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Rossini,  Tancredi (Ferrara Version): Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus Teatro Real de Madrid. Conductor: Ricardo Frizza. Teatro Real de Madrid 7.12.2007 (JMI)

New Co-Production between the Teatro Real, Barcelona’s Liceu, Sevilla’s Maestranza and Torino’s Teatro Regio.

Director: Yannis Kokkos
Sets and Costumes: Yannis Kokkos
Lighting: Guido Levi


Tancredi: Ewa Podles
Amenaide: Mariola Cantarero
Argirio: José Manuel Zapata
Orbazzano: Giovanni Battista Parodi
Isaura: Marina Rodríguez-Cusí
Roggiero: Marisa Martins

Tancredi is  Rossini's 10th opera, written when he was only 21 years old. This extraordinary work,  much loved and praised by Stendahl  and based on Voltaire’s Tancrède, had its premiere in Venice on February 1813 with a moderate success. It was presented one month later in Ferrara, where Rossini introduced some changes, particularly  to the last scene, where the happy ending in Venice was changed to a tragic one in Ferrara, with the death of the protagonist. Tancredi, as with so many other serious operas  by Rossini, has become a true rarity during the last 30 years and when it has been performed, the Ferrara version has been the one consistently presented to the public. Until now in fact, I have never had the opportunity to see the original version on stage.

Considering all this, it is a genuine initiative from Teatro Real to offer both the Venice and Ferrara versions with two different and important casts. What will be covered in this review,  is the more traditional Ferrara version based on the critical edition by Philip Gosset, who explains in a very interesting article in the program all the steps he went through to complete his task with the score.

Teatro Real's new production with Stage Direction is by Yannis Kokkos, who presents work of a certain brilliance, as is usual for  this outstanding man of the theater. The production is somewhat naïf, a confrontation between good and evil, illustrated by some beautiful  puppets (a tribute to Sicilian Puppi?). The production is consistantly brilliant, with strong contrasts between white sets  (castles and towers) and a  black backdrop on stage and in its costumes. Large horses also feature, whichh the singers sometimes ride, reminiscent of the famous Pizzi’s Rinaldo production of some 20 years ago at Teatro de la Zarzuela.  If lighting is funadmental in modern productions, the work of Guido Levi is particularly important here. Both sets and costumes are Mr. Kokkos’s own and are planned to serve his vision of the opera. For the tragic ending Tancredi dies on a  large  shield. Stage direction is very good with some remarkable work for  extras and the chorus, who are always dressed in black and wearing masks. A fine production in general then, and  sometimes positively brilliant.

The musical direction of Ricardo Frizza was  one of the most pleasant surprises of the evening. He has a good deal of  Rossini experience behind him, accompanying Juan Diego Flórez, and he has clearly proved that he is one the most interesting conductors in this repertoire with or without the Peruvian star. Mr. Frizza was totally convincing, conducting his forces with both strength and gentleness, always supporting the singers and getting a fine results from his orchestra. I don’t believe much in coincidences but we must recognise that this season the best musical results at Teatro Real have come from invited conductors who are not celebrities. The all-male chorus, was not exactly excoting early on but  improved later, and sang very well indeed during Act II.

Polish contralto Ewa Podles is a recognized Rossinian singer with a worldwide reputation and some in the audience would have recalled her great Tancredi in Madrid from 10 years ago. Today her voice is not in the same shape as it was then, having lost some brightness particularly in the upper register, although her low notes are still spectacular.  Ms Podles continues to be an outstanding singer who she knows  her current limits, taking refuge whenever she can in her powerful lower range notes. While her voice has never been one of real beauty and today is rather less beautiful than years ago, she continues to sing with some brilliance, as well as with great delicacy and taste. Listening to her,  one understands perfectly why today Ulrica, Mrs. Quickly and Klytämnestra are her favoured roles.

Mariola Cantarero seems much more suited to Amenaide now,   than she was  in Oviedo three years ago. Her performance - though sometimes uneven – had some wonderful moments, especially  her duet with Tancredi in the first act or in the scene following the prison episode. Nevertheless,  her cavatina and the actual prison scene was not quite what I expected. Despite her many virtues, her technique and her ability to produce beautiful ethereal sounds, I found aspects of  soprano not always attractive, particularly her forte high notes. This is a question of personal taste however and therefore a wholly subjective opinion.

Jose Manuel Zapata was a very convincing Argirio in all senses. This character requires a vocal weight and nowadays Zapata is one of the very few who can offer real quality in this roles. His voice has widened considerably and he seems ready for a different repertoire soon. The high C is still there, although he showed some insecurity at it in the duet with Tancredi in the second act, and he was able to produce a bright high B in piano during Act I. Mr Zapata is one of the best alternatives for the more robust Rossinian tenor roles these days and I believe that moving on to Donizzeti could be a wise next step for him.

As Orbazzano, Giovanni Battista Parodi has developed more vocal weight during the last years, although perhaps at the expense of overall quality.  Marina Rodriguez-Cusí (as Isaura) now has  a richer centre to her voice than formerly and seems to have  a whitish high register.  Marisa Martins (Roggiero) on the other hand, showed her limited voice once again.

There was a full house as usual in Teatro Real and the
warmest receptions went to Ms Podles, Ms Cantarero and Maestro Frizza.

José M. Irurzun


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