This first of Rossinis mature opere serie was first put on at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice in February 1813, to enormous acclaim. In addition to its musical felicities, the work is important as being at the beginning of the development which led to male voices, in this case the tenor, Argirio, having the same prominence in opera seria as female, at the same time as incorporating the exhilarating contrivances of orchestra and vocal ensemble which rendered opera buffa so popular. Here the alternative tragic ending, composed for Ferrara in March 1813, is given.
The handsome and plain sets by Pier Luigi Pizzi, rising from a steeply sloping stage, draw on Magna Graecia and are dominated by Doric columns, statues and heroic reliefs. They are an adaption of those used in previous productions in Pesaro.
The theatres musical director, Gianluigi Gelmetti, was conducting; the orchestra therefore was in very experienced hands, but perhaps did not fizz quite as it ideally should.
Now for the singers, and here there it only praise. Rossini tenor roles are so high and call for such agility that they can easily be a great trial to the listener. But here Raul Gimnez, as Argirio, thrown into a perilously difficult aria almost on page one, displayed dazzling and effortless coloratura, together with a virile tone even in the highest passages, providing complete pleasure all evening.
The appearance of Daniela Barcellona, as Tancredi, was rather that of Dick Whittington at the pantomime, in leather jerkin, tights and boots, but the voice was not. She sang her great opening aria, "Di tanti palpiti", superbly, and employed her richness and agility to glorious effect throughout the evening, bringing almost unbearable pathos to her death scene at the very end of the opera.
The management announced that Mariella Devia, as Amenaide, had fallen badly, but would be singing all the same, and indeed she limped visibly and initially seemed a little off form. She gathered strength as the evening advanced, pulling out all her extraordinary talents for her show-stopping aria, "Ah! damore in tal momento", in Act Two. The refined tone, brilliant fioriture and exquisite high notes deservedly earned several minutes of thunderous applause.
Of the minor roles, Isaura, Barbara di Castri, gets one of the most beautiful arias of the opera, "Tu che i miseri conforti", which she sang most affectingly. Marco Spotti was powerful as Orbazzano, and Sofia Soloviy as Roggiero showed great promise.
Teatro dell' Opera di Roma, 2-10 Nov. Teatro Costanzi, Piazza B Gigli 8, Rome, tel. 0648160255.