William Tell Teatro Reggio Torino Review - Noseda's Gamble Pays Off

Gianandrea Nosea

For their first tour of North America, the Teatro Regio Torino of Turin, Italy, under its maestro, Gianandrea Noseda, chose a program calculated to attract maximum interest from music lovers: a concert program of Rossini’s Guglielmo Tell, an opera that rarely sees the light of day. Noseda, a rising star in the classical world who just made news by signing a new contract with the Teatro Regio Torino, demonstrated supreme confidence by bringing Tell for his North American tour, which began in Chicago at the Harris Theater Wednesday night.

Completed in 1828, when Rossini was 36, originally written in French for a Paris premiere, William (Guillaume in French, Guglielmo in Italian translation, used here) Tell is an opera rarely performed (outside of its overture’s ubiquitous finale) due to its extraordinary demands on the musicians and the audience. Originally five and a half hours long, a length which would surpass Götterdämmerung by an hour, Tell is still about four hours long in its full revised version. Like Berlioz’s Les Troyens, Tell has often been presented in fragments because of the perceived difficulty in staging and securing adequate musical forces.

Additionally, the opera represents a departure from the opera buffa format which made Rossini’s fame; following the opera’s failure in its original run, Rossini left public composing permanently for the last 40 years of his life. The score is incredibly demanding, requiring a powerful baritone for Tell, numerous basses, a trouser mezzo as Tell’s son, Gemmy, and, its most demanding part, a powerful tenor with extraordinary stamina for the tenor role of Arnold, a role which even Luiciano Pavarotti avoided for years.

Noseda’s intelligence was the guiding force that shaped this performance of William Tell. Though some of my colleagues will disagree, Noseda was judicious in making cuts to the opera which brought the running time down an hour, still clocking in at four hours with intermssions. Noseda’s and the Teatro Regio’s interpretation was notable for its sinuous approach, in which the conductor did not permit any indulgence on the part of singers or orchestra.

The tempos were uniformly fast, though Noseda adjusted the orchestra’s tone constantly, alternately rising to tower over the singers or to dial the impact back to provide just enough support to allow the soloists to shine. The dominant force was clearly in the strings, but special mention must be given to flute, bassoon, and percussion specialists. The more furious crescendos were often in conjunction with similar outbursts from the chorus, led by chorus master Claudio Fenoglio, whose contributions must not be lost in an assessment of this massive undertaking.

The cast was about as strong as we could hope, not perfect by any means, but filled with great voices. The obvious standout among the soloists was American soprano Angela Meade, singing the role of Matilde, Arnold’s beloved. Her Act 2 introductory aria was a revelatory experience for those who have not heard her before. Meade’s clarity of both tone and diction, as well as her control of loud and soft tones, made the show worthwhile on their own. Meade wasn’t done yet; she topped her Act 2 aria in Act 3, with high notes that would make even the most experienced opera-going ears twitch. Her talent is so remarkable her voice could convert non-opera lovers; she is a threat to blow almost any other soprano out of the water.

Meade’s performance was superlative, but special plaudits most go to her cohorts as well. As Tell, Italian baritone Luca Salsi clearly meets the vocal requirements for the role, but his performance was uneven, hurt by poor breath control in longer passages. American John Osborn sang Arnold, and despite a shaky start, seemed to gather momentum and grow stronger as the performance went on, singing with a thin but powerful tone and culminating in his Act IV aria that drew the largest (of the many) roars from the crowd. The Italian supporting cast was fine too, including Marina Bucciarelli in the trouser role of Gemmy, Anna Maria Chiuri, a mezzo with a great voice, though one that made her occasionally sound like a Valkyrie, as Edwige, Tell’s wife, and Paolo Maria Orecchia, the stentorian bass who sang the small part of the shepherd Leuthold.

The performance was a tribute to Noseda’s gamble with this brilliant but difficult masterpiece, and his players and soloists must be proud to pull off such a taut delivery of a work that can be all too messy and sprawling. If you wanted to see the best opera performance in Chicago this season, you may have missed your chance.

Gianandrea Nosea conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Reggio Torino

Go to the Harris Theater website for upcoming events.

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