This 1988 production of Guglielmo Tell formerly appeared as an audio-only release on the Philips label. Apparently those CDs are out of print, but it doesn't matter much, as they are supplanted by this pair of DVDs, which are being sold for the price of a single DVD. In other words, this is an inexpensive way to add this opera to your collection, cheaper than either of the CD sets one still can easily find – those conducted by Gardelli (EMI Classics) and Chailly (Decca).
This was Rossini's last opera, and, at four hours, it is quite a marathon. Its scale and musical sophistication anticipate Wagner and Verdi, but it is difficult to hide the fact that it is an ungainly work, hampered by a libretto in which nothing much happens for long periods of time. In this production, Luca Ronconi's static staging only emphasizes this fact; the chorus and soloists move sluggishly around La Scala's stage. The liveliest "participants" are Gianni Quaranta's scenic backdrops – giant screens on which photographs and motion pictures (often of spectacular Swiss scenery) are projected. Vera Marzot's costumes bury the lead singers in voluminous layers which stifle their ability to animate the staging. Cheryl Studer's Matilde comes off as particularly maternal and repressed. Perhaps the logy staging and heavy costumes are meant to represent the Austrian oppression of Switzerland.
This opera premièred in Paris in 1829, and it is more properly sung in French; here, it is given in the probably more usual Italian. Giorgio Zancanaro's gorgeous and distinctive baritone voice is put to good use as the titular hero. He aptly portrays Tell's noble spirit both with his singing and with his gestures. Cheryl Studer is an aristocratic Matilde. She also sings beautifully, but with too little spirit, and her character never really comes to life. As Arnoldo, tenor Chris Merritt is a lumbering, bearish presence. Rossini wrote many high notes for this role, and Merritt executes them all with his characteristic head tone, which, it must be said, is not particularly attractive. This role requires someone like Pavarotti in his prime. (He can be heard on Chailly's recording.) Bass Luigi Roni is a dry, unimposing Gessler. The smaller roles are sung variably – kudos, though, to Amelia Felle in the "trouser role" of Tell's son Jemmy. (In case you were wondering, yes, Tell does shoot an apple off his head in Act Three, a bit of stage trickery that comes off well here.) The La Scala ballet appears in Acts One and Three. Carla Fracci and Alessandro Molin take star turns in the Act Three divertissement. Muti doesn't drive the music as hard as he does in Verdi, but he doesn't seem as interested in bringing out the score's nuances as he is in conveying its weight.
This live production was taped by Italian television. The TV direction, also by Ronconi, is as static as his stage direction, but at least we are given a good idea of what this production looked like in the actual theater. Acts One and Two are on the first DVD, and Acts Three and Four are on the second. There are no bonus features, but you'll probably be satiated after four hours of the opera itself! There are English subtitles which may be turned off if you so choose. The sound (not very vivid) is either stereo or Dolby Digital. The picture format is 4:3, although the menus are Anamorphic Widescreen.
There aren't many opportunities to see Guglielmo Tell, so this DVD release needs to be considered by any curious Rossinian, even if one longs for a production that more excitingly captures this opera's revolutionary spirit. Provisionally recommended, then.
Copyright © 2004, Raymond Tuttle