This recording of Guglielmo Tell is spoiled by inept staging and mediocre performances by two of the principals. Considering that Riccardo Muti, Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro alla Scala are all brilliant, this is a great shame. The films of alpine views flashed onto screens at the back of the stage do not always synchronise with what is occurring on stage. Worse still, the staging for most of the scenes, irrespective of where they are supposed to take place, consists mainly of furniture that has all the appearance of representing pews in some religious establishment. The actual events dramatised in the opera are said to have taken place in 1307, but the consensus among historians is that Tell is a purely fictitious character.
Cheryl Studer as Matilde and Chris Merritt as Arnoldo both sing well and give bravura performances. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of either Giorgio Zancanaro as William Tell and Amelia Felle as his son Jemmy. Zancanaro's heart doesn't seem to be in what he is doing. It's as if he's going through the motions of doing it all properly like someone who mimes the actions of lighting a fire without actually striking the match. Amelia Felle as Jemmy looked, sung and acted exactly like a plump girl dressed in shorts Some young ladies perform very well in trouser roles simply because they look boyish and sing like a boy. I wonder why one of these wasn't employed to sing and act this part?
Although the ballet performs well, it's strange how it seems unable to stop itself when performing before the trebuchet that seems to have been brought on stage for the sole purpose of affording a high platform, from which Gessler (Luigi Roni) can lord it over all and sundry. The transfer from dancing to the arrival of Tell and Jemmy culminating in the apple shooting drama is incompetently staged and the paternal-filial relationship between them is poorly acted. When, occasionally for several seconds, the camera leaves what is occurring on stage to focus on Riccardo Muti as he conducts vigorously away, one can only suppose that this is a ploy seeking to emphasise that, whilst you may not think the singing is going too well, just take a look at our conductor and his brilliant orchestra!
However, not withstanding all these disappointments, I'm happy to award this performance four stars. At first I thought 'three', but then I thought about the brilliant, five star, orchestral and choir performances. Why should they be marked down because of bad staging and a couple of lacklustre performances? This recording is certainly worth watching and, if we have a sense of humour, the appallingly bad things about it are so ridiculous that they have the ability to conjure up hilarity out of tragedy in the best possible taste. After all, this isn't the easiest of operas to stage, and it could have been a lot worse.