Grand Torino: Noseda, inspired cast and Italian musicians hit the bullseye in a thrilling “William Tell”
The Teatro Regio Torino is steeped in tradition. Founded in 1740, the Turin opera company presented the world premieres of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and La Boheme, led by Arturo Toscanini. Richard Strauss conducted the Italian premiere of his Salome there as well.
The company has since seen its shares of ups and downs over the last century, not least the destruction of its original theater by fire in 1936.
Yet under Gianandrea Noseda, music director since 2007, Teatro Regio Torino is clearly on the upswing. While most Italian opera companies are going through stark financial crises due to over-reliance on dwindling public subsidies, the Teatro Regio Torino has adopted a more American model, with corporate and private sponsorship that has weathered the company through recent economic hard times.
It is that corporate money that is underwriting the company’s first American tour. Noseda is leading Teatro Regio Torino on a four-city tour presenting concert performances of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell, which had its first stop Wednesday night at Chicago’s Harris Theater.
It’s a considerable gamble to take an entire opera company, including full orchestra and chorus, on an international tour—not least performing such a rarity as Rossini’s William Tell, which remains a curio more read about than heard.
That gamble paid off superbly. With a first-class cast, Noseda led an electrifying performance that revealed the epic Guglielmo Tell as Rossini’s greatest achievement. Over four hours (including two 25-minute intermissions) Noseda sustained the immensely rich score with bristling momentum, drawing thrilling vocalism from his singers and searing dramatic impact in one of Chicago’s musical highlights of the year.
(More good news came with the announcement this week that after several months of negotiation, Noseda plans to renew his contract with the Turin company.)
While the William Tell overture remains familiar to generations of Americans through its mining as the Lone Ranger’s theme, the opera itself is a genuine obscurity. Rossini completed the opera at 37, yet the composer would live another four decades and never write another opera.
After hearing Wednesday’s performance it’s plausible to think that Rossini retired because he felt he could never top William Tell. The tale of the Swiss nationalist hero fields a large cast and contains enough rousing choruses, soaring arias and exhilarating moments for two separate operas.
Despite the lack of scenery and theatrical trappings, under the hyperkinetic Noseda, Teatro Regio Torino’s blazing concert performance—sung in Italian rather than the original French– offered ample drama as well as its own intriguing presentational elements. As the formally clad mostly Italian cast walked on stage and off to sing, one puzzled out which character they were playing and waited to hear each new voice.
Luca Salsi, known to local audiences for his Macbeth in the CSO performances of Verdi’s opera last year, was well cast in the title role of Guglielmo. His dark baritone has an innate gravitas and authority and he brought strength and dignity to the role culminating in a stirring rendition of Tell’s Act 3 aria.
The only Americans among the all-Italian cast were the two lovers, John Osborn as Arnoldo and Angela Meade as Mathilde.
The fast-rising Meade fully lived up to high expectations in her Chicago debut, displaying a creamy, resplendent soprano. If her Act 2 aria (“Sombre foret”) was a little too carefully underlined, she showed striking agility for such a big voice, impassioned in the love duets and her high notes ringing out excitingly over the ensembles.
John Osborn made a superb hero as the conflicted nobleman Arnoldo, singing with clarion tone and forceful attacks. Even at the end of the long evening he floated a limpid account of “Ne m’abandonne point, espoir de la vengeance” and threw off the multiple high C’s of Arnoldo’s call-to-arms showpiece (“Amis, amis, secondez ma vengeance”) with ease and panache, earning the most vociferous ovation of the evening.
The smaller roles were all taken with distinction. Marina Bucciarelli showed an apt sweet, boyish timbre in the trousers role of Jemmy, Tell’s son. Bass Gabriele Sagona was a worthy villain as the tyrant Gessler. Paolo Maria Orecchia offered a dauntingly powerful bass as the shepherd Leutoldo, and the veteran tenor Mikeldi Atxalanadabasco threw off remarkable top notes in the tiny role of the Fisherman. Also notable were Fabrizio Beggi as Melcthal, Anna Maria Chiuri as Edwige, and Marco Spotti as Farst.
If not able to equal the corporate gleam and richness of the Lyric Opera Chorus, the Torino ensemble sang with strong dramatic fire and impact. Likewise, the Torino orchestra is not on the same level as the Lyric Opera’s house band, but played with fine polish and extraordinary dedication and commitment over the long evening.
Gianandrea Noseda is such an energetic whirlwind on the podium, he makes even the dynamic Riccardo Muti seem lethargic. The Torino music director drew a remarkable performance that maintained knife-edged tension throughout, exhilarating in the big ensemble scenes while giving his soloists ample room to breathe in their solo moments.
The Teatro Regio Torino will present Rossini’s William Tell 2 p.m. Sunday at Carnegie Hall. carnegiehall.org