Rossini: Ricciardo e Zoraide

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Rossini
LABELS: Opera Rara
WORKS: Ricciardo e Zoraide
PERFORMER: Bruce Ford, Nelly Miricioiu, William Matteuzzi, Alastair Miles, Della JonesGeoffrey Mitchell Choir, Academy of St Martin in the Fields/David Parry
CATALOGUE NO: ORC 14
Rossini’s 26th opera, a dramma written between Mosè and Ermione, enjoyed spectacular success after its 1818 premiere; a quarter of a century later it sank into obscurity until 1990, when it was exhumed at the Rossini festival at Pesaro. Dramatically it’s unwieldy, absurd and not at all PC, with its cast of dastardly Nubians and heroic Christians. But musically it is delightful vintage Rossini. It may lack the sort of show-stopping arias that characterise his greatest works – in three hours of music its principals have only one solo apiece – but the ensembles are exquisite, the choruses vividly coloured and the orchestral passages, exceptionally well played by the ASMF, evocative and exhilarating.

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It’s hard to imagine a better case for a forgotten opera than the individual performances. Nelly Miricioiu makes an enchanting Zoraide, her tone bright and limpid (if a little cold); her coloratura fluent and secure. And the excellent Della Jones presents a tenderly sympathetic portrait of the slighted and vengeful queen Zomira. The really remarkable singing comes, however, from the three tenors: Bruce Ford, Paul Nilon and, especially, William Matteuzzi’s unlikely hero Ricciardo, a role written for a tenore di grazia so florid it verges on camp and which requires astonishing vocal agility and an improbably high tessitura – challenges to which Matteuzzi rises with forceful swagger. Claire Wrathall