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La Pietra del Paragone (which we should probably translate as The Moral Touchstone) had, on paper, a great deal going for it. The Festival Orchestra was replaced by that of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna. The conductor was Carlo Rizzi -- an admired figure for, amongst other things, his work at the Welsh National Opera -- and much pre-performance hype centred around the prospect of Romanian mezzo-soprano, Carmen Oprisanu.

From left to right: Carmen Oprisanu (Marchesa Clarice), Raul Gimenez (Cavalier Giocondo) and Pietro Spagnoli (Macrobio) in the 2002 Rossini Opera Festival production of 'La Pietra Paragone'. Photo © Amati Bacciardi
From left to right: Carmen Oprisanu (Marchesa Clarice), Raul Gimenez (Cavalier Giocondo) and Pietro Spagnoli (Macrobio) in the 2002 Rossini Opera Festival production of 'La Pietra Paragone'. Photo © Amati Bacciardi

As it happened, this struck me as the most obvious 'missed opportunity' of the Festival's three productions. The orchestra demonstrated a more idiomatic familiarity with the sheer skill of the ubiquitous Rossini crescendo but, given that that was the least one might expect, a lot of their performance was flabby and uninvolved. To say that Carlo Rizzi conducted as if he could hardly have cared less would be to flatter whatever remnants of his atavistic professionalism he might have brought to this stodgy, earthbound reading. Frankly, for an international tribute to the joys of Rossini's infectious urbanity, his contribution was mightily disappointing. Carmen Oprisanu was certainly good -- but not that good. It might well be that she just couldn't be bothered to try to raise the quality of the evening beyond the lack of support she was getting from the pit. Fortunately for the abiding respect that the opera deserves, one or two other performers worked harder to deserve their cheers.

Marco Vinco as Conte Asdrubale (left) and Carmen Oprisanu as Marchesa Clarice in 'La Pietra Paragone'. Photo © Amati Bacciardi
Marco Vinco as Conte Asdrubale (left) and Carmen Oprisanu as Marchesa Clarice in 'La Pietra Paragone'. Photo © Amati Bacciardi

Pier Luigi Pizzi had designed an eye-catching and effective set (owing something to the David Hockney of 'The Bigger Splash' paintings, perhaps.) for the summer home of newly-enriched Count Asdrubale (Marco Vinco a convincingly idiomatic bass from Verona). The love interest centres around his affection for the widowed Marchese Clarice (Oprisanu) who is also courted by the Count's friend -- the poet, Cavalier Giocondo (sung with exquisite taste and vocal finesse by Raul Gimenez). Other guests and the inevitable scurrilous servant make for an abundance of confusion and comic potential. The Czech chorus (common to the three productions) sang rather well but lacked enough directorial guidance to get them on and off the stage convincingly. Costumes and lighting script were of a high quality. All in all, this could have been a major triumph. If only Rizzi had brought more than the weary automatism of an airline steward's safety demonstration to his task ...

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Copyright © 8 September 2002 David Wilkins, Eastbourne, Sussex, UK

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