It’s the Third Act in this 4+ hour opera, and you, too, may start musing that Rossini and librettists Étienne de Jouy and Hippolyte Bis were time-traveling ghostwriters of the New York Times bestseller The Cruelty is the Point.
We are increasingly nauseous…
Here, the original 14th-century legend of William Tell is updated to the Gilded Age. Upper-class Hapsburg elites are at a debauched festivity where the main entertainment is to humiliate the local peasants of Switzerland. The locals are forced to grovel and kiss hats (usually spit upon first) that are snatched away from them to make them clumsily fall. The hat trick is used to make them scurry like dogs. They endure uninvited gropes, and in some corners, the youngest also seemed pressed into service to satisfy pedophiles. The degenerate overlords make fun of the local customs, finding great sport in lampooning the locals as their puppets.
And then, Stephen Miller —as he is separating families at the border sings…
No wait, it was actually —
Vladimir Putin singing while enjoying reports of Ukrainian rapes…
No, no — it was really —
or Ron DeSantis lighting a match to books…
In this reviewer’s opinion, the resonance of Gioachino Rossini’s William Tell to today’s headlines is the ever-present power infusing every scene. Name the autocrat fascist of your choice. In Rossini’s script, it is Gessler (in this production, bass Luca Tittoto), to whom the MAGA crowd — oh, uhh … the Hapsburg elite —croons “Peace to the Power We Love.” Quite the vicious poster boy, Gessler sings of the obedience he feels is his due — and the only surprise comes at the finale curtain bows when his spot-on villain performance doesn’t occasion a tomato throw from the crowd. He is just the main guy.It’s actually the entire fascist — ummm, Hapsburg —crowd that is revealed as a tribe of very sick puppies.
When Princess Mathilde (soprano Marina Rebeka) lashes out “BARBARIAN!” you, too, might want to jump on your chair and shout Right On Sister!
Stage Access Reprises WILLIAM TELL at 2013 Rossini Festival with Superstar Performers
While the famed William Tell Overture might be THE music from this opera most widely known (Hint: Think The Lone Ranger), this opera is chock full of arias, duets, and trios that you might find spellbinding. In no small way, this is thanks to the powerhouse performances by Rebeka, Tittoto, baritone Nicola Alaimo as William Tell, soprano Amanda Forsythe as Tell’s son, and most of all, by heartthrob Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez as Arnold, Mathilde’s Swiss-born love interest trying to straddle two worlds.
It is perhaps also the camera closeups of the performers’ faces, giving a far more intimate view than possible with even the best seats in the opera hall, that make this Stage Access Rossini Festival gem so outstanding, in this reviewer’s opinion. These are all great actors. Mezzo-soprano Veronica Simeoni as Tell’s wife, and whom we enjoy in transporting duets and trios with her fellow female leads, is especially expressive, as are headliners Flórez and villain Tittoto.
Set Design Often Requires Suspension of Disbelief
Curiously, we are puzzled by an ever-present film camera on the stage used to capture the Hapsburg spectacle. Even more confounding is the oversized lighting in Swiss peasant scenes that seems to be there only so it can rise to signal a sunrise. When the lovers meet on the sly, they are on and around supersized stuffed horses with frozen poses of carnival animals.
Projection designs help fill in gaps, to show the raging storms whipping up the sea or to give an inside view of Arnold’s nostalgia and love for his father. These peeks into Arnold's interior life come via home movies of father showing son how to plant on their beloved land.
Signage frames the opera from beginning to end. In the first scene, we see the words EX TERRA OMNIA, translated from Latin as All Comes From the Earth. The curtain shows the clenched fist of resistance in Soviet Realism style — or perhaps an echo of symbols adorning the Italian Socialists who brought Mussolini’s end. This fist curtain foreshadows Act II when the Swiss Peasants wrap red kerchiefs around their hands and raise in salutes. Once the carnage begins, the signs of blood are never washed from the walls, framing Mathilde’s aria lamenting her love lost to battle and the fight-to-the-death spirit of the resistance.
Live or Screen? Stage Access Seems to Put Out a Dare
The promotional materials from Stage Access note that Rossini’s William Tell (Guillaume Tell) is rarely performed due to the high-note challenges for the tenor, so masterfully handled by Flórez. You, too, might agree that any opera logging more than four hours is also a challenge for the audience. Follow the tip from this reviewer: Break up your viewing into two or three segments and make sure to add on an encore listen to the William Tell Overture while your heart is still swelling at the finale.
Better, lobby your local opera house to do the same, viz. break this ticket up into two performances. Maybe they can also take a tip from Broadway’s production of Sweeney Todd and sell apple pies, apple butter, apple quiche, and more — perhaps in a long break affording ample time for a brain salad course in between a matinee and evening performance.
Meanwhile, Stage Access’s presentation of the 2013 Rossini Festival performance of William Tell is not to be missed.
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For more information visit the Stage Access webpage for Rossini’s William Tell (Guillaume Tell) Opera
Images courtesy of Stage Access
This story has been added to the Picture This Post roundup article on OPERAS WE LOVE.
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About the Author: Amy Munice
Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.
Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.