*Adelaide di Borgogna* , the third and last opera presented this year at the Rossini Opera Festival is also, as Aureliano, based on historical events. We are in the early Middle Ages, 950 or thereabouts, in Italy, where King Berengario has murdered Lotario, rightful king of Italy, and tries to bully Lotario’s widow Adelaide into marrying his son Adelberto in order to consolidate his crown. Adelaide asks for help none less than Ottone, Otto the Great, Emperor of Germany, who is soon to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor. He rushes to her side, falls in love with her on the spot, defeats Berengario and brings Adelaide back to Germany as his wife. (The actual historical events were a little less romantic, but no matter. This is opera.)
The libretto is conventional and uninspiring at best; director Arnaud Bernard chose the very well-known – and a bit trite – device of “theatre in the theatre” to create a more relatable plot. We see the rehearsals of Adelaide at the ROF, we follow the drama among the singers, superimposed onto the drama of the characters. The soprano catches the tenor cheating on her with a dancer, she is desperate and the mezzo comforts her. The two women end up falling in love and their love story, born during the rehearsals of their love duets, is much more interesting and moving than the one between Adelaide and Ottone. The bass brings all his latest conquests to rehearsal, stereotypical bimbos, while the second mezzo, singing Eurice, is clearly jealous of him. The sub-plots overlap and cross, in a perfectly engineered theatrical “machine.” Alessandro Camera’s set shows the stage with all the backstage: the entrance to the bathrooms, the vending machine with coffee, a small dressing area delimited by black curtains. The comic gags succeed one another and intertwine: the second tenor is constantly late, the mezzo refuses to wear the fake armour, the rhythm is perfect.
Of course, this idea is based on a cynical, aloof attitude: the director does not even try to entice the audience into the story of Adelaide, he gives up and chooses an entertaining, perfectly executed show. Is this an intellectually honest approach to opera? Probably not, but I must admit I had loads of fun, almost despite my rational convictions.
Francesco Lanzillotta gave a martial, intense reading of the score; the RAI orchestra managed a beautiful sound with precision and varied dynamics. Michele d’Elia accompanied the recitativi secchi on the fortepiano on stage, as the concert master of the opera within the opera; he was integral part of the show, and his acting was very good.
Olga Peretyatko was Adelaide: her sweet, high soprano showed great coloratura and inventive, original variations. Her high notes might have lacked some metal or sparkle, but she navigated all the difficulties of the part with ease and elegance, for a three-dimensional portrayal of the prima donna. Varduhi Abrahamyan, as Ottone, was spectacular: her bronzed, mellow timbre was heart-melting, her coloratura exciting and precise. The two singers showed great community of intent and chemistry, in the depiction of their falling in love: Peretyatko insecure and timid, Abrahamyan passionate, caring but bold.
Adelberto, the first tenor, was Rene Barbera; his character spends all his time trying to win the prima donna back, after being discovered cheating – this fits most of the arias between Adelaide and Adelberto, where she rejects him with a haughty attitude. He was involved in countless funny gags: constantly in the wrong place on stage, forgetting his sword or other props, for the desperation of the stage director and the other singers. He showed a funny bone I did not know he had, all this while singing with perfect bel canto technique, great high notes and beautiful timbre. His great aria in the second act was one of the highlights of the evening.
Riccardo Fassi was Berengario, and mezzo-soprano Paola Leoci was Eurice, his wife. They were both convincing in their arias (which were probably not composted by Rossini), Fassi with a very low, smooth bass and Leoci with a strong, well-set mezzo. Two tenors competently completed the cast: Valery Makarov as Iroldo and Antonio Mandrillo as Ernesto.
The opera within the opera had an extremely traditional staging and costumes: painted backdrops, medieval head pieces, capes and daggers. The sets become more and more defined as time progresses, for a finale where the wedding between Adelaide and Ottone becomes the marriage proposal from the mezzo to the soprano, in a setting with a cardboard medieval cathedral, priests in golden robes, soldiers and pretty maidens with flowers in their hair.