Rossini: William Tell

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WORKS: William Tell
PERFORMER: Gerald Finley, John Osborn, Matthew Rose, Frédéric Caton, Elena Xanthoudakis, Carlo Cigni, Carlo Bosi, Celso Albelo, Dawid Kimberg, Malin Byström, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Davide Malvestio; Orchestra & Chorus of the Academy of Santa Cecilia, Rome/Antonio Pappano

Rossini’s vast final opera is rarely performed. Nearly 40 years have elapsed since Lamberto Gardelli’s complete 1972 EMI studio recording, with an all-star cast, revealed its immense qualities. Since then, there have been several live recordings and Riccardo Chailly’s 1979 Decca version starring Luciano Pavarotti – though that (like many of the live versions) is sung in Italian translation. Stage performances are rare, primarily due to the near impossibility of finding a credible Arnold – the tenor role lies unspeakably high.
Antonio Pappano, who also brought his Santa Cecilia forces to this year’s Proms for a concert performance of the opera, recorded this live account in October and December 2010 over six concerts. That total demonstrates the difficulty of getting everything right in nearly three-and-a-half hours of complex arias and ensembles. In the tenor spotlight is John Osborn, whose liquid voice often takes to the air with ease, though there is the odd yelp; this is compared to tenor Nicolai Gedda, who, in the 1972 EMI recording, is more secure and has better French. In the title role, baritone Gerald Finley is at the top of his game, a match for Gabriel Bacquier, again EMI, in his impassioned lyricism, with melancholy at the centre. Soprano Malin Byström’s Mathilde sounds cool and contained compared to the flamboyant fantasy of Montserrat Caballé; her French is also occluded. Mezzo-soprano Marie-Nicole Lemieux makes more of a splash as Tell’s wife Hedwige, as does soprano Elena Xanthoudakis as his son Jemmy. Where the set gains the bulk of its authority is in Pappano’s conducting: passionate, alert to detail and ideally paced. George Hall