Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868) Guillaume Tell - Opera in four acts (1829) [252:21]
Guillaume Tell - Andrew Foster-Williams (baritone); Arnold - Michael Spyres (tenor); Walter Furst and Melcthal - Nahuel Di Pierro (bass); Jemmy, Tell’s son - Tara Stafford (soprano); Gesler, Governor of the Cantons of Schwyz and Uri - Raffaele Facciolà (bass); Rodolphe - Giulio Pelligra (tenor); Ruodi - Artavazd Sargsyan (tenor); Leuthold and un chasseur - Marco Filippo Romano (bass); Mathilde, Princess of the House of Habsburg - Judith Howarth (soprano); Hedwige, Tell’s wife - Alessandra Volpe (mezzo)
Camerata Bach Choir, Poznań; Virtuosi Brunensis/Antonino Fogliani
rec. live, 13, 16, 18, 21 July 2013, Trinkhalle, Bad Wildbad, Germany. DDD NAXOS 8.660363-66 [4 CDs: 74:19 + 55:10 + 64:51 + 58:01]
This recording is from the same source as the new edition of “Le siège de Corinthe” released by Naxos last year, recorded at the “Rossini in Wildbad” Festival in 2013 (reviewreview). This performance, too, employs a new edition, as published by the Fondazione Rossini and Ricordi, which restores all the cuts which Rossini sanctioned during the first half a dozen performances in response to public and critical opinion. It thus reflects what was heard at the premiere in Paris in 1829 rather than the shorter version familiar today. As such, it makes for a very long opera lasting ten minutes under four hours and stretching over four CDs, with one Act per disc. In addition, there is a 24 minute supplement featuring two alternative dance numbers and the finale written for the truncated, three-Act 1831 Paris version.
It is thus as complete as can be and in the original French. A few years ago EMI issued, to very mixed reviews, Antonio Pappano’s French recording of the French version running to nearly three and a half hours, but with Act IV heavily cut and inadequacies in the casting - Gerald Finley’s handsomely voiced Tell excepted (reviewreview). Most collectors will compare this new version from Naxos with the old EMI recording under Gardelli, which comes in at just under four hours and offers considerably better singing than Naxos with Gabriel Bacquier, Nicolai Gedda and Montserrat Caballé in the lead roles (review). In terms of singing, my favourite remains Chailly’s recording (review) with Milnes, Pavarotti and Freni, but that must remain hors concours by virtue of it being “Guglielmo Tell” as first performed in Lucca the year after the French original - and it must be admitted that Italian does not always sit well with the music’s rhythms. Nonetheless, I cannot help recalling Milnes’ heroic tones when listening to Andrew Foster-Williams’ rather pale and dry-voiced account of “Sois immobile” (“Resta immobile”).
In truth, Tell needs to be sung by a really charismatic baritone and Foster-Williams simply isn’t. His basic tone remains very ordinary and lacking resonance, his vibrato is obtrusive and his top notes sound forced; even a top G is a strained effort and his singing in the famous Apple-shooting scene is undistinguished; in fact the standard of singing in this live recording constitutes its chief Achilles’ Heel. There are, however, three fine singers here in Michael Spyres, Judith Howarth and Alessandra Volpe. Spyres’ smallish, agile tenor is similar in timbre to Gedda’s but he is nowhere near as stylish as he and certainly not as thrilling as Pavarotti. His famous aria “Asile héréditaire” is efficiently despatched with the top D intact but without much “ping”. Howarth’s soprano is appreciably greater in amplitude than her leading man and she is a committed singer, but her voice develops a pronounced beat at volume and can quickly become stressed on top notes, which she is in the habit of sliding up to. Mezzo-soprano Volpe has a big, fruity voice and the makings of a major singer; her role in the Fourth Act is prominent and the trio goes especially well, despite the demerit of Tell’s son, Jemmy, being sung by a tweety, fluttery-voiced soprano. The bass who sings Melcthal is simply poor, being rocky and blustery, and another bass who sings Gesler is dire: one of those really throttled voices of the “ingolata” type which are painful to listen to. Apart from Spyres and Volpe, some of the best vocal quality comes from the neat French tenor who sings the supporting role of Ruodi, the fisherman. The Polish chorus is excellent and the orchestra energised, if occasionally a little rough and ready. The conducting is similarly propulsive but, understandably, perhaps, given that this is such a long opera and the conductor presumably wanted to avoid letting proceedings drag, speeds are sometimes rushed, hence the lovely duet for Arnold and Mathilde is gabbled and the tempo demands too much of Spyres.
The extra music for the Act III “Divertissement” provided in the supplement is pleasant but negligible; the main point of interest is that alternative ending, with the roles of Tell and Mathilde sung by different singers from the main offering: Marco Filippo Romano steps up from Leuthold, tenor Giulio Pelligra likewise from Rodolphe, and a new soprano, Diana Mian steps in as the Habsburg princess. It’s a rousing piece in which everyone proclaims “Liberté” in unison to a reprise of the most famous tune Rossini ever wrote (older listeners, think “The Lone Ranger”). It’s fun but at four and a half minutes flat hardly a reason to acquire this new set.
The recorded sound is very good and despite the thumping of dancer’s feet inevitable in a live, stage recording - especially noticeable and unfortunate in the “Vengeance” choral ensemble after Spyres’ aria at the beginning of Act IV - very little else is obtrusive.
Unless completeness is your criterion, I do not think this recording is to be preferred to the older, classic versions I mention above.
Cast of the Supplement Guillaume Tell - Marco Filippo Romano (bass); Arnold - Giulio Pelligra (tenor); Walter and Gesler - Raffaele Facciolà (bass); Jemmy - Tara Stafford (soprano); Rodolphe - Artavazd Sargsyan (tenor); Mathilde - Diana Mian (soprano); Hedwige - Alessandra Volpe (mezzo).