At the end of the first half of Saturday’s evening’s concert performance of Guillaume Tell, I would’ve been more than happy to board a Number 2 tram and head for a restaurant at Piazza di Popolo. An animated Antonio Pappano had conducted a peppy version of the (in)famous Overture and was driving the performance along at a good pace but the evening just wasn’t catching fire – the french horns which have a lot to do in Tell were having a real off-evening, missed entries and some out of tune playing. The chorus, under 80 year old Norbert Balatsch, was proving one of the glories of the evening. But the soloists were largely uninvolved with the proceedings and big moments went by unnoticed.
Suddenly at the beginning of Act 3 the whole thing took off. Singers who had been, for the most part, glued to their music stands and scores became involved – the air practically crackled with tension during the the Apple Shooting scene and the action and music drove on to an exciting Act 4 and triumphant finale.
Within the next two hours Michelle Pertusi (Tell), who had been totally uninvolved for the first two acts, gave a heartbreaking performance of Sois immobile and American tenor John Osborn (Arnold) became a Rome favorite. Pertusi had been the worst offender in the first half – going through the motions, sprawled out in his chair and examining his nails when not required to sing. Maybe Pappano had given him a pep-talk during the intermission but it was suddenly apparent why he is one of the Rossini basses of choice these days. Osborn had been singing well all evening, his (and Pappano and his orchestral and choral forces) efforts to bring some drama into the Call to Arms and Gathering of the Cantons at the end of Act 2 had floundered on the laisse-faire singing of Pertusi and Alex Espisito (Walter Frust.) But the duets with a slightly underpowered but dramatically involved Norah Amsellem (Mathilde)had been fine and at the beginning of act 3 exciting. He opened Act 4 with a beautiful account of Asile heréditaire then set the place on fire with Amis, Amis secondez ma vengance. The bravos and applause went on for a good three or four minutes and the ovation that greeted his appearance at the end was thunderous.
And though Laurent and I agreed that maybe another rehearsal may have been in order and those music stands and scores had to go, we were on our feet with the rest of the house.
It will be interesting to hear the live broadcast of the last of the three performances this coming Wednesday on RAI3-Euroradio. If Pappano can get that first half to equal the second it will be one of those great nights of opera.
26 novembre – San Corrado