lovely Doralice.  As Don Pomponio, Timothy Nelson was pompous and sang nicely without being able to disguise the fact that, really, you need to be an older, experienced comedian to do the role (Donald Maxwell, himself, would have been great).  The chorus sang well but seemed quite self-conscious as actors, albeit enjoying themselves – again, rather like a student performance.

Michael Rosewell conducted splendidly.  It sounded great and the orchestra was well-rehearsed and confident.

I don’t think I’ll be rushing back to see the opera and I can’t imagine any company taking the trouble to perform it with the cast that it needs but I was nevertheless grateful to the RCM for putting it on and giving us the opportunity to judge.  The audience seemed to enjoy it hugely.

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