The reason for the trip was Guillaume Tell. This is Rossini’s very last opera and it is simply brilliant. I hope that the Met will continue to cycle productions of this opera into their rotation. This is a work that should be performed regularly. Of course the vocal requirements alone are enough to limit productions. The tenor role of Arnold is incredibly high and then there are all the dancers and 3, count them, 3 separate men’s choruses for the rousing finale of act 2 – not counting the villagers and the soldiers! In fact the chorus writing is simply amazing in this opera. And the Met chorus takes top honors for this performance. If it was the orchestra who shone brightest in “Tristan” it was the chorus in “Tell!” This takes nothing away from the cast – all of whom are outstanding. I loved the principals – Gerald Finley as Tell, Jennai Brunner as Jemmy, Maria Zifchak as Hedwige (Tell’s wife), Bryan Hymel as Arnold, Marina Rebekah as Mathilde (Gessler’s sister) and then John Relyea as Gessler and Sean Pannikar as the Austrian Captain Rudolphe. And then there is the supporting cast – all excellent! Musically this was a very captivating and moving experience. It will always be for me one of my most memorable Met experiences.
The production has received, for the most part, a fair amount of negative reviews. One friend called it “garbage” (without having seen it, I hasten to add), another friend called it “drab” and other writers have complained about this and that. I will just come out and say that in many ways I prefer the highly controversial ROH production (see below for my review of that) but on the whole I liked the production and felt that it was effective. There was an impressionism about this production that I felt really worked and was quite effective. That doesn’t mean that I liked everything. But on the whole I appreciated how the director used the set to create a closed world created by the injustice and tyranny of oppression. At the very end when freedom comes the set opens up and we have bright warm lightening just in time for the finale ensemble which may well be the most beautiful music Rossini ever composed. I thought the boat/bow structure worked well. I did not quite get the point of what looked like oversized florescent light bulbs that appeared for act 3. Nor did I quite understand the upside down livestock hanging from the top of the stage. And frankly I found the costuming rather, well, drab. A little color might have been a nice touch and would not have ruined the concept. Especially at the end of act 2 when all the Cantons come together to pledge their commitment to each other and the task of pushing the oppressor out of Switzerland. The 3 different Cantons were distinguished by some kind of a carved figure, but sitting in the house it was too far away to be able to see it. A little color would have been nice.