Thursday 17 July 2014

Rossini - La Gazzetta (L'Opéra Royal de Wallonie, 2014 - Webcast)

Gioachino Rossini - La Gazzetta

L'Opéra Royal de Wallonie, 2014

Jan Schultsz, Stefano Mazzonis di Pralafera, Cinzia Forte, Enrico Marabelli, Laurent Kubla, Edgardo Rocha, Julie Bailly, Monica Minarelli, Jacques Catalayud, Roger Joakim

Culturebox, Medici - Live streaming - 26 June 2014

It's not surprising, now that we are able to explore and rediscover much more of Rossini's work, to find that there are many familiar melodies in La Gazzetta that we would have heard elsewhere. The composer would often rework or reuse material written for other works, but all of the music in La Gazzetta, a comic opera based on a play by Carlo Goldoni, would all have been new to a Naples audience in 1816 when Rossini arrived there to commence what would prove to be a most productive period. Almost 200 years later, the Opéra Royal de Wallonie at Liège also manage to bring something new to the work, with the rediscovery in 2012 of the missing Act I quintet restored to the work for the first time.

The Liège company are at their best and have a good track record with productions of this kind of light comic opera, whether it's in the French and Belgian repertoire (Offenbach and Grétry) or even some of the more obscure end of the Italian comic opera repertoire in works like Galuppi's L'inimico delle donne or rarely heard early Rossini (L'equivoco stravagante). The approach is much the same with their 2014 production of La Gazzetta, and the results are equally successful and entertaining. Colourful, slightly stylised and modernised, but true to the intentions of the work without unnecessary revision.

Directed by Stefano Mazzonis di Pralafera - the Artistic Director at Liège - La Gazzetta then takes into account rather more modern means of technological communications when ex-businessman Don Pomponino arrives at L'Aquila hotel in Paris and places an advert on the newspaper website that there will be a competition held at the hotel to find a suitable partner for his daughter Lisetta. Also staying at the hotel is Alberto, a wealthy young man who has unsuccessfully been searching the world to find a woman who matches his conception of beauty and perfection. Lisetta however has her own ideas about choosing the man she wants to marry.

Evidently, the arrangement and the path to finding one's perfect partner isn't as simple as that might make it might seem, and there is inevitably a lot of comic confusion over identities and a fair bit of donning of disguises. Alfredo mistakes various women for Lisetta and ends up finding the perfect match in Doralice. Lisetta meanwhile is actually in love with Filippo, an employee at the hotel, who tries to disrupt the competition by disguising himself as unlikely foreign suitors. With both fathers unhappy that their girls seem to be choosing suitors for themselves, the two couples dress up as Turks in order to escape and get married in a manner a little bit reminiscent of Così fan tutte.

With such creaky comic plot situations there's not really any call for modernising the work. There is possibly meant to be some kind of satire on the media involved in La Gazzetta, but not so much that you'd notice it or that it would distract from the fact that this is just a silly comedy at heart. So taking notes down on iPads, posting notices on the internet, and having a TV screen on up in the corner of the hotel reception doesn't really add anything, but it doesn't take anything away either. The Liège production at least looks sharp and stylish. Stylish, but maybe not fashionable as far as the ridiculous costumes go, but even this suits the farcical tone of La Gazzetta.

The set-designs by Jean-Guy Lecat also contribute perfectly to the breezy lightness of Rossini's comic touch. There's an exterior that shows the front of the hotel which rises to reveal the busy interior, with reception, lounge and even a corridor of rooms upstairs. It looks marvellous and it also gives plenty of scope for the drama to play out and flow smoothly from one scene to the next. As if this isn't enough, just for variety there are even some street-scenes that take place via projections of old Parisian streets and sights when Lisetta goes for a walk. Other than a few set-pieces that warrant it - a duel taking place using cannons - the comic exaggeration is never over-played in the direction or in the acting.

Liège also bring together a few regular performers who are well suited to this kind of opera. Cinzia Forte (last earlier this season on the Liège stage as Marzelline in Fidelio) stands out as Lisetta. Her voice is not a big one by any means, but she can scale up to those high notes with all the agility required of a Rossinian soprano. Just as importantly, she has a bright and sparkling personality that lights up the stage when she's on. Edgardo Rocha fulfils the same brightness on the tenor side as Alberto, and there are solid performances from Enrico Marabelli as Don Pomponino and Laurent Kubla as Filippo. The newly discovered quintet might not be considered a lost gem, but it's a critical part of the work and it's great to have it reinstated and hear it sung so well. Jan Schultsz's direction of this rare Rossini work is delightful in what is another fine and entertaining production from Liège.

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