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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strong production of a rare early Rossini work, 5 Sep 2012
This review is from: Rossini: Sigismondo (Pesaro 2010) (Daniela Barcellona/ Andrea Concetti/ Olga Peretyatko/ Teatro Comunale di Bologna/ Damiano Michieletto/ Michele Mariotti) (Arthaus: 108062) [Blu-ray] [2012] (Blu-ray)
Updating an opera and setting it in an asylum isn't a terribly original idea and it does usually have a sense of desperation about it, but there is of course a tradition of mad scenes in bel canto opera, so it's not necessarily inappropriate. All the more so since Rossini's rarely heard 1814 opera Sigismondo actually opens with a mad scene of sorts rather than builds up to one, where Sigismondo, the king of Poland, is still tormented by the loss of his wife Aldimira, who he had executed 15 years ago on account of accusations of infidelity that had been laid against her. Sigismondo belongs in this respect to another traditional opera theme then, that of innocent women unjustly accused of infidelity or having their maidenly honour called into question by a jealous admirer who has had his advances rejected. Starting the way it does however, already wading in the depths of madness, Rossini's Sigismondo would seem to have other ambitions towards a psychological drama more closely aligned to Desdemona in Shakespeare's Othello - worked into an opera of course not just by Verdi but by Rossini himself soon after Sigismondo - and to the medieval legend of the saint Genoveva, the subject of Schumann's only opera.

As presented at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro in 2010, there's certainly a belief here that Sigismondo is worthy of more serious consideration and treatment. I'm not sure that the music or Giuseppe Foppa's libretto are always strong enough to bear that kind of psychological probing, but the opera is certainly more experimental in its arrangements than some of Rossini's earlier work and it does indeed build up to a forceful expression of the situation in an impressive series of arias, duets and ensembles in the distinctly Mozartian Second Act. The asylum setting for the First Act however is a powerful reflection of the state of Sigismondo's mind and there are other effective touches that bear this out, such as the three identical Aldimiras who torment both Sigismondo and Ladislao (the scheming First Minister who has betrayed and denounced the former Queen after being rejected by her), and the appearance of other asylum inmates who, since they all carry over into the palatial Stateroom of the Second Act, are clearly intended to be representations of the mindsets of the characters rather than actual figures.

The sense of ghostly apparitions haunting the characters also works well within the context of the drama, since (probably no surprise to opera-goers here) Aldimira is not actually dead, but having been rescued from her unjust fate 15 years ago, returns in the guise of Egelinda, the daughter of the noble Zenovito. If the plot inevitably slips into high melodrama with her reappearance, the staging does manage to show that there are powerful feelings expressed with considerable skill by Rossini in this near-forgotten work. At the very least Sigismondo gives the singers the opportunity to really shine if they are up to it, and fortunately they're all exceptionally good here. As Sigismondo, mezzo-soprano Daniela Barcellona (yes, it's a trouser role) brings a brooding intensity that underplays the potential for raving melodrama, her vocal expression of the king's torment alone powerfully emotive, particularly - as it should be - in the king's direct encounters with Egelinda/Aldimira. As Aldimira, Olga Peretyatko's rich, dark soprano suits the nature of her character's steely determination to resist the injustice of her fate. It's not a coloratura role, but there are certainly vocal demands, and she handles them more than capably, working particularly well in the duets with Barcellona. It's the high tenor role of Ladislao however that has some of the more coloratura arias and these are also sung well by Antonino Siragusa.

It's tremendous then to have the opportunity to see this work - and many others like it - revived by the Rossini Opera Festival and now being made available on DVD and Blu-ray. It's particularly interesting to see these works being given the best possible representation in terms of musical performance and staging. Despite the faith of the Pesaro team however, I don't think Sigismondo is a 5-star Rossini opera by any means, but this is certainly a 5-star production of an interesting work that, preceding and prefiguring Rossini's Neapolitan period, merits the effort and the commitment put into its revival here. It's well filmed and recorded, looking and sounding very good in High Definition on the Blu-ray release. It's mostly filmed 'straight', but the director does use split-screen effects a few times, although only for a few occasions of ensemble singing where it's actually good to be able to see all the performers. Discreet radio mics are also used by the cast, but the sound and mixing sounds natural in both the PCM stereo and the upfront DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 tracks. The Blu-ray is all-region compatible and contains subtitles in Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese and Korean.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 5 Sep 2012 14:03:49 BDT
Thanks, Keris Nine, for the excellent review. Please do us the favour of reviewing the forthcoming release of 'Zelmira', which was recorded at the same opera house and stars Florez, Aldrich, and Kunde. Best.

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Sep 2012 19:11:17 BDT
Keris Nine says:
Thank you for you kind comment. I do hope to get a look at Zelmira at some point - strong cast there - but can't guarantee an early review as the first three Blu-rays of a Complete Verdi edition are being released around the same time, which I'm very excited about. Un giorno di regno! Wow!

I would expect the Pesaro Zelmira to be worthwhile though and I believe that last year's controversial Mose in Egitto is also due soon from Opus Arte. I'm not the biggest Rossini fan, but it is fascinating to see actual performances of these early works and get the opportunity to properly evaluate their importance. I heard the live radio broadcasts of this year's Rossini Opera Festival productions on RAI3 via the internet a few weeks ago (Ciro in Babilonia, Matilde di Shabran and Il Signor Bruschino), so hopefully we'll have one or two of those in the future as well. What marvellous times!

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Sep 2012 15:07:38 BDT
Thanks for your response. I didn't know of the new Verdi titles (I'd love to see works like 'Un giorno' and especially 'I masnadieri' and a new 'Giovanna d'Arco' released on DVD). Do you, by any chance, know when the 2011 Aix-en-Provence performance of 'La clemenza di Tito' will be released by Bel Air Classiques?

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Sep 2012 08:58:15 BDT
Keris Nine says:
The first three Verdi's are out at the end of September from Naxos/C-Major - Oberto, Un giorno di regno and Nabucco. I would expect the others will follow in quick succession to be available for the Verdi Bicentenary.

Sorry, I haven't heard anything about a release of the Aix-en-Provence La Clemenza di Tito. I know Bel Air record most Aix productions for TV broadcast, but not all of them seem to get released on DVD. There was a lovely open-air Aix production of La Finta Giardiniera this year which you could see on ARTE (and may still be available via their WebLive site), but likewise I suspect it might never make it to disc.
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