Rossini: La pietra del paragone

WORKS: La pietra del paragone
PERFORMER: Sonia Prina, Jennifer Holloway, Laura Giordano, François Lis, José Manuel Zapata, Joan Martín-Royo; Parma Theatre Chorus; Ensemble Matheus/Jean-Christophe Spinosi; dir. Dirogio Barberio Corsetti & Pierrick Sorin (Paris, 2007)
CATALOGUE NO: Na•ve V 5089 (NTSC system; Dolby; 16:9 picture format)
This will not be to everyone’s taste – I’m not even sure how much I really like it – but it is an original, brilliantly executed and fascinating piece of work. The opening credits that roll during Rossini’s mercurial overture are hardly promising: we see a rat exploring the toytown set, and the first thing that comes to mind is a sinking ship… But when the cameras pan back it becomes clear that the entire performance is based on the live creation of video tableaux. The fully costumed cast move around on a bare downstage area, while fixed video cameras superimpose their every move onto magnified images of the model sets projected stage-wide above their heads. Both the audience (this was filmed at the Théâtre du Châtelet last January) and small-screen viewer get to see the two levels of activity simultaneously, making for a busy show. This is the operatic debut of the video artist Pierrick Sorin, and the comic-strip effect –enhanced by distortions of perspective, not to mention the bright colours of the contemporary setting – ultimately proves itself more than a just a typically French triumph of style over substance. The show matches this tale of the venal characters who hang around three claimants for Count Asdrubale’s hand.  Of course, Rossini has become the composer of choice for whacko directors, who seem to think thathis ebullient music is not to be taken seriously. The conductor Jean-Christophe Spinonsi shows that even this early (1812) piece has virtuosity and pathos in equal measure. Though his frenetic style sometimes seems to the stop the music flowing, he draws an exciting performance from both his period band and an evenly matched cast.