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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Guglielmo Tell (1829).
Giorgio Zancanaro (baritone) Tell; Chris Merritt (tenor) Arnoldo; Giorgio Surjan (baritone) Gualtiero; Franco De Grandis (bass) Melchtal; Amelia Felle (soprano) Jemmy; Ludicana D'Intino (mezzo) Edwige; Vittorio Terranova (tenor) Ruodi; Alberto Noli (bass) Letuoldo; Luigi Roni (bass) Gessler; Cheryl Studer (soprano) Matilde; Ernesto Gavazzi (tenor) Rodolfo
Corps de Ballet, Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala, Milan/Riccardo Muti.
rec. Teatro alla Scala, Milan in 1988. 4:3
OPUS ARTE OALS3002D [2 DVDs: 240'00].


In many ways this is a magnificent achievement. I just wish the DVD issuing companies would get their act together in terms of presentation. Here we have a brief, one paragraph plot synopsis (for a four-hour opera!) and no background notes on either work or performance. Instead Opus Arte has reproduced the entire libretto with no track indications whatsoever and with no translations. This is a side of DVD production that needs addressing.

The staging is fascinating. Vast panelled video screens provide the scenic backdrops. Videos of nature in all its glory are projected onto these. It makes for breathtaking effect, and the good news is that one does not tire of it.

Muti conducts with real assurance. Pacing the drama magnificently, it is on performances like these that the controversial Maestro has made his well-deserved musical reputation. Tell emerges as a masterpiece from first to last. Rossini's compositional confidence in his craft is never once in doubt, and there is no trace of any longueur anywhere.

This is clearly an opera for which Muti has unbounded affection. This comes out clearly in the Overture, with its 'vocal' solo cello and its inclusion of oases of peace alongside real excitement. The camera relishes the opportunity to focus on the Maestro - occasionally, later, he 'appears' juxtaposed onto the stage, a technique that seems to crop up regularly in these Scala DVDs. Strings are very much on-the-ball for the 'famous' part.

The Scala chorus, too, are in fine fettle, as they amply demonstrate in the gentle prayer that precedes the rather stand-and-deliver Fisherman (Vittorio Terranova). Much better from the angle of stage presence is our Guglielmo of the evening, the experienced Giorgio Zancanaro. If his gestures can be rather stock-in-trade (in Act 3 especially), he brings a real vocal warmth to the role. And at least it looks as if he shoots the arrow.

Chris Merritt is a strong Arnoldo, ardent in his love for Mathilde, thirsty for revenge in Act 3. The long scene he has with Guglielmo in Act 1 works particularly well, because of the intensity both singers bring to their parts. His best moments are saved for the Fourth and final Act; his high register there is simply lovely. Mathilde is Cheryl Studer, who comes into her own in Act 2. Her scene is magnificent in its lyricism and her sensitive shading of the line. At this point we are treated to more 'ghost' images of Muti; rather off-putting they are, too. The dark staging of Act 2 lends a particularly close atmosphere to events. In Act 3 Studer is if anything even more impressive - her vocal manoeuvrability is astonishing. Call me a heathen for this, but I cannot help thinking the interruptive ballet to be over-long and a huge distraction. Ballet-lovers, will, of course, disagree.

Alberto Noli is a forceful Leutoldo; Ernesto Gavazzi's Rodolfo is rather weak, though. Luigi Roni''s Gessler is on the wobbly side initially although he improves tremendously as the opera progresses.

Ensembles are a consistent joy just try the finale of Act 1 thanks to Muti's clear direction and the superb choral forces.

This is a superb DVD. Tell is one of Rossini's masterpieces. The composer's inspiration never once flags. Do try to experience this treat.

Colin Clarke

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