ROSSINI OPERA FESTIVAL 2013: ASSURED AND EXALTANT

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ROSSINI OPERA FESTIVAL 2013: ASSURED AND EXALTANT[1]

by Kyriakos Loukakos[2]

One has only to note the press book foreword by Sovrintendente Gianfranco Mariotti in order to realize the seriousness of purpose which has led to the spectacular ascendance of Rossini Opera Festival’s public esteem in the run of 34 seasons of its evolution. Very rarely indeed, not even in Bayreuth, where we have unintermittently and devotedly pilgrimed since 2003, have we faced such a clear and unadorned perception of today’s  crisis as a threat to the national (Italian in our case) and European cultural identity, which has enlightened humanity through the centuries. And equally rarely one (especially journalists) is being presented with such an erudite program analysis as the one offered in this same press book (incidentally a universal model of its kind) by the venerable maestro Alberto Zedda, lifelong artistic director of the Festival. These are the elements that facilitate the summer switch from Wagner to Rossini, presenting it as a plausible and deeply satisfying alternative.

Although visiting the picturesque little Adriatic town of   Pesaro for the first time, we have been following, over the past many years,  its Rossini Festival feats through the satellite Rai Radiotre transmissions, in the ever enthusiastic and well informed presentation of Giovanni Vitali, transmissions we often presented ourselves for the Greek Radio 3 thanks to the EBU circuit. Being in loco, nevertheless, presents a totally different experience, due mainly to the affirmation of various levels of an active Rossini workshop, much more consistent than the over – publicized one in Bayreuth. This workshop includes the already prestigious Accademia Rossiniana, the apex of maestro Zedda’s invaluable offer to the Rossini cause and an exceptional educational frame of initiation to the Rossini interpretation for young and talented singers, who, every August in more recent years, unite their forces for a performance of the Master’s Il viaggio a Reims. A kind of mammoth cantata commissioned to Rossini for what turned to be the last traditional coronation (1825) of a French Bourbon King, Charles X (1824 – 1830), this Viaggio, half way long of the plot eagerly awaited but never actually taking place, has become a milestone of Rossini appreciation since its first modern revival by maestro Claudio Abbado in a fabled Luca Ronconi production, back in 1984, when this exuberant masterpiece was recuperated to us from loss and oblivion. Instrumental to its unearthing and the series of deeply considered critical editions of Rossini operas that have since been staged by the ROF is its academic pillar, the Fondazione Rossini di Pesaro, which completes this unique strategic alliance of study, quest, performance and formation that has led to such a universal Rossini Renaissance in the past decades.

Following his participation in the tiny part of Mitrane in Bad Wildbad’s[3] recent  Semiramide, a young Greek singer, tenor Vassilis Kavayas (vintage 1986), was graced by the Zedda seal of approval to participate in this summer’s performance of Il Viaggio, alternating the secondary part of Zeffirino with the demanding one of Russian Conte di Libenskof. We regret to have arrived too late to attend either of these matinee performances (Teatro Rossini, 13 and 16/08/2013, 11 a.m.), a regret extending to our missing the tenors’ Celso Albello and Michael Spyres concerts (Auditorium Pedrotti, 15 and 18/08/2013 respectively, 17.00). Of similarly high interest and equally beyond our time grasp was the latest sequence in the presentation of Rossini’s highly original collection of late compositions under the collective title “Les Péchés de vieillesse”, with the participation of a key figure in Italian musical life for more than the past 5 decades, the composer, conductor and pianist Bruno Canino (Rocca Costanza, 13 and 14 August 2013, 21.00).

A Verdi Gala in Rossinian territory

As strange as it may seem, our first musical experience upon arriving in Pesaro, has been the Verdi Gala offered at the beautifully maintained 850 – seat capacity Teatro Rossini by rising Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka and the Orchestra Sinfonica «G. Rossini»,  conducted, for the first time in Festival ambience, by Prof. Daniele Agiman of the Milan Conservatory, who is credited with much of its improvement during the last few years.

Despite carrying the collective title “D’ amor sull‘ ali rosee”, Rebeka’s program  included no Leonora’s aria from “Il trovatore”, opting rather for lyric and coloratura references. To the former category one enumerates mainly Medora’s romanza from the Byronic “Il Corsaro”, attempted by the soprano with a full and energetic mezza voce, as well as sensibly judged abbellimenti in the second stanza, and marred only -but crucially- by the piercing metallic quality of the emission, evident in almost all of her contributions. These included such fiendishly difficult coloratura passages as  Gilda’s act 1 romanza from “Rigoletto”, Amalia’s big scena from “I Masnadieri” (including the spectacular cabaletta) and Violetta’s  equally demanding act 1 scena from “La Traviata”, complete with final unwritten top note and a little backstage help from promising young tenor Giorgio Misseri. In all these gems and despite her obviously first rate artistic intentions, her agility and the sporadic implementation of  soft singing, we remained plagued by her rudimentary sense of shading and colouring the phrases.

The constant hardness of her otherwise staunch voice, capable of filling large theatrical spaces, misses the need for lyric bloom and ecstatic elevation of these arias, so well encapsulated in recordings by such artists as the late and much lamented Anna Moffo or Dame Joan Sutherland, whose repertoire Rebeka reclaims on stages they unforgettably marked with their presence.

Perhaps Rebeka’s  most easy to the ear and technically accomplished contribution was Duchess Elena’s act 5 Bolero from “I Vespri Siciliani”, temporarily withdrawn from her official program only to be offered as an encore, with lightly executed coloratura runs and a welcome sense of vulnerability. It obviously found her relieved after the tension of her exigent program, thanks also to the wholehearted public acclaim, thankfully less indiscriminate in other occasions of the Festival.

Much more rewarding to us proved the judicious choice of orchestral pieces from Verdi operas, attentively conducted in sound style by maestro Agiman and focusing on such early works as “Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio”, “I Masnadieri”, with its impressive big cello quasi – pièce de Concert, or the “Corsaro” prelude, the last suffering a little from too deliberate  a choice of tempo by the conductor. In all these symphonic quotations from Verdi’s “galley years” one was able to trace the continuity of Italian tradition of the Ottocento, with particular innuendos to Rossini’s overall crucial albeit not too obvious influence.

A crazy Italiana (too) full of ideas

Hot from the afternoon Verdi experience, we returned in 2 hours time to the Teatro Rossini for an explosive new production of “L’ Italiana in Algeri”[4] by a seasoned acquaintance of the festival, the Milanese director Davide Livermore. Well known for his resourceful productions, Livermore, in close collaboration with scenographer Nicolas Bovey and costumist Gianluca Falaschi, proved that he amply deserved his fee for the overwhelming wealth of ideas he introduced to this delightful comic opera. The team created a splendidly kitschig and really frenetic stage atmosphere, drawing on Blake Edwards’s film The party from the 70s, complete with a tastefully choreographed nostalgic pair of (PAN AM?) air hostesses and even the eponymous Italian girl’s alter ego as a sexually frustrated, oversized and utterly desperate female figure.

Scenic events were preceded with a graphic frame of the plot’s prolegomena on the proscenium: oil is supposed to have changed life in this Arab realm, attracting agents, among them Lindoro, who has been arrested as a spy by local authorities. Isabella, his betrothed, having received a distress telephone call from her lover, makes her way to Algier and survives a plane crash only to be also arrested by the guards of Mustafa bey, together with the ageing beau Taddeo, incidentally infatuated with her despite their age difference. All this during the overture. Then the action begins initiating a constant escalation of scenic movement, especially demanding to the singers, obliged to combine their required vocal feats with intense corporal acting. It was a succession of movement without relief, perhaps the fatal drawback of this otherwise admirable conception.

Heart of the action became the intensely involved Mustafa of the experienced  Italian bass Alex Esposito, a seemingly inexhaustible force of acting nature, model of uncompromised machismo and a real caricature of domestic tyranny, always carrying and intermittently savoring a lighted cigar as a status symbol and trying to get rid of his official wife Elvira in favour of his fixation of an Italian girl. His captain Haly, whose only aria unfortunately (and too obviously) does not derive from Rossini’s feather, was impersonated by the vigorous young bass Davide Luciano. He kept being escorted by an over the top effeminate eunuch and reveled, along with his master, in crazy farsical situations. Amid such scenic pandaemonium, Esposito’s vocal emission  remained admirably supple and rounded, assured in passages of demanding coloratura or extreme velocity of enunciation. His rather unsmiling Isabella was the young Russian mezzo soprano Anna Goryachova, a good looking and stylishly singing artist who has yet to undergo a liberating stage of ripening in order to conquer this formidable role of emancipated womanhood, especially in such an intimidating production. As her lover Lindoro, the Chinese Yijie Shi represents the valuable fruit of devoted Pesaro vocal nurturing. Without the acting exuberance of others, this 32-year old tenor from Shanghai sang with a beautifully drawn line, admirable breath control and crystal clear Italianate emission of the text. The only real disappointment of the cast proved to be the Taddeo of the well known baritone Mario Cassi, with suffused singing and rather reluctant scenic participation.

Elvira, Mustafa’s unwanted wife seems to be of secondary importance as a character but she is essential as a provider of crucial high notes in the ensembles. We  wistfully record  the pinpoint silvery tones of Greek soprano Rena  Gary Falacchi[5] in the RAI / Berganza film of the late 1950s, but Mariangela Sicilia’s wilder and full throated abandon developed its own vocal thrill. Of note also the substantial Zulma of yet another Pesaro find, mezzo Raffaella Lupinacci. We welcome the incisiveness and lightness of choral singing by the Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna (chorus master: Andrea Faidutti), especially when attempting piano passages, but we join the dismay, expressed vociferously during the curtain calls, in respect to the somewhat pedestrian conducting of guest condustor José Ramón Encinar. Despite excellent playing from the Bologna Orchestra, the well known Spanish maestro proved inconsistent not only to the erratic priapism of stage action, but, more crucially, to the indefatigable and so personal Rossini verve in this earliest of his big comical masterpieces.

Guillaume Tell: A landmark production

High point of the 2013 ROF was the much attended new production of Rossini’s mastodontic operatic swansong “Guillaume Tell”[6], virtually complete[7], in the most updated critical version and starring, for the first time in his illustrious career, Juan Diego Flórez in the fearsome part of Arnold Melchtal.

As all central productions of recent years, “Guillaume Tell” was presented in the huge Adriatic Arena, functional in its partial refurbishment to a simulation of a theatre, with wooden-like walls and even a similar ceiling, helping to create a well balanced acoustic, resonant but not over – reverberant.  A triangle –  like ceiling construction, pointing and even extending to the room, proved valuable for the culmination of the heretic but deeply satisfying production by the experienced British director Graham Vick.

Having obtained the “Premio Abbiati” 2011 for his revelatory albeit scandalous production of Rossini’s “Moïse et Pharaon”, Vick was an almost obvious choice for the composer’s most demanding and questionable creation. As he already put it straight from the beginning[8], he needed something more plausible and universal as a starting point to his work than the historically inaccurate and rather conventional Swiss frame of the opera’s plot. As in his Greek National Opera production of “La Bohème”, conforming more to the socially sensitive Leoncavallo alternative than the more sentimental Puccini perception of the Murger stuff, Vick viewed “Guillaume Tell” as an all time story of oppression and injustice. Hints of pictorial element were either confined to symbolic objects (the boat in act 1), to folk costumes (act 3) or to a museum – like presentation of nature. All the way long official cameras appeared to testify to the people’s sufferings and heroes’ personal conflicts. Guillaume Tell himself, in form of imposing and bearded Nicola Alaimo, could be a universally recognizable everyday revolutionary (trade – unionist?) figure in crisis – struck European South or «Arab spring» Middle – East, jobless, family father, desperate for his offspring’s future. A total opposite to young Arnold, initially a conformist officer of the oppressors’ regime and in love with their Royal Highness, princess Mathilde. Arnold undergoes the transformation to a revolutionary leader of act 4 only due to the personal event of his father’s murder. His patriotic and social radicalisation, as well as that of his royal beloved, is discreetly but evidently mirrored in their costumes (Paul Brown, also responsible for the imposing scenery), which finally become the villagers’ grey ones, symbolizing their eventual uninhibited embrace of the revolutionary ideals. In order to represent revolution in familiar images, Vick occupies imposingly the closed proscenium with an obviously communist raised tight fist, while allusions to a Marxist vision of resurgence occur through the use of red flags and armbands from the revolutionaries. It is really a pity that we didn’t manage to acquire photos of the great tableaux – vivants of several crowd scenes, built up by Vick and his team in a really fabulous way, clearly influenced by Soviet “socialist realism” paintings. Even for the visionary final climax of the opera, Vick transformed the ominous triangle ceiling construction to a purple ascending climax, safely acknowledging the Left wing traumatic past and safeguarding the realization of revolutionary prospects to the youngsters, ideally personified by Tell’ s adolescent boy Jemmy as acted by Amanda Forsythe.

Especially moving to us and equally annoying to other spectators proved the ballabili in act 3, incidentally much less cerebral in meaning than the chorographical rural ceremony of act 1 rustic weddings. Choreographer Ron Howell exploited this ballet divertissement, typical to Paris Opera’s performing traditions, as a propaganda set up of pseudo – harmonic coexistence between rulers and subjects, quickly disintegrating to the authoritarian humiliation and even sexual abuse of the latter (girls, boys, even children[9]) by the former. It was a stroke of genius,  that subconsciously urged the spectators to take sides and led to an instinctive sharing of suffering and allegiance with the oppressed ones.

The full impact of the final scene, that haunted us for ours, would not be so complete, were it not for the exceptional quality of Michele Mariotti’s conducting all evening long. The 30 – year – old maestro seems to be one of the major, perhaps THE major, Italian rising star of the baguette not perhaps for the versatility of his interests but mainly for the strict limitations he imposes to them, focusing more to music he instinctively feels inclined to than to a passepartout attitude that facilitatates commercial ascendance but to a heavy price of missing the development of a distinct artistic identity. If it has really been a lifetime dream since his tender 16 years of age to conduct “Guillaume Tell” as befits this unicum in the Rossini production[10], then the still young Mariotti has every reason to feel he has amply fulfilled this noble wish. Already from the first pensive intervention of the cellos in the overture, he managed to conduct (by heart!) in an admirably cohesive way, illuminating sensitively all the felicities of the orchestration and emendating the few weaker points, never hurrying the music but keeping it flowing to impressive culminations, especially in the big ensembles, which, in his eloquent hands, acquired the radiant quality surely intended by Rossini. And all the way long this more than 5 hour journey he supported his cast of singers admirably, often encouraging them to personal and collective achievements.

The unusually strong cast was understandably dominated by the much attended role debut of Peruvian star tenor Juan Diego Flórez, a real creation of ROF. It says quite enough for his artistic and personal integrity that, despite his indisputable fame, he gratefully remains loyal to it ever since his roaring success as Corradino in “Mathilde di Shabran”, back in 1996.

Coming from the Adolphe Nourrit stable of contraltino tenors, Flórez managed to gather enough strength for the murderous “do di petto” of Arnold’s last act cabaletta, in order to prove the real vocal character of a role so often usurped by Duprez ‘s “tenore di forza” descendants. Indeed, even after many years of stratospheric wandering, his voice remains admirably clear, healthy and sonorous, projecting wonderfully in the interesting acoustic achieved in the Adriatic Arena. Only that nowadays his emission seems to gain a welcome generosity of masculine romanticism, so right for his big plaintive responses to William Tell’s urgings and his  tender love duets with Mathilde. Even his smart and elegant figure seems conform to the strikingly good looks of his aristocratic mate.  As Mathilde, Marina Rebeka filled the big room with healthy, metallic sound, riding easily over the overexposed orchestra, but her singing proved disappointingly short on light and shade, even in her big hit aria “Sombre forêt”. She remains a singer not to be ignored by theatre intendants, but with a very limited emotional appeal of her singing.

The title role of the opera is a strange and hardly rewarding one, without big and aggressive numbers. Instead, William Tell has to make his intermittent mark through well focused interacting and singing, while his big aria is imbued with inward melancholy, proving that Rossini, had he gone on composing operas,  was on the verge of a new direction regarding musical handling of drama, more akin to a modern perception of theatrical tautness. Nicola Alaimo proved to be an ideally robust character, full of credible scenic determination and a clear declamation of his text. With Mariotti uneager to allow expressive rubato anachronisms even regarding his “apple” aria[11], Alaimo earned a well deserved applause during the curtain calls. A special mention deserve the hero’s family members, namely mezzo – soprano Veronica Simeoni as his wife Edwige, a well rounded voice Mariotti had already used, last March, for his Verdi «Requiem» in Bologna, and, even more, soprano Amanda Forsythe as their son Jemmy. Indeed, Forsythe proved something of a revelation with her bright, daring and sexless soprano voice, her youthful enthusiasm and credible boyish looks. She established character right from the beginning as the young and daring partisan-to-be, the impetuous lad who already imitates his idolized revolutionary father, her contribution of fearless high notes in the big ensembles notwithstanding. Strong impersonations by Wojtek Gierlach as Leuthold and Simón Orfila as Walther Furst, although we remain less sure about other lower voiced characters, such as the uncertain contribution of Luca Tittoto’s Gessler and  the raw one of Simone Alberghini as Melcthal père. Luxury casting indeed proved Celso Albelo’s recruit for the demanding fisherman’s solo (a part graced on record by no less than Alfredo Kraus), let alone the minor part of Roudi. With enthusiastic response from the admirable Chorus of Bologna’s Municipal Theatre (chorus master: Andrea Faidutti), we enjoyed the cumulative power of an all – in – all  memorable evening, whose mandatory DVD circulation is already in preparation.

Yizie Shi or the triumph of zeal

The afternoon solo concert by tenor Yizie Shi (21 August 2013, 17.00) gave us the only opportunity to get acquainted with yet another beautifully maintained venue, the  Pedrotti Auditorium and its sympathetic ambience and acoustic. Shi’s program encompassed an interesting range of  styles, from Rossini’s florid and Mozart’s lyrical classicism to the core of the 19th century romantic lyric tenor repertoire, even that of Lehar’s later and justly memorable Tauberlieder. Although a possessor of a modest sized voice and still not equally at home with every style he tackled, Shi deserves our admiration for the evident humility of his equally evident efforts, for his obviously well chosen models in specific roles and for the extent of his achievement so far, presenting a real lesson to more arrogant offsprings of our shores.

Rossini’s “La promessa” established the flowing phrasing, elegant emission, clear text enunciation and an ease in the higher register we had already noted at the “Italiana” performance. With Mozart’s “Bildnisarie” from  “Die Zauberflöte” and Ferrando’s act 1 aria from “Così fan tutte , ossia La scuola degli amanti ” we admired the high standard of his German as well as Shi’s deep understanding of classical line as a measure of his youthful impersonations’ fervour. We especially enjoyed his caressing use of the mezza – voce for the reprise in the latter aria, in such nice contrast with his fearless register lapses and high notes in arias from Rossini’s “Le Comte Ory” and “La Cenerentola”, missing only the last ounce of Rossinian exuberance.

If the first part of the Chinese tenor’s program presented an anticipated but no mean feat, his repertoire choices after the interval proved really revelatory. It was a pleasant surprise to witness the “Lamento di Federico” from Francesco Cilea’s otherwise almost forgotten “L’ Arlesiana”[12] sung in such a thrilling, italianate and deeply felt manner, combining lessons from Ferruccio Tagliavini’s delicacy, Beniamino Gigli’s introvert passion and Salvatore Gioia’s boyish vulnerability. Shi’s lower register has yet to gain in power, but, otherwise he offered a well schooled account of the eponymous hero ‘s romance from act 3 of Charles Gounod’s “Faust”. He seemed a little akward and immature in the Franz Lehár hit “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” from act 2 of the 1929 operetta “Das Land des Lächelns”, the idiomatic Viennese melancholy still eluding him, but he offered again nice soft singing in the last section of the aria, clearly modeled on the famed (earlier) Gedda recording. Last stop and a well suited round up of a noble program proved to be his reading (in Italian) of Fernand’s act 4 romanza “Ange si pur”, better known in the Italian version “Spirto gentil” from Gaetano Donizetti’s “La Favorite”, an exemplary performance with interesting declamation in the recitative, fine legato, admirable breath control, phrases sensitively shaped, plangent in feeling, and crowned by ringing top notes. Two interesting Chinese love songs from the 1930s, clumsily but adorably announced by the artist, as well as Sir Paolo Tosti’s “Non t’ amo piu” were offered as encores by the Shanghaian artist, ably partnered by his pianist.

Multum in parvo by Ponnelle

Last scenic revival of a Rossini opera  we attended in Pesaro was the early (1812) one act burletta per musicaL‘occasione fa il ladro, ossia Il cambio della valigia[13], one of the five of its kind that Rossini composed and present his comical gift in a seminal yet fully formed way. The major point of interest regarding the performance we attended (Teatro Rossini, 21 August 2013, 20.00) was the virtual revival of the original Jean – Pierre Ponnelle 1987 Pesaro production, faithfully remastered by his vestal Sonja Frisell. Using the most simple of means, Ponnelle creates, changes and, after the show, retrieves his whole scenery lightly and eerily, as part of a hat trick. Magic for magic, with stuff and characters coming out of a suitcase, incidentally the crucial point of reference to a well nigh incomprehensible plot resulting, nevertheless, to the happy marriage of two rather improbable couples. This same suitcase helps to initiate the action, as it serves for Rossini (alias the protean Paolo Bordogna in disguise of course!) to hand the manuscript himself to the conductor. The limited visibility of Miss Yi – Chen Lin on the podium, a young and, on the face of her performance, brilliant Taiwanese conductor, contributed to our missing, at first, the fact that she led the piece by heart, with sure hand, attentive ear and an almost innate sense for Rossini’s zestful music. Under her direction the Orchestra Sinfonica “G. Rossini” played with idiomatic verve and communicative joy.

The cast was a strong one, headed by the Don Parmenione of experienced Roberto de Candia, usurping the suitcase and identity of Conte Alberto, the young and handsome tenor Enea Scala, a singer of pleasant emission and considerable prowess. They both attempt to marry Berenice, the impressive Russian soprano Elena Tsallagova, who switches identity with her maid Ernestina, yet another Russian, the somewhat self – effacing mezzo Viktoria Yarovaya, in order to seek the truth about feelings and intentions of the men. All this under the helpless vigilance of their uncle, tenor Giorgio Misseri, in healthy and sunny, not at all elderly sounding, voice. Crucial to the action, despite his not too central vocal part, was in many original ways Martino, Don Parmenione’s servant, a kind of manipulative but ultimately benign  servus ex machina, acted and sung with torrential gusto and inexhaustible adrenalin by Paolo Bordogna, a really exceptional acting singer of our time in a not too heavily populated area of the repertoire. A DVD of this delightful performance is badly needed!

Rather promise than footnote : “La Donna del Lago” in forma di concerto

As usual in Pesaro, the 34th edition of Rossini Opera Festival let its curtain fall with a concert performance of a major Rossini work, projected live, with the auspices of the municipal authorities, to a wider open air public, comfortably seated in the central Piazza del Popolo. This time it was the 2-act melodramma ‘s  “La Donna del Lago” turn to feature, under the authoritative and energetic baton of Alberto Zedda. Yet, to many visitors the event was marked by maestro Zedda’s temporary indisposition, just after the central section of Rodrigo’s presentation aria, which led to a more than 40-minute delay of the proceedings, but thankfully ended with the venerable maestro back on the pit and as vigorous as ever. It was a moving occasion, especially revealing of the general veneration and affection the public holds for this great man of music.

“La Donna del Lago” boasts not one or two but three competitors for the heart of Elena, the eponymous lady of the lake. It is a very special work that needs delicate handling to reveal all its attractive potential. Elena is accorded the final –and most widely known- number in the piece, but otherwise it is a role with more lyrical aspects than pyrotechnic ones. Aspects only intermittently fulfilled by yet another young and talented artist, mezzo – soprano Carmen Romeu, rather insufficiently distinctive a singer in comparison to her co – protagonists. Among them,  the equally (?)  young but charismatic Chiara Amarù in the trouser part of Malcom, Elena’s husband – to – be, bursting with pyrotechnic health in all the significant vocal range of her demanding role and imbued with splendid mountaineer  masculinity for this tough guy’s character. All that along with a noble line and a splendid coloratura technique that made her utterance so special already in her entrance scena «Mura felici», incidentally a Marilyn Horne and Lucia Valentini – Terrani  showpiece, that brought the Teatro Rossini down. The young Russian tenor Dmitry Korchak established a royal character for King James V since his first incognito appearance as Uberto. His is a strong and healthy lyric tenor voice with manly substance and a certain freedom above the stave that contributes to a strong overall scenic presence. He contrasted well with Rodrigo Di Dhu  of Michael Spyres, one of the rare birds of our times as he happens to be the first real baritenore of our experience. As the «highlander», Spyres, already widely known in a considerable repertoire range, must have few peers in the world and his first appearance, despite the aforementioned incident, impressed not only by his sheer leaps of octaves, but also with the beauty of sound, whether in the baritonal Nibelheim or the tenorial Walhall. Experienced baritone Simone Alberghini as Douglas and soprano Mariangela Sicilia in the secondary part of Albina, the latter winner of the 2012 «Concorso Tito Schipa di Lecce»,  rounded up a nearly all – round exceptional cast. It is a tribute to 34 seasons of evident hard work that such a world class team can be assembled in this town, little yet full of the educational prestige of the past. Forth to 2014![14]


[1] First published on www.critics-point.gr, (2013).

[2] 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 www.critics-point.gr, an activity he now refreshes through his new e-magazine address www.criticscorner.gr .

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.
[3] Incidentally Pesaro’s quasi Zweigstelle in Southwestern Germany
[4] “Edizione critica della Fondazione Rossini, in collaborazione con Casa Ricordi, a cura di Azio Corghi”[5] This talented coloratura was a frequent visitor to the RAI studios, participated to world premiere recordings of Mozart’s “Lucio Silla” and Vivaldi’s “La fida nimfa” and reached La Scala, a.o. as Lucia di Lammermoor and as Naiade in R. Strauss’s “Ariadne auf Naxos”, the latter under the baton of Hermann Scherchen, before putting a premature end to her promising career to devote herself to her beloved husband, the distinguished conductor Armando Gatto,  incidentally a Serafin protegée.
[6] A coproduction with Fondazione Teatro Regio di Torino
[7] In an interview to Giovanni Vitali during the interval of the premiere direct relay (Rai Radiotre, 11.08.2013), maestro Michele Mariotti assured that the work was presented virtually complete, with only secondary cuts limited to minor sections of subsequent acts’ orchestral introductions (Edizione critica della Fondazione Rossini, in collaborazione con Casa Ricordi, a cura di M. Elizabeth C. Bartlet).
[8] Also in an interview to Giovanni Vitali during the interval of the above premiere direct relay (Rai Radiotre, 11.08.2013)[9] Lifeless bodies of children were being carried on stage by hunters as prey at the beginning of act 2.
[10] Mariotti has confided, during a press conference, that he had attended all rehearsals of the previous ROF “Guillaume Tell” production, back in 1995, then under the direction of Gianluigi Gelmetti.
[11] Compare his straight and contained reading with the melodramatic anxiety of such luminaries on record as Tito Gobbi and Giuseppe Taddei.
[12] First performed on 27 November 1897 at the Teatro Lirico in Milan.
[13] Edizione critica della Fondazione Rossini, in collaborazione con Casa Ricordi, a cura di Giovanni Carli Ballola, Patricia Brauner, Philip Gossett.
[14] All photos by kind permission of the Rossini Opera Festival press office (studio amati bacciardi)