by Kyriakos P. Loukakos[1]

                 As we put these lines on paper our mind and heart follow the indescribable lute for the many victims and otherwise sufferers of the horrendous earthquake that destroyed Ammatrice and other jewels of Italy, a country and its people very close to our perception of the European identity core, seeked by many of us like the proverbial Holy Grail in times of increasing disorientation and barbarism. By some coincidence this major humanistic and cultural catastrophe touched also the region of Marche, the major district towards which we headed once more in order to attend high quality performances of Gioacchino Rossini’s operatic output.

In this respect and turning back the clock, it proved a good idea to keep a photo of the gate counter’s announcement, at the Fiumicino airport of Rome, concerning Alitalia flight AZ 1133 to Ancona, since the August 10th one of 15.00 hours local time, on which we were soon to get aboard, never reached its destination, thankfully for reasons not lethal to its passengers. Due to a heavy summer temporale, of rather Verdian than Rossinian proportions, our plane had to land instead to the airport of picturesque Peschara, universally better known as a pizza choice, from where a bus brought us to the Ancona airport  with almost  5 hours of delay. A taxi led us further to the central railway station and, subsequently, after 2 more hours of waiting, a train enabled us to reach Pesaro, the 6th stop of a 45-minute course, just before midnight. Nevertheless, this otherwise quiet city, amidst its Festspielzeit zenith, had its sleep still perturbed at this late hour by happy attendants of Rossini’s Ciro in Babilonia, who were leaving merrily the downtown theatre that bears Rossini’s urbi et orbi illustrious name. 200 years after Il Barbiere di Siviglia’s adventurous world premiere and with an experienced new artistic director at its pivot, our expectations were deservedly high!

Belcanto masterclass by Pietro Spagnoli

Under increasingly friendlier weather circumstances our cultural stay in Pesaro commenced (11/08/2016) with a 16.00 hours vocal concert held at the Auditorium Pedrotti of the Rossini Conservatory, a concert that proved revelatory as to the true stature of the featured Italian baritone Pietro Spagnoli (*1964). Having been acquainted with this celebrated singer mainly through radio and recordings, save some sporadic appearance, last  as Don Alfonso in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, ossia La scuola degli amanti K. 588, at a production by the Athens Megaron Concert Hall back in 2011, the appeal of his sound and artistry in the cozy atmosphere of this venue came as a shock, albeit a pleasant one. His somewhat dry and light but perfectly schooled baritone has primarily deemed him for Belcanto and Kavalierbaryton, as well as baryton Martin  roles, but his is an energetic instrument that projects marvelously and served deservedly  the eclectic program of this Pesaro concert.

Accompanied with tip toe complicity by experienced pianist Giulio Zappa and after a fleet “Oh, del mio dolce ardor”, Paride’s aria from Gluck’s third and final reformist opera Paride ed Elena, written for the extinct voice of a soprano castrato[2] and usually in recent times usurped by tenors[3], Spagnoli[4] exposed rules of a refined vocalism in the condense form of Giuseppe Giordani’s aria antica “Caro mio ben”, especially his impeccable legato and a splendid mezza voce for the 2nd stanza. An operatic rarity, Impresario’s air from Bohemian Florian Leopold Gassman’s (1729 – 1774) commedia per musica  “L’opera seria” (Vienna Burgtheater, 1769)[5], introduced the first operatic group, totally devoted to Mozart and alternating Leporello’s Catalogue aria from Don Giovanni with the Count’s act 3 as well as Figaro’s act 4  ones from Le Nozze di Figaro, both complete with their introductory recitatives, indeed masterclass material of a rare order. In all of them  Spagnoli proved his status as a prominent among the late Sesto Bruscantini’s heirs regarding his clarion diction, even in the most quick silvery passages,  and the myriad details of his interpretations,  throughout poised with classy taste and a constant sense of commentary, expertly latent in his exciting coloring of the poetic and vocal text.

Spagnoli’s technical as well as interpretative prowess were further evident in the Rossini section, either with a passionate rendering of “L’ultimo ricordo” from his “Péchés de vieillesse”or while alternating Dandini and Don Magnifico in La Cenerentola items. And although Poulenc’s “Lune d’ Avril” seemed to be a choice out of context, it provided an opportunity of sampling his highly intelligent way of treating French mélodie, evoking the perfumed phrasing and shaded singing of his senior French colleague Camille Maurane (1911 – 2010), and there is no higher praise to us than that (may we expect some Fauré and Duparc in the near future please?).

Although not qualified with the solid low fundament, instrumental to sustain the line of the great Verdi and Verismo roles, Spagnoli possesses the necessary Durchschlagskraft   to pierce through heavy layers of orchestral tuttis required for Falstaff, with whose Honor monologue he rounded up the official cartellone of the Event, evoking a Stabile and Bruscantini – like text clarity coupled with a Taddei – like sardonic sting. In a separate chapter, hors programme, he addressed an enthusiastic audience first with a sophisticated reading of Figaro’s cavatina from the Geburtstagskind of the year, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and lastly with a couple of beloved Italian and Spanish hits, having already established a more than affectionate rapport with his listeners. We wouldn’t like to have missed him! 

La Donna del Lago in a new but debatable production

New ROF artistic director Ernesto Palacio, a former belcanto tenor highly esteemed, among many distinguished others, by our late close friend, the Piraeus – born Scala partner of Maria Callas, bass Nicola Zaccaria, has been and remains to date Juan Diego Flórez’s exclusive tutor and mentor. This only increased expectations for a more frequent appearance of the Peruvian super star in Pesaro, expectations that proved already founded. Flórez not only was among the protagonists of a new La donna del Lago production[7] by  the internationally much talked about stage director Damiano Michieletto, but also offered the crowning event of the XXXVII Rossini Opera Festival in form of a concert titled “Flórez 20”, built around him and commemorating the 20th anniversary  of his first appearance at the 1996 ROF that catapulted him overnight to fame, as the melodiously named Corradino Cuor-di-Ferro in Mathilde di Shabran’s first modern revival (our tape of that performance, privately made at home from a low – fi analogue satellite receiver, perpetuates the thrill with every new listening). The prospect of Flórez’s additional Gala is reported to have heightened ticket demand so much as to deprive us of any opportunity to attend this much awaited concert, hopefully to be published commercially since no Italian radio relay of it seems to have been programmed.

Rai Radiotre was of course present (8 – 10/08/2016) at the premiere airings of this year’s all 3 operatic productions, with expert in loco presentation by Oreste Bossini and Nicola Pedone as well as further assistance from Rome via Asiago studios  by Guido Barbieri, a highly informative contribution for Italian speaking listeners, nationally and abroad. Having already followed, while still in Athens, the audio direct relay of La donna del Lago, Rossini’s Scottish 2 – act melodramma by Andrea Leone Tottola, after Sir Walter Scott’s “The lady of the Lake”, first presented at the Neapolitan Teatro San Carlo on October 24, 1819 and  featuring  the composer’s wife to be Isabella Colbran, we were already questing the effect of a production which eschewed the lake of the title altogether and further introduced additional characters to the plot, in form of an ageing couple of alter egos. They represented Elena, the “lady of the lake”, and her preferred suitor, the young warrior Malcom, both grey and old, after decades of seemingly uninspired marital life, both ably impersonated, in a feat of body theatre, by well known actors Giusi Merli and Alessandro Baldinotti. On paper it may look like an interesting idea and it even might have worked successfully had it not led to the almost constant presence of -usually more than one- additional persons on stage besides the acting (and singing) characters. This made for tedious viewing, despite impressive but also mostly irrelevant and psychologically overladen scenery by Paolo Fantin (interior of a ruined manor with a view to an overgrown garden), while influencing the beginner’s perception of the actual story and, even more important, his focus on the musical content, which was allround superb.
Conducting already his 4th production of such a rare and vocally demanding opera, besides representing most probably a world record on his part,  reveals as much for maestro Michele Mariotti as for ROF’s feat of globally propagating an original Rossini belcanto tradition. We attended Mariotti’s recent Met performance, via an Ant1/Athens Megaron Concert Hall cinema satellite transmission, and therefore we were able to attest to a further deepening of the conductor’s understanding of the score, reflected to instrumental playing and phrasing of almost deliberate refinement by the forces of the Municipal Theatre of Bologna, an orchestra already familiar with the Rossini cause, which recently prolonged its contract with ROF for 3 more seasons.

Mariotti illuminated esoteric qualities of music and production alike, while establishing a frame of total confidence for his singers, no thing to marvel at, since he was very often caught up singing himself the text while leading his cast, especially the more inexperienced among its members. In any case, having anew Juan Diego Flórez, so soon after his triumph at the Met, as His Majesty King James V of Scotland (1513 – 1542), flirting incognito under the false name of Uberto, was a truly royal treat for the audience. His luminous abundance of phrasing in the amorous cantilenas as well as  the scalding insolence of his upper register are in a class of their own and his top notes ringed with unbelievable resonance and crystal beauty in the Adriatic Arena, no doubt a singularly intoxicating vocal experience of our time. To dispose furthermore of a singer as exceptional as the baritenore[8] Michael Spyres impersonating His rival and opponent, warlord Rodrigo di Dhu, was further enticing, since  the young American combines the creditable stage figure of a mountaineer with a phenomenal vocal range, which he uses with immense flair and aggressive self confidence to attain proverbial  feats of his  legendary predecessor in this role Andrea Nozzari[9].

Marilyn Horne’s early Decca Rossini “long playing” recitals, her reading of “Mura felici” at the 1981 Lincoln Centre Gala[10], combined with a cassette recording of a presumably Scala (?) recital of hers from Nicola Zaccaria’s archive[11], with piano accompaniment and his clearly audible comments of approval after each aria, have determined our measure for the role of Malcom. But even in such illustrious rivalry, the young contralto Varduhi Abrahamian scored a big success. The Armenian artist acted the role in an accordingly manly and youthful manner and managed the right vocal gravitas, so much needed in the chest register, while facing bravely the coloratura demands of the part. The mixture of her timbre with Elena’s, during their brief but haunting act 1 love duet, was a moment among many that linger gratefully to the memory.

Georgian soprano Salome Jicia, the eponymous lady of the opera, was the other pleasant surprise of the cast, emerging as she did fresh from her last year’s success in the student performance of Rossini’s Il Viaggio a Reims as staged by the Accademia Rossiniana. Besides her good looks, she sang and acted intensely, responding alertly to challenges by her formidable partners and rising fittingly to the occasions provided by the score, not least in a radiant final  “Tanti affetti”.  Mario Mimica, an impressive young Croatian bass, after his intense portrayal of Goffredo in last year’s reprise of Michieletto’s 2007 production of La Gazza Ladra, cut yet another imposing figure on stage, this time as Elena’s father Douglas d’ Angus, with torrential volume and cello like tone that provided  further support to our confidence in his promise. Welcome vignettes by Francisco Brito and Ruth Iniesta as Elena’s friends Serano and Albina.


Turco with Fellini reference

        Both the second and third opera performances we attended in Pesaro were presented in the authentic frame of the Teatro Rossini and in productions by another frequent visitor to the ROF, Turin born director, tenor, actor, scenographer, designer, dancer and choreographer Davide Livermore, whose orgiastic L’ Italiana in Algeri we had enjoyed back in 2013.

We derived almost unalloyed pleasure from the radio broadcast of this year’s Il Turco in Italia, but we were hardly prepared for such a plethora of footnotes in the spectacle referring to the iconic cinema director Federico Fellini and to some more or less identifiable characters from his films. Moreover, this same director‘s 2012 acclaimed production of Ciro in Babilonia that followed furnished evidence as of why a basically similar idea produced such discrepancy of results, in spite of the fact that the supporting team in both productions remained identical (videodesign by D-Wok, scenery & lights by Nicolas Bovey, costumes by Gianluca Falaschi). Ciro presented the simple and uncomplicated  transposition of an outdated operatic plot to a silent movie theatre’s ambience, with few, accessible symbols and an easily identifiable atmosphere of cinematographic nostalgia, with epoch costume atmosphere and a limited use of unnecessary stage action, including persons not really relevant to the plot.

This pattern obviously didn’t work for Turco, incidentally a co – production of ROF with the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia of Valencia, for the simple reason that this time “directoritis” prevailed: symbolisms were as many and suffuse as the Fellinian characters moving on stage, while these same remained unrecognizable to many viewers, not necessarily acquainted with the whole oeuvre even of a director as renowned as indisputably Fellini was. While totally embracing maestro Speranza Scappucci’s claim about the recent total reinstatement of Il Turco as a Rossinian masterpiece of the highest order, we nevertheless dare to admit our own lifelong problematic relation with this particular work, owing not to the sophistication of much of its consistently delightful music but primarily to an almost postmodern plot, with psychological allusions not dissimilar to those described in Mozart’s Così fan tutte. A plot  which desperately cries for a librettist of Da Ponte’s stature in order for its points to become clear and to sustain interest. Livermore failed to draw a line between the opera’s dramaturgical guidelines and those of the imposed action, the one of Fellini reference. Instead he introduced confusion and burdened the stage with crowds, while he crucially transformed the characters to mere cinematic puppets, disregarding their three dimensional depth, especially Fiorilla’s early bovarism,  fitfully indicated in Gianfranco Mariotti’s introductory note  and, even more important,  openly stated by Rossini himself, the latest in the heroine’s act 2 soul searching aria.

This directorial option for relentless scenic activity had its toll on such otherwise accomplished performances as Olga Peretyatko’s Fiorilla. In spite of her musical and virtuosic achievements, the Russian soprano was -rather ungratefully- not universally applauded during the curtain calls of the performance we attended, to our understanding mainly because, in her Claudia Cardinale transformation,  she was directorially hindered to establish this most human of the work’s characters in a more empathetic way. Other dramatis personae avoided such an unfair treatment from the audience only because Livermore openly ridiculed their roles right from the beginning, i.e. by presenting them as silly or totally irrelevant figures. In this respect the good looking and stylishly singing star bass – baritone Erwin Schrott, making his welcome ROF debut as Selim, the eponymous Turk of the opera, was unaccountably and unforgivably parodied as  an Alberto Sordi “White Sheikh” comic variable, despite producing smooth and honeyed sounds that constantly embalmed the ear. Equally outrageous was the transformation of Don Narciso, Fiorilla’s former lover, to a clergyman, rather reminiscent of the Barbiere’s Don Alonso. It was a pity for  American tenor René Barbera, due for a Met debut shortly, since he gave a thrillingly carefree vocal performance, more solid than his Gianneto in La Gazza Ladra of  2015 and tantalizingly shiny in the muscular upper register of his youthfully lyrical tone. His demanding act 2 aria was a real tour de force of its kind. Finally what to say about poor Baba-the-Turk like (!) bearded Zaida  and transvestite Albazar of the vocally excellent mezzo soprano Cecilia Molinari and tenor Pietro Adaini respectively, both debutants in official ROF assignments?

The only characters that survived relatively unscathed from this stage ordeal were baritones Nicola Alaimo, as Fiorilla’s cuckolded husband, Don Geronio, and Pietro Spagnoli as the poet Prosdocimo, the Don Alfonso type of manipulator in the Rossini opera. Both artists excelled in idiomatic and stylish singing, crystal clear diction and all embracing stage charisma. Conductor Speranza Scappucci, who came to our attention only recently  through the March 17, 2016 Rai Radiotre direct relay of her conducting La Cenerentola from the Turin Teatro Regio, presided over proceedings of ROF’s Turco leading the Filarmonica Gioacchino Rossini with a firm grip and a vigilant eye for a score she loves dearly and has studied thoroughly during her apprenticeship at the Julliard School of New York. Her conducting was brimming with Rossinian zest, refined energy, attention to orchestral detail and a feeling for the humane sincerity of dramatic situations.

Podleś returns

No reservations whatsoever applied to Ciro in Babilonia (Teatro Rossini, 13/08/2016), the only of the 3 operas that we attended without having listened in advance to its Radiotre broadcast. It is a juvenile 2-act biblical dramma con cori on a text by Francesco Aventi, performed for the first time on March 14, 1812 at the Teatro Comunale di Ferrara and irrevocably considered by Rossini himself as one of his operatic failures. In spite of its originally mixed reception, Ciro although uneven, is, nevertheless, a demanding and inquisitive work, with ambitious choral passages, that certify Rossini’s affection for German music, reason that had led this young conservatory student to be nicknamed as “Il Tedeschino”! 200 years after its premiere, Ciro was at last given a fair chance by the 2012 ROF[12], using the 2011 critical edition prepared by the Fondazione Rossini. Not only did the production acquire that year’s  Premio Abbiati, but also offered Ewa Podleś, a for too long neglected and already legendary contralto coloratura, the opportunity to impersonate the eponymous Persian monarch of the work in a totally personal vocal and histrionic manner.  The 2016 revival gave all of us, who had missed this allround artistic achievement 4 years ago, a possibly last chance to savor its far from negligible qualities.

In a directorial concept that intuitively used a child’s imagination as the pathway that enables a silent movie theatre audience to intrude in the depicted ancient drama of the operatic persons, music was left largely unbothered to exercise its magic through valiant contributions from all artists involved. Some of them had of course to face thin music for their only arias, which they nevertheless interpreted devotedly: Georgian bass Dimitri Pkhaladze as prophet Daniel, Roman tenor Alessandro Luciano as Arbace, general of the Babylonian King Baldassare, Moldavian bass Oleg Tsyboulko as Babylonian prince Zambri, another confidant of Baldassare, and Spanish soprano Isabella Gaudí as Argene, last coping humorously with a provocatively, even nastily, monotonous aria composed by Rossini for the evidently exceptionally limited gifts of the role’s first interpreter.

Already in view of her 2012 role debut, Ewa Podleś had made clear that Ciro was to her a man of advanced age and much doleful experience. Therefore she claimed no inhibitions to undertake this assumption having herself “more than half a century of age”, especially since ladies over 50 still dared to tackle roles of 15-year-old girls like Cio-Cio-San in Puccini’s  Madama Butterfly! Her Ciro remains revelatory all along her three octaves of her phenomenal vocal range, with a solid, manly, tough low register, fearless florid singing and a regal stage presence that transformed even her slight walking defect to a character asset as befits the exceptional artist she has always been. Even after the performance and amid torrential applauds, it was her imperious “Basta!”, addressed to the stage stuff and audible to us at the back row of the Theatre’s platea, that brought the curtain definitely down, underlining the tremendous discipline that this demanding interpretation required even from an artist of her stature.

In brief interviews during and immediately after the premiere (10/08/2016), reference was made to the hard work and the thorough preparation of the main protagonists.  South African soprano Pretty Yende has sensed a meteoric rise after her spectacular victories at the Belvedere and Operalia competitions. Her interpretation of Ciro’s wife, Amira, ascertained her fame exposing a clear soprano voice of considerable agility in coloratura and graced with sufficient warmth for lyrical singing of  deeply felt intensity. Her duets with Podleś were most affecting. 2018 will mark the 20th anniversary of Antonino Siragusa’s first engagement by ROF. Like this experienced Sicilian tenor’s Armida contribution of 2014, his Baldassare, the piece’s villain,  gave ample proof of an age proof vocal technique, fearless high register and volcanic dramatic force not only for the character’s aggressive moods but also for his crucial Mad scene, a precursor to Assur’s one in the subsequent Semiramide.  Full marks also for Chorus (chorus master: Andrea Faidutti) and orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna under conductor Jader Bignamini, another ROF debutant,  a musician who is already scheduled to appear at the New York Met.   

Rays of hope: Il Viaggio a Reims and an all- Rossini  concert by Accademia Rossiniana 

Il Viaggio a Reims, ossia L’albergo del giglio d’oro  is set to a libretto by Luigi Balocchi and is the last of Rossini’s operas on an Italian text. This cantata scenica[13], nowadays presented in the critical edition of the Rossini Foundation in collaboration with Casa Ricordi, was based in part on Corinne, ou L ‘Italie by Mme de Staël and was commissioned for the coronation of King Charles X of France.  As an occasional piece it lasted for only four performances commencing on June 19, 1825 at the Paris  Théâtre Italien and featuring Giuditta Pasta as Corinna among its starry cast. Since it was withdrawn very early by Rossini himself, much of its material was recycled for Le Comte Ory and the work was considered lost up to the 1970s, when the different parts of the manuscript were re-found and re-assembled by musicologist Janet Johnson, who is also the editor of the current critical edition. Could it be that the work’s withdrawal was not only due to its raison d’être but signified a move of political insight on the part of Rossini, since he lived in France long enough (+1868) to outlive a new King, the bourgeois Louis Philippe I (d’ Orleans, 1830 – 1848) as well as hail the Consulate and the  Tiers Empire of  Napoleon III Bonaparte (1852 – 1870)? Who knows, honni soit qui mal y pense

Using an established 2011 production by Emilio Sagi, Il Viaggio a Reims is presented every year in 2 performances by 2 different casts of students. For some time it concludes the summer course of the Accademia Rossiniana, a course addressed to carefully selected among fully formed singers, eager to get acquainted with secrets of Rossini interpretation. We attended the first cast performance of August 12th under the encouraging eye of the Accademia’s long standing mentor, maestro Alberto Zedda, very often claiming his own part in conducting his alumni from the director’s box, alongside Gabriel Bebeselea who actually held the baton. The Romanian conductor seemed at ease with the work, though he missed some of the almost neurotic high spirits that characterized Abbado’s reference, especially the magic moment of the sudden eruption of the characters in act 1,  just after they express their certitude and their relief that Roman poetess Corinna’s off stage reciting has at last come to an end. Whether written or not, we will never overcome the thrill of this shock during our first viewing of the Ronconi production.

In this overall context it was the second time in our life that we were introduced to Royalty, albeit this time to a fictitious one. “Sono Carlo Decimo, Re di Francia” were the words of the little boy who extended his tiny hand to us, a random choice of his among the audience. He was bearing a shiny golden paper crown and headed towards the stage of the Teatro Rossini through its right corridor. In any case it was a special honor to be selected by a monarch, even as young, followed as He was by a whole court of local primary school male and female youngsters. His infant Majesty reached the stage by the time Corinna was completing her improvisational ode to the -then- new King of France, who, in this staging and much to His distress, found Himself greeted by the total indifference of those who, according to the plot, had gathered with the common purpose to attend His coronation. Disappointed, the boy sat down and started eating his bread and butter while the curtain fell to one of the most Dionysian occasional melodramatic creations ever composed.

It was obviously a way for the director to disconnect the work from the person who had ordered its composition. And also a way to indirectly imitate  the original 1984 Luca Ronconi production of Viaggio’s first modern presentation. In that ROF production, as later presented also at the Vienna State Opera, under the baton of Claudio Abbado, the theatrical proceedings were coupled with a majestic procession of an actor impersonating Charles X[14],  touring the perimeter before entering to the Theatre in order to join audience and artists for the exhilarating finale. While conforming to some political correctness of our day, Sagi’s concept is to our opinion irreverent to the patrons of arts in general and therefore should be reconsidered. In this respect, it is our firm belief that some gratitude ought to be accorded even to the rather unpleasant ultra conservative figure of King Charles X, crowned at the Reims Cathedral, on 29 May 1825, with all the ceremonial pageantry of his Merovingian predecessors, and overthrown only 5 years later during the surge of July 1830. Too many monuments, works of art and musical masterpieces in the passage of centuries owe their existence, and through them the immeasurable enrichment of our lives, to rulers and others, -surely wealthy and probably influential- autocrats. And this fact does not change because of our eventual ideological dislike of it, especially considering how many of today’s power holders remain self contented by their cultural ignorance and offer their wealth to aesthetically debatable purposes, to put it extremely mildly.

In any other respect the production itself and its musical content provided sufficient reasons of thought provoking contentment. Then here was a bunch of young and avid singers, coming from many corners and cultures on earth and making the great effort to mount successfully the gap between their often exotic provenance and Rossini’s linguistic and musical idiom. These same people, regardless of their level of success, are expected to become ambassadors of the Rossinimania to their countries in the hope that some kind of transplantation will bring a new, possibly yet unfathomed, flourish of this repertoire in improbable coordinates of our global entity.

This was exactly our thought listening to the Japanese tenor Yasushiro Yamamoto trying nervously to cope with the outrageously high tessitura of Russian Conte di Libenskof’s role, a feat he very nearly failed to win, owing perhaps to his nervousness, the early hour of this matinée performance or his exhaustion from the intensive study and rehearsal. Nevertheless, during the all Rossini concert of these same artists, accompanied affectionately on the piano by Anna Bigliardi (Auditorium Pedrotti, 13/08/2016), this same young man, while still betraying a need to work further on his coloratura, offered tidier and more euphonious vocalization in Lindoro’s cavatina from L’ Italiana in Algeri.

Sagi’s production presented a summer maritime resort and the characters were gradually revealed, either as personnel or as the clientele of a scenically anonymous establishment, first in spa garments and later changing to evening costumes on stage in order to attend the substitute celebration for the coronation ceremony they finally failed to join. When not occupied with their own roles, young singers formed the chorus of the opera in the few numbers that such is required. First among the protagonists to make her entrance was the hostess herself, appropriately called Madama Cortese, ever eager to satisfy her customers. Labeled by her fellow students as the “most mysterious girl of the Accademia”, soprano Larissa Alice Wissel cut a bright, soubrette like vocal figure and earned well deserved acclaim from the audience both in this role and at the subsequent concert,  in the latter after a superb performance of Semiramide’s “Bel raggio lusinghier” that combined musical phrasing, crystalline diction, inner verve of narration, splendid coloratura and  ringing top notes of metallic quality resonating pleasantly in the friendly acoustic of the Pedrotti Auditorium.

Valencian soprano Marina Monzó was a generally satisfying Contessa di Folleville missing just the last ounce of brilliance to be earned by experience, but returned  as a spicy Fiorilla in the Concert, with the heroine’s act 1 cavatina, while she combined wonderfully as the Barbiere’s Rosina with the dynamic, dark voiced Figaro of baritone Maharram Huseynov, Viaggio’s suitably energetic Don Alvaro. The Azeri  artist also prevailed as Dandini in his duet with Italian bass Gianluca Lentini as Don Magnifico, who despite noble artistic intensions cut a rather lame figure, singing musically but with a woolly tone, both as Don Profondo in the Opera and as Assur in the latter’s insidious mad scene from Semiramide.

Everyone who remembers the late Lucia Valentini – Terrani ‘s exuberance as the Polish Marchesa Melibea could involuntarily be unfair to mezzo Aurora Faggioli, a viola as well as a piano player, but, despite some satisfying coloratura,  the younger singer’s singing was marred by unclear text enunciation and a rather dull projection. These points, with a need of further work on her behalf, became even more evident during her repeated dueting with tenor Xabier Anduaga, an audience darling of the Viaggio performance. Through his exceptional engagement (extending to his compliance to strip to his bathing suit and sing while acting gymnastic exercises!) and despite the lack of an aria for Chevalier Belfiore, the handsome young Spaniard portrayed the French as the superficial cocky charmer prescribed by the text, without any reservations whatsoever for his musical interpretation as well. Indeed both in his Viaggio assumption and in Almaviva’s dawn serenade, as well as Don Ramiro beside Faggioli’s Angelina at the Concert, Anduaga remained a Prince Charming of belcanto elegance, with a sure sense of style, shiny high register and a natural appropriation of the text. We look forward to Pesaro’s constructive influence upon this rising star!

Further one ought not overlook the soulful interpretation of Corinna by soprano Lucrezia Drei. This daughter of a loggionista, despite some shrillness in her upper register, provided thoughtful and stylish singing in Fiorilla’s act 2 aria from Il Turco in Italia during the Concert, her clear and expressive soprano coloring according to the character’s moods, with sadness during its first part and determination for the second, exploiting a nice messa di voce and alternating full voice resonance with soft singing of welcome intimacy.

Witnessing the Accademia Rossiniana events in a matter of weeks after the July 15th attempted coup détat in Turkey and in a state of considerable doubt regarding this land’s itinerary towards a secular and democratic prospect, we followed with added interest the participation in both, opera and concert, of remarkable Turkish bass Ogulkan Yilmaz. It was no need to be reminded, by the well known Libreria Bonali, of Turkish diva Leyla Gencer’s heritage[15] through the offer of the French edition of her universally acclaimed biography by Zeynep Oral, our respected and endeared colleague in the International Association of Theatre Critics. Since Gencer’s time a whole generation of distinguished Turkish singers has emerged enriching the cartelloni of local and international theatres. Yilmaz is one of them and he offered a technically sound if somewhat expressively restrained interpretation of Lord Sidney s fiendishly difficult Viaggio scena.

We missed tenor Yusuke Kobori‘s appearance as Libenskof on the 2nd Viaggio performance, but we enjoyed his interpretation of Don Ramiro’s act 2 aria. In this Flórez territory he offered generous phrasing and secure vocal leaps in the cabaletta. The opera’s Modestina, soprano Sara Bañeras sung a deeply felt account of Amenaide’s cavatina from Tancredi, exposing fine line, freedom in the upper register but somewhat sketchy coloratura. Last but far from least, Russian  mezzo soprano Vasilisa Berzhanskaya, a big voice of declamatory ambitions that claims a dramatic soprano extension, offered a shuttering interpretation of Armida’s tragic final scene. Could it be that she is the Sorceress we missed in the 2014 Ronconi swan song production of this demanding opera?[16]

[1] Music and Lyric Theatre critic Kyriakos Loukakos is considered to be a leading vocal connoisseur in Greece. He is an attorney at law and a Dr. Juris of the Cologne University. In 1991 he joined the Greek Ministry of Home Affairs as a member of its Strategic Policy Unit and, as of 1998, he is a senior investigator at the Quality of Life Department of the Greek Ombudsman’s Office. But music has been his lifelong passion, leading to the formation of his own extensive archive of records and privately recorded performances on several kinds of sound carriers. Therefore, from 1994 to 2010 he has commented and presented almost every opera feature for Greek Radio 3, including innumerable EBU direct relays and deferred transmissions, as well as contributing an extensive series of vocal artists’ and conductors’ portrayals. In 1997, commemorating the 20th anniversary of her passing, he presented a 28- hour step-by-step biographical radio homage to Maria Callas and the total output of her recorded roles, for the first time as a whole in radio chronicles. He also reported for the ERT WORLD TV cultural program “9+1 Muses”. Since 1997 he is the music critic of the Sunday edition of the Athens daily journal “I AVGI”. He has provided texts for practically every major musical institution of his country (Athens Megaron Concert Hall, Athens Festival, Thessalonica Megaron Concert Hall, Greek Parliament Foundation, Athenaeum International Cultural Center, European Cultural Centre of Delphi, etc.) as well as serious cultural magazines (Peritechno, Odos Panos, To dendro, Classical Music, as well as and for the bimonthly periodical ILIAIA). He further supervised a  CD-set edition of 7 complete operas in rare archival recordings featuring distinguished soprano Vasso Papantoniou. In 2011 he managed extensive bilingual texts and overall supervision to a lavish 4-cd set, issued by  “The Friends of Music Society” of the Athens Megaron Concert Hall and devoted to hitherto unpublished recordings from the archive of the late (mezzo) soprano Arda Mandikian, a close collaborator of Benjamin Britten and Sir Peter Pears and the Dido in both the first ever complete performance of Berlioz’s Les Troyens, in Oxford (1950), and the subsequent first complete recording of its second part, Les Troyens a Carthage, under the baton of Hermann Scherchen. The set was favorably reviewed by such prestigious international periodicals as International Record Review, Opera magazine, The Record Collector and Classical Recordings Quarterly and was accorded the 2012 “Gina Bachauer International Foundation” Record Prize. Since 2011 Dr. Loukakos has further reported regularly, in Greek and in English, for the e-magazine for drama, dance and music critique, an activity he now refreshes through his new e-magazine address .
As of January 2018 he is Honorary President of the Greek Drama and Music Critics Association, a Union established in 1928 and a member of the International Association of Theatre Critics, operating under the auspices of UNESCO, whose Executive Committee he duly presided for 4 consecutive terms (2005 – 2018). Since 2013 he is Secretary General of the “Maria Callas Scholarships Society” and, in 2015, he enrolled as a Member of the “Citizens Movement for an Open Society” and of the “Athens Conservatory”  Society.
[2] A famous Pesarese by the way, soprano Renata Tebaldi, defended it in her recitals and on records.
[3] From Tito Schipa via Beniamino Gigli to Alfredo Kraus…
[4] Evidently on  the footprints of legendary Mattia Battistini’s 1924  recording  (most recently available on Marston 56002-2), his example followed in times closer to us by the likes of  Renato Bruson and Dmitri Hvorostovsky.
[5] Interestingly on a Ranieri de’ Calzabigi (Gluck’s collaborator in Orfeo and Alceste) text drawing on Metastasio whom he parodies. The work was first revived in modern times at the Schwetzinger Schlossfestspiele 1994 by René Jacobs who returned to it in 2016 with a new production for the Brussels 1878 Cirque Royal.
[7] A co production of Rossini Opera Festival with Opéra Royal de Wallonie Liège.
[8] A voice defined by the late Rodney Milnes as one with a dark, weighty lower octave and a ringing upper one but with sufficient agility for coloratura singing (The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, edited by Stanley Sadie (1992, p. 1095).
[9] The artist for whom Rossini had already composed the eponymous role in his 1816 opera Otello.
[10] Alongside the late Dame Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti (first issued in the USA on London LDR 72009 and in Europe on Decca 6.35501 FA. Interestingly its first cd edition omitted all 3 artists’ solo contributions to the Concert, obviously  in order to limit the reissue to a single cd).
[11] Nicola Zaccaria had incidentally incarnated Elena’s father opposite Marilyn Horne, Frederica Von Stade and Rockwell Blake. Their October 1981 Houston production has become a cherished collector’s item on a deleted Ponto PO-1016 Cd set.
[12] The August Pesaro performances were preceded  by the work’s US premiere at the Caramoor International Music Festival in July 2012, both starred by Ewa Podleś.
[13] Elsewhere referred to as Dramma giocoso.
[14] Charles X  (Charles Philippe; 9 October 1757 – 6 November 1836) was King of France from 16 September 1824 until 2 August 1830.  For most of his life he was known as the Count of Artois (in French, comte d’Artois). An uncle of the uncrowned King Louis XVII, and younger brother to reigning Kings Louis XVI and Louis XVIII, he supported the latter in exile and eventually succeeded him. His rule of almost six years ended in the July Revolution of 1830, which resulted in his abdication and the election of Louis Philippe, Duke of Orléans, as King of the French. Exiled once again, Charles died in 1836 in Gorizia, then part of the Austrian Empire. He was the last of the French rulers from the senior branch of the House of Bourbon.
[15] One of the all too few records we took with us this time from Pesaro was Gencer’s famous 1957  Lucia di Lammermoor performance at the Teatro Verdi di Trieste, issued at last in its entirety on a 2-cd set by the connoisseur label Bongiovanni (cat. No.:GB1198/99). The old Peplica lp of highlights was in fact the first ever record bought abroad by us, coincidentally in Paris during the week between 15 and 21 of October 1980, when actually the Diva was appearing there in one of her last Lundis Musicaux du théâtre de lAthénée concerts. A concert about which we eternally regret failure of attendance, because of the 130 French francs required for the ticket, sum unattainable for a 19 year old! This same concert has also thankfully been issued by the Bongiovanni label (GB2536).

[16] All photos by courtesy of the Rossini opera festival Press Office