Matilde di Shabran, Royal Opera House, London, October 2008
Aleksandra Kurzak and Juan Diego Flórez rehearsing Matilde di Shabran
Photograph by Rob Moore, Royal Opera House, October 2008
Love and Rossini triumph in Matilde di Shabran, Evening Standard, 24 October 2008
Rossini: Matilde di Shabran, Musical Criticism, 24 October 2008 [excerpt]
Flórez vuelve triunfante a Covent Garden en una ópera de Rossini, EFE, 24 October 2008
Matilde di Shabran, Royal Opera House, London, The Guardian, 25 October 2008
Matilde di Shabran in Covent Garden, The Times, 25 October 2008
Matilde di Shabran, The Stage, 24 October 2008
Love and Rossini triumph in Matilde di Shabran
Fiona Maddocks, Evening Standard, 24 October 2008
The sexual psychology of Rossini's Matilde di Shabran is not complicated. "Women should be banned," proclaims the tyrant-hero at the start. "Women are born to conquer and to reign," concludes his fiery eponymous lover at the finale. Take your pick. Neither would stand up in a court of law.
The journey towards that end is long, complicated and, as always with Rossini, saved by the most rewarding ensembles and glittering aural pyrotechnics ever detonated by the human voice. You may have to wait a good half-hour before the male lead appears. But the explosive, virtuosic showpiece (Alma Real) is heightened by that anticipation.
When the star is Juan Diego Florez, for whom Italian bel canto is life's elixir, we are sure of a treat. This opera catapulted the Peruvian tenor to fame at the Pesaro Festival 12 years ago but only now does he bring it to Covent Garden, the first performance here since 1854, in a new Pesaro production.
His Matilde, Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak, was if anything yet more outstanding. She floated, sparkled and spat her ferocious ornamented passages. Top notes shot out like flick-knives. You wouldn't want to meet her coloratura on a dark night.
In a strong cast, Carlo Lepore and Marco Vinco stood out. Bulgarian mezzo Vesselina Kasarova (Edoardo) suffered wayward intonation but her voice has thrilling burnished colours. The chorus found form after a ragged start, coaxed into precision by conductor Carlo Rizzi. The Royal Opera orchestra were similarly smudgy in the overture but soon settled into the crisp idiom. Special praise for the horn obbligato and fortepiano continuo.
Even Mario Martone's lumpen period costume staging, with its fatally inflexible design, could not entirely detract. Sergio Tramonti's set, a vast, clattering fixed double spiral staircase, provides little physical support of the kind singers need. Florez, despite astonishing fortissimos, often sounded thin or muted, curiously but beneficially delivering one aria in front of the half-closed curtain.
The action had nowhere to go but up. Or down. Some of it was forced panto style into the auditorium. Front row clients looked embarrassed as lusty chorus members grinned and sang into their faces. Such silliness is better avoided. With Rossini and a cast of this calibre, the thrills are in the music.
Rossini: Matilde di Shabran, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Dominic McHugh, Musical Criticism, 24 October 2008 [excerpt]
Fulfilling all expectations and then going beyond them, Juan Diego Flórez's return to Covent Garden for the theatre's first production of Rossini's Matilde di Shabran since 1854 was a complete triumph. It was always going to be his evening, yet it's been a few years since I've heard Flórez in such excellent form.
The character of Corradino is, like the opera itself, something of a hybrid. A haughty, vicious tyrant becomes a figure of fun, and he veers between elegant, aristocratic music and fast, comic lines. Flórez's technical proficiency allows him to do both, and after a slightly tentative start it was extraordinary with what ease and confidence he dispatched the fioriture. Nevertheless, for me it was a new level of refinement in the lyrical passages that made his performance special. Flórez has really honed in on shaping the more emotional music, producing more depth of tone and warmth in the slower passages, and the moments where Corradino's 'heart of iron' was shattered by love and caused him inner torture were as exquisite as the bravura passages were impressive. [...]
Flórez vuelve triunfante a Covent Garden en una ópera de Rossini
Joaquín Rábago, EFE, 24 October 2008
Juan Diego Flórez ha vuelto triunfante al Royal Opera House londinense con una de las óperas menos representadas de Rossini, 'Matilde di Shabran', en la misma producción que se estrenó en el 2004 en el festival italiano de Pesaro.
Flórez es sin duda un favorito del público del Covent Garden como lo demuestra el hecho, prácticamente insólito, de que fuera aplaudido la pasada noche nada más aparecer en escena y sin que hubiese salido aún un sonido de su boca.
El tenor peruano interpreta a una especie de tiranuelo, personaje de cartón piedra como casi todos los de esta ópera que se define como semibufa o semiseria, pero que desde el punto de vista dramático parece puro teatro de polichinela.
Su personaje, Corradino, es un tipo cruel y misógino, que no soporta la mera visión de una fémina, pero que se convierte de la noche a la mañana en un títere borracho de amor nada más conocer a la heroína del título, una coqueta convencida del poder que tiene por su simple condición de mujer.
Hay por medio una intriga mínima, la urdida por la tan pomposa como pérfida condesa d'Arco, que ve de pronto en Matilde a una inesperada rival, y completan el trío principal un estúpido poetastro itinerante llamado Isidoro y un joven (Edoardo) injustamente encarcelado por Corradino y separado de su padre.
La historia que cuenta el libreto de Jacopo Ferretti resulta sencillamente ridícula y es un simple vehículo para la brillantez musical del compositor italiano. Y desde este punto de vista al menos, 'Matilde di Shabran' es un auténtico tesoro.
Un tesoro bien servido por la impecable ejecución musical del maestro Carlo Rizzi y un elenco de grandes voces que acompañan a Flórez, especialmente la soprano polaca Aleksandra Kurzak, en el papel protagonista, la mezzo búlgara Vesselina Kasarova como Eduardo, o el barítono italiano Alfonso Antoniozzi (Isidoro).
Flórez borda desde el punto de vista vocal el personaje con el que debutó en el mundo de la ópera en 1996 en el festival Rossini de Pesaro.
Tiene el tenor peruano, además de una voz de una gran claridad tímbrica y elegancia en el fraseo, una técnica fabulosa a la hora de disparar como una ametralladora las difíciles coloraturas.
Si una pequeña pega pudiera ponérsele es que sobreactúa de forma tan caricaturesca el personaje de Corradino que le da un carácter demasiado monocorde - tal vez buscado deliberadamente por el director de escena - en el larguísimo y exigente primer acto.
Es, sin embargo, en los pasajes más lentos y líricos del segundo acto, en los que la comedia adquiere de pronto unos tintes más serios, donde el joven tenor peruano demuestra la gran amplitud y expresividad de su paleta, donde convence totalmente con su técnica y donde logra emocionar, y no sólo encantar, a la audiencia.
Aleksandra Kurzak convence también totalmente tanto desde el punto de vista dramático como por su gran técnica vocal en el papel de la coqueta y hábil Matilde, la única mujer capaz al parecer de derretir hasta el corazón de hierro de Corradino.
Pero aunque tenga un menor protagonismo, la mezzosoprano Vesselina Kasarova, dotada de una voz tan potente como oscura, ofrece algunos de las mejores arias la ópera de Rossini en su debut en el papel de Edoardo.
'Matilde di Shabran' no es, sin embargo, una ópera de arias y cavatinas, sino sobre todo de fabulosos conjuntos vocales- de dúos a sextetos- y, desde el podio, el maestro Rizzi consigue una gran coordinación y un hermoso equilibrio entre todos los intérpretes.
Los decorados, prácticamente los mismos que en Pesaro, consisten en dos grandes escaleras helicoidales en el centro del escenario por las que suben y bajan los personajes principales y que giran cuando Corradino se embriaga de amor por Matilde.
Matilde di Shabran, Royal Opera House, London
Tim Ashley, The Guardian, 25 October 2008
The revival of interest in Rossini's Matilde di Shabran is primarily due to Juan Diego Flórez, with whom the opera is now irrevocably associated. He made his debut as Corradino in 1996, and the role remains his display piece of choice. An expensive-looking production was mounted for him in Pesaro in 2004, and both he and it are now at Covent Garden. If you like his athletic-but-cute style, you will have a good time. If, however, you prefer an immaculately integrated evening at the opera, then you may find this wanting.
The piece is essentially The Taming of the Shrew with the sexes reversed. Corradino, an implacable misogynist, is turned to amorous jelly after he meets Matilde. She has been put up to seducing him by his doctor, Aliprando: Rossini leaves it unclear as to whether what she is really after is Corradino's cash. The pair of them skirmish away to some of the most ferocious coloratura ever penned. Flórez's sparring partner here is Aleksandra Kurzak, his equal in technique and vocal glamour. She is so staggering that many will probably consider it more her night than his.
Yet this is not the whole story. Unevenly written, the opera is also discursively plotted, and it needs more than two stars to make coherent sense. There is some precise conducting from Carlo Rizzi, but apart from Marco Vinco's sensational Aliprando, the rest of the cast aren't in the Flórez-Kurzak league. Baritone Alfonso Antoniozzi is dreadful as the itinerant poet Isidoro, and Vesselina Kasarova, all foghorn chest register and no words, is not much better as Corradino's potential rival, Edoardo.
Mario Martone's production, confining the characters on a creaking double staircase even when they are meant to be outdoors, helps absolutely no one.
Matilde di Shabran in Covent Garden
Richard Morrison, The Times, 25 October 2008
More than 150 years have passed since Matilde last appeared at Covent Garden. And I doubt whether Rossini's feisty heroine would have made it in our lifetime if it weren't for Juan Diego Flórez. The Peruvian tenor sensation he of the flawless coloratura and laser-powered top Cs first came to fame 12 years ago singing this opera in Pesaro, and was clearly keen to reprise his triumph in London.
Rightly so. He sings astonishingly, and his comic acting is much improved too. Think of Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham and you'll have some idea of how Flórez plays the grumpy, misogynistic and ever-so-slightly blood-crazed nobleman Corradino, whose stony heart is melted by the bewitching Matilde in this Beauty and the Beast fable.
Though Flórez is the main draw in the Royal Opera's production, he's not the only attraction. This is brilliant Rossini. The plot is blissfully bonkers, the tunes scintillating, and the ensembles leave you gasping with their pace and ebullience. Even the orchestration is intoxicating, and superbly realised here (solo horn and woodwinds in particular) under Carlo Rizzi's crisp direction.
Two things, probably, have kept Matilde off the stage for so long. One is length. Act I is almost as extended as the whole of Rhinegold (the women don't even appear in the first hour) and Mario Martone's straightforward staging is at its least compelling in this protracted preamble. It only perks up when Flórez, driven delirious by Mathilde's charms, starts chewing the bannisters of Sergio Tramonti's ingenious set: a double spiral of staircases that revolve (rather noisily) in time to Rossini's pulsating accelerandos.
The other problem is that the opera demands, as well as a fearless high tenor, an equally virtuosic soprano. That requirement is stunningly met here. The young Pole, Aleksandra Kurzak, has one of those straight-sixes nights that she will remember all her life. She plays Matilde with exactly the right mix of coquettish charm and steely guile; her cascades of semiquavers are dazzling; and her voice beautifully even-toned from top to toe.
Nobody else stands much chance of making a big impression, but Enkelejda Shkosa produces appropriately icy tone and an apt wicked-witch demeanour as Matilde's scheming rival; and a trio of characterful Italian basses and baritones Carlo Lepore, Marco Vinco and Alfonso Antoniozzi have fun hamming up the supporting roles. The only disappointment for me (though she got a huge ovation) is the mezzo Vesselina Kasarova in the trousers role of the wrongfully imprisoned Edoardo. She pumps out the vocal extremities of this ferociously testing part well enough, but her intonation and timbre aren't always sweet on the ear.
Matilde di Shabran
George Hall, The Stage, 24 October 2008
A rare Rossini comedy enters the repertory of the Royal Opera courtesy of the Pesaro Festival and especially Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez, who shot to fame when he took over in the role of the woman-hating Corradino at Pesaro in 1996. He's never looked back, and the leading Rossini tenor of our day reprises the part of the ridiculously macho man here to knockout effect in a more recent Pesaro staging. Not only does he sing rings round Rossini's absurdly tricky notes, but his physical acting and athleticism are also sensationally good.
He's well backed by a strong cast, led by Alexsandra Kurzak as the woman who finally thaws his misogynist resolve. She gets the final showpiece aria and the last bow as the opera's titular heroine. Also making a keen impression are Alfonso Antoniozzi as the bumptious Neapolitan poet, Isidoro, and Enkelejda Shkosa as Matilde's scheming rival, the Countess D'Arco. More mixed is Vesselina Kasarova in the trouser-role of Corradino's captive, Edoardo. Her vocal production is, to put it mildly, idiosyncratic, with the voice splitting into three segments, but she remains a touching and involving performer.
Martone's production is strong in personal direction and while Sergio Tramonti's double-staircase set is less than beautiful, it's well employed. The neglected score is full of good things, including some spiffing ensembles, neatly despatched under Carlo Rizzi's baton. But this is Florez's evening, and he does not disappoint.
This page was last updated on: October 25, 2008