DVD:  Rossini's William Tell
November 12, 1999

A mystery is solved.
I wondered just how many Bourbon Old Fashioneds I would need to get through William Tell, that seemingly endless, colossal lump of an opera that is rarely produced (which, having heard it again, I know why and it is all to the good).  Gioacchino RossiniI had only heard it twice before and had never seen it, so I bought the Scala production on DVD* months ago and finally mustered the courage to watch it (the bourbon made me do it).

Well, the answer: Three strong old fashioneds per act does very nicely, and it doesnít hurt to have a couple during the overture. There are four acts and by the fourth act, Rossini starts to sound mighty good. I was even humming along, to the annoyance of neighbors sitting on their patio. If one must listen to Rossini, this is the ONLY way to do it, and if it must be Tell, this performance is quite good actually. Hear that -- quite good.

There is some nice music here and there, though itís minimal, and had Rossini continued writing, he might have turned out something really good. He could have started with TELL and burned everything before it, which is trash anyway.

Fortunately, Riccardo Muti , the fastest baton in the west, was conducting. It was the UNCUT (Oh God) critical edition but he squeaked in at 237 minutes which isnít bad. Imagine Knappertsbusch doing this? It would have been 7 hours. Muti is very animated on the podium, as we all know, and came close to getting airborne at the end of the Overture - and from his wry smile, this seemed to amuse even him - but I liked his work immensely. Much of it was nice and fast, though his tempi for the arias and duets were spacious and generally accomodating though he almost lost Studer on one occasion (her husband has been trying to do that for years!). For heavenís sake, donít dwaddle over this endlessly trite music. And he didnít. Way to go Ricky (his Vespri on DVD is pretty good too).

Click to hear my squillo!The singers struggled mightily against Mutiís brisk tempi but Chris Merritt, one or two good notes aside, was his usual tight-voiced, bleaty self - the sound a goat would make if you grabbed its er....family jewels.... and squeezed -- singing in his neck throughout the evening. He is the only singer I know who makes sounds like he is being goosed (beautifully demonstrated in Act II).

Cheryl Studer, who always reminds me of being the last surviving Flopsy-mopsy-cottontail, was surprisingly very good. Beautifully costumed throughout, she did some first rate singing with some beautiful pianissimi, some nice portamenti and that usually fuzzy middle of hers seemed to have been unfuzzed on this occasion. Zancanaro always does a commendable - if hardly a great - job, and his tight top and lack of much focus annoys me, but he was ok and he was a good shot, effectively hitting the apple. I would have misfired and shot the tenor, myself. I probably would have gotten the Croix de Guerre!!!

Scalaís stable of comprimarios needs a good gutting from the sound of them. Most of them sound like they hadnít quite cleared their throats of yesterdayís ravioli.

The choruses are endless in Tell and the Scala chorus was superb but Wolfís friend Eugene** would have thrown up continuously at the cutesy dancing in Act I, and the Ballet in Act III was tedious and they tromped around seemingly for an hour. I wonder if Wolfgang Wagner staged any of this? The production was ok (it needed a Zefferelli desperately), with movie-like projections of snow-covered mountains and forests swaying in the breeze on panels across the back of the stage, (with Muti occasionally silhouetted against them), and the deer-gutting bit that opened the second act got me to thinking that I should accept a friend's invitation to go deer-hunting in November in Wisconsin.  I could always pretend I was aiming at Waltraud Meier.     P13

*Editor's Note:  DVD...Digital Video Disc, a digitally recorded disc capable of carrying immense amounts of video and audio information. Replaces the now defunct (and beloved) laser disc as the best medium for audio and video fidelity. Played in a stand-alone DVD player, which also plays audio CDs, or in a computer DVD drive, which also plays audio CDs and CD-ROMs. Costing $20@ and up for opera and movie performances. Few of the former to be found as yet but over 3000 of the latter already available. Has capability of carrying subtitles in several different languages, instant track or scene access and additional material, usually in the form of alternative versions, production notes or cast profiles.

**See Norris' tales of meeting up with Eugene at Der Meistersinger in Bayreuth last summer

Literary content:
Copyright:  © 1999 Parsifal13

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