On Sunday 10th August the thirty-fifth edition of the Rossini Opera Festival will open its activities. The programme includes two new productions: Armida, returning to Pesaro after 21 years, and Aureliano in Palmira, heard for the first time in the critical edition; the trio of complete operas will be concluded by a semi-staged version of Il barbiere di Siviglia produced by the Accademia di Belle Arti of Urbino. Besides these three main opera productions, Il viaggio a Reims will be sung by talented young singers from the Accademia Rossiniana; there will be the usual series of Concerts (featuring Carmen Romeu and Lena Belkina; Juan Francisco Gatell; Ewa Podles): the latest episode in the Rossinimania series, ‘Radio Rossini’, with the jazz-rock interventions of Giovanni Falzone and the Mosche elettriche; the sixth concert in the series featuring the complete performance of the Péchés de vieillesse, in collaboration with the Ente Concerti di Pesaro, the Accademia Musicale Napoletana and the Fondazione Rossini; the Sei Sonate a Quattro [Six string quartets], performed by Salvatore Accardo’s quartet; the Petite messe solennelle conducted by Alberto Zedda, with the added attraction of a live video-projection in Piazza del Popolo; the opera game for children Il viaggetto a Reims; the traditional Incontri [lecture-meetings] organized by the musicologists of the Fondazione Rossini.
Armida (performed on the 10th, 13th, 16th and 19th August at the Adriatic Arena) was staged by Luca Ronconi in 1993, a production inspired by impressions of films of the 1930s. Ronconi now returns to deal again with the story of the enchantress of the Gerusalemme liberata, with the help of Margherita Palli (scenery) and Giovanna Buzzi (costumes); this time the staging rejects any kind of contemporary reference and offers one fixed stage setting in papier-mâché that, with simple adjustments of lighting and a few stage props, can change into a frightening forest. Sicilian puppets and an atmosphere of fable in the first act, followed by the dances, arranged by Michele Abbondanza, that recount the heroic gestures of the Gerusalemme liberata, watched by Armida and Rinaldo from their amorous bower. At the end the atmosphere becomes darker and darker, up to the realization of Armida’s nightmare – Rinaldo’s finally and definitively abandoning her. The dramatic finale is effected with extreme formal elegance.
Carmen Romeu, a product of the inexhaustible fountain of voices of the Accademia Rossiniana (she was a pupil of the 2011 seminar conducted by Alberto Zedda, then took part in the Rof in ever larger rôles) has the task of undertaking the title rôle; beside her, in a cast requiring six tenor parts and one bass and no other female rôle, are Antonino Siragusa, Dmitry Korchak, Randall Bills and Vassilis Kavayas (four tenors for six roles) and the bass Carlo Lepore, the truly evil genius of the story, who sings both the King Idraote and the devil Astarotte. Carlo Rizzi conducts the chorus and orchestra of the Teatro Comunale, Bologna. Armida will be televised by RAI5 on Thursday 14th August at 9.15 p.m.
Il barbiere di Siviglia, the second opera on the programme (to be heard on the 11th, 14th, 17th and 20th August at 8.00 p.m. at the Teatro Rossini), with be performed in a semi-staged version mounted by the Accademia di Belle Arti of Urbino. The pupils have been responsible for the conception, planning, scenic elements, stage movements, costumes and video of the performance, which will be conducted by Giacomo Sagripanti. The Orchestra is that of the Teatro Comunale, Bologna and the chorus is the Coro San Carlo di Pesaro. The cast of Rossini specialists includes Juan Francisco Gatell, Paolo Bordogna, Chiara Amarù, Florian Sempey, Alex Esposito, Felicia Bongiovanni and Andrea Vincenzo Bonsignore.
The third opera on the programme is Aureliano in Palmira, the main point of musicological interest in the 2014 Festival. The opera will be staged at the Teatro Rossini on the 12th, 15th, 18th and 22nd August at 8.00 p.m. The staging is by Mario Martone, who has already presented Pesaro with one of the masterpieces of Festival history with his Matilde di Shabran. This time Martone, with the collaboration of his usual creative team (Sergio Tramonti, scenery, and Ursula Patzak, costumes), takes on the serious Rossini: he has created a show which is half Brechtian theatre and half Shakespearian Roman history, extremely elegant and linear, that places the busy story of battles and political intrigue in an ethereal, evocative labyrinth, rejecting any banal contemporary reference (and as the story deals with the eternal conflict between East and West, it would have been easy to be tempted).
The mezzo-soprano Lena Belkina takes on the rôle of Arsace, written for Giovanni Battista Velluti; Jessica Pratt plays his beloved, the untamable Queen Zenobia, who defies the power of Rome in the person of Aurelian, sung by Michael Spyres. Also in the cast are Raffaella Lupinacci, Dempsey Rivera, Sergio Vitale, Dimitri Pkhaladze. The Orchestra Sinfonica Rossini and the chorus of the Teatro Comunale, Bologna, are conducted by Will Crutchfield, who has also edited the critical edition of the full score.