Rossini Opera Festival 2023 – Adelaide di Borgogna – with Olga Peretyatko, Varduhi Abrahamyan & Riccardo Fassi; directed by Arnaud Bernard; conducted by Francesco Lanzillotta

Adelaide di Borgogna – opera in two Acts to a libretto by Giovanni Federico Schmidt [sung in Italian with Italian and English surtitles]

Ottone – Varduhi Abrahamyan
Adelaide – Olga Peretyatko
Berengario – Riccardo Fassi
Adelberto – René Barbera
Eurice – Paola Leoci
Iroldo – Valery Makarov
Ernesto – Antonio Mandrillo

Chorus of the Teatro Ventidio Basso

Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI
Francesco Lanzillotta

Arnaud Bernard – Director
Alessandro Camera – Set Designer
Maria Carla Ricotti – Costumes
Fiammetta Baldiserri – Lighting

Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: 13 August, 2023
Venue: Vitrifrigo Arena, Pesaro, Italy

Adelaide di Borgogna (1817) – rarely seen anywhere beyond the Rossini Opera Festival – here receives its third outing in just seventeen years (previously a 2006 semi-staging, and then a full production in 2011). It’s unsurprising and welcome, then, that Arnaud Bernard takes a different slant on this episode of quite arcane, tenth-century European history, which tells how Ottone (the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, known as ‘the Great’) comes to the assistance of Adelaide, the widow of Lothair, king of Italy, after the throne has been usurped by Berengario (the historical Berengar II of Italy). The latter wishes to cement his new political status by having Adelaide marry his son Adelbert, but she reciprocates Ottone’s love instead, who outmanoeuvres and defeats the upstart, and so the opera ends with her crowning.

Rather than give a straightforward presentation, or force the narrative into some other conceptual framework, this new production is staged as a rehearsal of the work by the Rossini Opera Festival today, in what would be a traditional mediaeval realisation, so that the working and amorous relationships between the cast are played out against the backdrop of the opera’s own tensions and confrontations. As such it provides a witty, ironic angle on some of the numbers and sequences within the work which perhaps strike some listeners today as somewhat stylised. Reams of conventional rhetoric or outpourings of emotion are distanced from the audience’s engagement with the narrative within a comical or satirical frame (for example as the singers practise the choreography they should execute in the real thing, or switch between mufti and their theatrical, mediaeval attire). Other numbers counterpoint amusingly what is going on between the characters when they are offstage.

It’s a production unsatisfactory to purists then, who would wish to see the opera unfold in a more standard, linear way. But the plot is generally simple, and essentially one dimensional (without the twists and diversions of the typical opera seria of the eighteenth-century, to which it is related in theme and form) so it can certainly bear being overlaid by a more complicated dramaturgical layer. If anything, the metatheatrical interactions and squabbles among the cast are fairly reticent, and even more could be made of them to effect a greater visual and dramatic contrast with the rendition of each number as they are probed in the ongoing rehearsal. The audience still gets the spectacle it may expect of a grand historical epic towards the end of Act Two as Adelaide is seen against a dark, wooded landscape with the castle of Canossa in the background, and the final scene shows the interior of a magnificent Gothic church for Adelaide’s triumph.

An excellent cast for the principal roles realise the comic aspects of this play-within-a-play presentation and the expressive potential of the music. Olga Peretyatko uses razor-sharp vocal precision to evince delicacy and vulnerability as Adelaide but evolves a more emphatic and outward confidence as the queen’s opponents are seen off. Varduhi Abrahamyan exerts a richer, more determined vocal profile as Ottone to characterise the Emperor’s unwavering championing of Adelaide. By contrast Riccardo Fassi’s unyieldingly dark but still melodious tone skilfully expresses Berengario’s wiliness as he seeks to hold on to power. His son, Adelberto – or at least the singer rehearsing his part in the opera – is played as rather hapless, and René Barbera particularly imports a degree of farce in his performance with his jovial, robust delivery, culminating with a deliberately grandiose, mock-heroism in his aria ‘Grida, o natura’.

Paola Leoci cultivates an attractive elegance for her rather Mozartian aria ‘Si, si, mi svena’ as Eurice. But the other two minor roles are more anonymous and come off with less flamboyance. Although the Chorus of the Teatro Ventidio Basso revel in the production’s liveliness and in their vivid musical contribution, Francesco Lanzillotta in the pit presides over a more settled, less adventurous approach with the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI, a few rough edges not ironed out. It’s good to have Bernard’s quizzical take on an otherwise earnest and sober historical drama. But audiences who prefer a more faithful approach to Rossini’s score will find it in the performances of the first-rate ensemble of vocalists.

Performances until August 22

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