Tancredi was the first opera seria written by Rossini. It was a precursor to Semiramide, which it resembles in the musical structure. Conductor Roberto Abbado gave an accurate and stylish reading of the essential, rarefied score, with a light and airy style. The singers were often left exposed on the orchestral canvas, but Abbado supported them constantly with commitment. The tempi were always appropriate, exciting but never rushed. Abbado had his right arm in a sling and conducted the whole opera with only his left arm, giving all the attacks to the singers, the orchestra, and the chorus, keeping everybody together without missing a single step. His heroic feat was much appreciated by the audience.

Jessica Pratt (Amenaide) and Daniela Barcellona (Tancredi) © Tato Baeza
Jessica Pratt (Amenaide) and Daniela Barcellona (Tancredi)
© Tato Baeza

The original plot is set in 11th-century Sicily, during the war against the invading Moors. Tancredi is an exiled knight returning incognito, in love with Amenaide (the King's daughter), who is accused of conspiring with the Moor's general and sentenced to death by her own father. Tancredi believes Amenaide unfaithful and rejects her until the very end.

Emilio Sagi moved the action to near the turn of the 20th century: the military officers had late-Habsburg uniforms, and art nouveau fixtures adorned the halls. This change of timing made some decidedly medieval details of the plot anachronistic but, overall, the production was enjoyable: the costumes by Pepa Ojanguren were beautiful, and the minimalistic sets concentrated the attention on the singers, which were excellent.

Daniela Barcellona confirmed herself as one of the greatest Rossini singers today. Her adherence to the style was perfect, and her bel canto technique rock-solid. She performed the fiendishly difficult coloratura with gusto, panache, amazing projection, and a remarkable uniformity of timbre among the different registers. This was almost a surprise as her voice, on other occasions, has been known to traverse the passaggio uneasily; but in this performance, it roamed the whole range with smooth nonchalance. Her adorable glottal stop and slight portamento, used judiciously to convey a sob of the heart in some of the most emotional moments, was very effective. The most remarkable feature of Barcellona's performance was her unfaltering commitment to the role. Her Tancredi was a young, passionate, naive young man in love, and she communicated all his emotions (passion, betrayal, desperation, valour, bravery) in a visceral, almost carnal way.

Jessica Pratt (Amenaide) © Tato Baeza
Jessica Pratt (Amenaide)
© Tato Baeza

Amenaide, sung by Jessica Pratt, is a more ethereal creature, overwhelmed by events. She is unable to navigate through them, to the point that, somehow, she fails to explain herself to Tancredi and convince him she didn't betray him. Pratt's voice was in excellent form, and it had exactly the right features for Amenaide: a somewhat cold brightness and purity, strong and powerful high notes, with precision and agility in the coloratura, which turned almost Queen of the Night-ish. All this contributed to a convincing, three-dimensional character, whose innocence shone like a diamond against everybody's accusations and doubts. Her high notes were truly spectacular, and her interpretation moving and emotional. Her Act 2 aria and cabaletta were a true journey into Amenaide's soul, where Pratt led us through pain and desperation to hope and joy.

Yijie Shi was King Argirio, Amenaide's father. His timbre was sometimes a bit wooden, probably due to his pushing through the highest register. Overall, however, his performance was remarkable: his technique was reliable, and his coloratura precise and exciting, serving him well in the portrayal of the enraged, menacing king. He also had the right accent – with perfect Italian pronunciation – and stylish phrasing, especially in the slower moments; his pianissimi were elegant and effective, bringing the affectionate, loving father to life in the big second act aria.

Shi Yijie (Argirio) and Pietro Spagnoli (Orbazzano) © Tato Baeza
Shi Yijie (Argirio) and Pietro Spagnoli (Orbazzano)
© Tato Baeza

Orbazzano was Pietro Spagnoli, a Rossini specialist whose performance as the noble and commanding general made him more than just a 'bad guy". He sung an aria di baule in the second act – “Alle voci della gloria" – which is occasionally inserted into La scala di seta. It was a welcome addition, beautifully sung and interpreted by Spagnoli.

The performance included the often-omitted arias for Isaura, Martina Belli, with a beautiful dark timbre, and Roggiero, Rita Marques, a young singer who, probably betrayed by nerves, started by rushing through the music, but then settled down and gave us a shiny, brilliant voice and a committed interpretation.

Abbado chose the tragic, Ferrara ending of the opera. Tancredi's death is highly unusual and one of the most magical moments in Rossini's music. The tremolo of the strings offers a minimalistic counterpoint to Tancredi's last fragmented words to his beloved Amenaide, his dying whispers barely supported by almost dry chords, the voice naked and exposed. When he dies, the music just stops. No finale, no last chords, no resolution. It was heartbreaking, wonderful, and extremely modern.