Julia Gasper 19/10/2014.
We sometimes associate Rossini with his early comic operas, and think of him as a composer who wrote almost in the style of Mozart, albeit thirty years later. William Tell totally changes that picture. A thoroughly Romantic work on an epic, grand-opera scale, serious though not tragic, it affirms the desire for freedom, the struggle against tyranny and need for national identity, values that inspired the Romantic movement in the era of the French Revolution. In choosing a Swiss story, based on a play by Schiller, Rossini may have been taking a lead from Beethoven, whose Egmont overture also looks to Switzerland and its history to inspire thoughts of liberation, and whose only opera, Fidelio, share the same ideals.
What a giant of an opera William Tell is! It has everything to offer, a compelling overture, tuneful choruses, wonderful arias, thrilling ensembles, spectacle and ballet. The orchestration is lavish, making much use of powerful horns and timpani, as well as remarkable cello solos. In this tremendous production, the lead of William Tell was sung by David Kempster, the well-known, rugged Welsh baritone, who was ideal in the rôle, and his loyal wife Hedwige was sung by Leah-Marion Jones, with grace and pathos. The villain, Gesler, the Austrian governor of Switzerland, was sung by the powerful bass Clive Bayley, and was appropriately sinister. It is he who subjects Tell to the ordeal of having to shoot an apple on the head of his own son (a trouser rôle sung by Fflur Wyn), and the way this was presented was ingenious. Tell’s friends, in slow motion, pass the arrow from hand to hand across the stage, and guide it safely to its destination.
The romantic lead of Arnold was taken by Barry Banks, the world-famous tenor from Stoke-on-Trent. His poignant aria “O asile héréditaire”, lamenting his deserted home and dead father, gives us a different angle on the love of one’s homeland. Mathilde, the heroine, was sung by the Swedish soprano Gisela Stille, whose voice was piercingly lovely, both in her solos and in her duets with Arnold. The chorus made a fine climax out of the Rütli oath, when the various cantons swear to defend each other with arms.
There could hardly be a better operatic experience than this William Tell. WNO and its fine orchestra are to be congratulated on an outstanding production that will be remembered for many years to come.
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