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Melodramma eroico in due atti
Libretto by Gaetano Rossi after Voltaire From the Schwetzinger Festspiele 1992


Stage Director, Settings and Costumes Pier Luigi Pizzi
Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart & Chorus of the Sudfunk Stuttgart
Conductor Gianluigi Gelmetti

Arthaus 100 206 [4:3 166 mins]

For listeners dubious about opera seria,
Gioacchino Rossini's first large-scale example of the genre, Tancredi (1813), may win you over. A 'heroic melodrama', it was realised to perfection in the small, jewel-like theatre of Schwetzingen Palace in the 1992 Schwetzingen Festival. The stage is small and the production transfers to the small screen perfectly.

Pacing the action is leisurely (and alternately compressed) but the whole is held in perfect balance by the conducting of Gianluigi Gelmetti with the versatile Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra (which has just released all the Beethoven symphonies, 'period-informed' accounts under Roger Norrington for Haenssler).

Tancredi established Rossini as the leading composer of Italian opera seria. It began life in Venice with a happy ending; in Ferrara a tragic conclusion was substituted, bringing the plot closer to Voltaire's play. That ending, given here, is however the weakest part of the whole. A small group of soldiers, headed by our hero, go off back stage and return almost immediately having thwarted a Saracen invasion; Tancredi is lain down on the steps to die, without a pillow to support 'his' head (see cover photo). Bernadette Manca de Nisa does so sufficiently protractedly to allow the misunderstandings to be cleared up, and for final reconciliation with her beloved, Maria Raul, who is reprieved from a death sentence which had been ordered by her father, Raul Giménez, who was beset with a lot of moral uncertainty, love v. duty etc. (In Milan, Rossini later restored the happy ending and added some new material.)

It is relaxing viewing; you adjust to a slow tempo of action (most of it off-stage), held up by the arias and duets, which are inventive, keenly orchestrated and many of them memorably beautiful, not less so on account of the florid vocal displays which somehow seem to be appropriate, in character and in context. The protagonists act convincingly; the chorus of soldiers etc stand impassively, as if they have no idea what is going on; that certainly used to be the way I remember from first visits to the opera.

The settings are delightfully naive, and Pier Luigi Pizzi, responsible for it all, takes us right back into period. The cast of principals, led by Bernadette Manca de Nisa, Maria Raul and Raul Giménez, is excellent.

Opera seria is still an aquired taste; this DVD is a good one with which to begin acquiring it.


© Peter Grahame Woolf