Ricciardo e Zoraide
Pretty Yende, Juan Diego Flórez, Sergey Romanovsky, Victoria Yarovaya, Nicola Ulivieri, Xabier Anduaga, Sofia Mchedlishvili; Coro del Teatro Ventido Basso; Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI/Giacomo Sagripanti; dir. Marshall Pynkoski (Pesaro, 2018)
C Major DVD: 752608; Blu-ray: 752704 176 mins
Ricciardo e Zoraide is frankly the least successful of Rossini’s Naples operas, with an exotic plot that must have seemed old-fashioned even in 1818. Ricciardo, a Christian knight, loves Zoraide, the daughter of a Middle Eastern potentate who has been vanquished by the Nubian King Agorante who, of course, also lusts after Zoraide. You wonder how far Rossini’s heart was less in setting Franceso Berio di Salsa’s libretto, rather than seizing an opportunity to extend his musical style. The result is somehow a ‘work in progress’.
If only Marshall Pynkoski’s production for the 2018 Pesaro Festival was progressive. Discretion and restraint are completely banished, with Pynkoski seemingly unaware of how opera production has developed in the last 40 years. Apparently painted sets wobble and Michael Gianfrancesco’s costumes are in Hollywood’s best ‘Sheikh of Araby’ style with more glitter than a night of the stars at the London Palladium. If this is supposed to be a knowing exercise in post-modern kitsch, it takes itself far too seriously.
What matters is a magnificent cast. Sergey Romanovsky as Agorante may flash his pecs à la Vladimir Putin, but he’s that rare thing: a bel canto tenor with a pronounced baritonal timbre. Victoria Yarovaya as his jealous wife Zomira has a chest register that could curdle cream, and the young South American tenor Xabier Anduaga, as Ricciardo’s best friend Ernesto, is a voice to watch. Best of all is Flórez as Ricciardo. The voice may have lost its youthful bloom, but it remains in fine form and as faultless as ever. He is magnificently matched by his Zoraide: Pretty Yende produces a stream of unforced tone, elegant decorations with an enviable legato to her phrasing. The duet for the lovers is not only gloriously sung, it’s also the best thing in the score. Briefly and magically Rossini is at one with his libretto and its exotic plot.