LABELS: Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Rossini
WORKS: William Tell (DVD)
PERFORMER: Gerald Finley, Malin Byström, John Osborn, Sofia Fomina, Nicolas Courjal, Alexander Vinogradov, Enkelejda Shkosa, Eric Halfvarson, Michael Colvin, Samuel Dale Johnson, Enea Scala; Royal Opera Chorus/Renato Balsadonna; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Antonio Pappano; dir. Damiano Michieletto (Covent Garden, 2015)
CATALOGUE NO: Opus Arte DVD: OA 1205 D; Blu-ray: OA BD7195 D
When it opened in June 2015, the first night of the Royal Opera production of William Tell attracted a storm of protest, much of it occasioned by a protracted gang-rape scene that many observers found both gratuitous and offensive; the booing for the production team resumed at their curtain call.
Seeing the show again after more than two years, the negative audience reaction remains comprehensible; but in fact Damiano Michieletto’s staging has further problems. Its overall look is ugly and grungy, and there are repeated appearances by a silent, comic-book representative of the historical William Tell who comes over – whatever the intention – as not merely intrusive but also ridiculous.
On a visual and theatrical basis, then, the show is scarcely recommendable – though Michieletto would redeem himself not long afterwards at the same address with a Cav & Pag which, not surprisingly, reached DVD and Blu-ray first. William Tell itself is pretty well a write-off. Yet musically it has a lot going for it, not least the rarely performed and ambitious score itself, conducted by Antonio Pappano with his customary zeal and stylistic insight. The leading role of the Swiss patriot is delivered in sombre (if not glowering) yet dignified manner by Gerald Finley, who quite properly makes the famous aria ‘Sois immobile’ an expressive highlight. In the near-impossible tenor role of Arnold, with its punishing plethora of high notes, John Osborn stands his ground more than honourably. Malin Byström understands the internal conflict of Arnold’s beloved enemy Hapsburg princess Mathilde and is persuasive in delineating it, while Sofia Fomina is vocally confident and convincingly boyish as Tell’s son, Jemmy. Secondary roles such as Eric Halfvarson’s vigorous Melcthal, Enkelejda Shkosa’s concerned Hedwige and Nicolas Courjal’s ultra-villainous Gesler are expertly done, while the Royal Opera Chorus and Orchestra are on top form throughout.