Rossini’s Guillaume Tell returns to the Met

Rather like Proust’s À la recherche de temps perdu, Rossini’s grand Guillaume Tell is lovely, lyrical, leisurely, and quite long. Also like the Proust, most folks know only a few, if any parts, save maybe the famous Overture. Like les petites madeleines, in other words.

The Metropolitan Opera premiered a new production of Guillaume Tell last night, only the 32nd performance and the first in the original French. Tell opened in Paris in 1829, made its House premiere here in 1884 in German; a subsequent new production in 1923 starring Giuseppe Danise, Rosa Ponselle and Giovanni Martinelli was sung in Italian. Now it’s back. Your time has come.

Gerald Finley as Tell convinces Bryan Hymel as Arnold to join the resistance

Gerald Finley as Tell convinces Bryan Hymel as Arnold to join the resistance

Musically this new Met Tell is a grand night at the opera. Like Don Giovanni, Tell is the centerpiece of the drama, but not given a lot of solo work. Gerald Finley is a no-nonsense patriot, dedicated to family, decency, justice, and the liberation of the Swiss folk from the oppressive Austrians. Finley’s clean baritone and intonation add layers of meaning to the role. His son Jemmy is soundly taken by upbeat mezzo Janai Brugger, Tell’s wife Hedwige is brought to life by Maria Zifchak. Melcthal is the community’s patriarch, also Arnold’s father. Kwangchul Youn brings gravity to this character.

More patriots here: Leuthold, sung by Michael Todd Simpson, is saved from capture by Tell’s quick action; Walter Furst is sung admirably by Marco Spotti; Ruodi is a young lover, taken by the sweet tenor Michele Angelini; these last two singers made the Metropolitan Opera debuts last night.

Marina Rebeka is Mathilde

Marina Rebeka is Mathilde

The love interest (and therefore a good reason for the extended duet in Act II) lies between Arnold, a Swiss solder who fought with the Austrian army, and Mathilde, an Austrian princess in Gesler’s court in the occupied territory. Arnold rescued her from an avalanche (already past, not shown on stage) but is understandably torn between loving an enemy and loving his country. Bryan Hymel essays Arnold with panache, boasting a clean, passionate high tenor sound executed without flaw. Bravo! Mathilde is sung by Marina Rebeka, whose upper register shines brightly, but whose lower register seems to avoid the depths of her part. Still, her Mathilde is a sincere, caring young woman who comes into the light, not a dark, conniving sort like, say, Marina in Boris Godunov or the Foreign Princess in Rusalka. Brava! Why the production team chose to cut Mathilde’s tender trio with Jemmy and Hedwige in the final act is beyond me.

Gesler is the bad guy, darkly sung by John Relyea; his henchperson is a snarling Rodolphe, sung by Sean Panikkar. Ross Benoliel is a Huntsman.

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra is under the intelligent leadership of Fabio Luisi. Luisi’s rendition of the famous overture garnered resounding applause, as did his total conception of the score. Donald Palumbo’s hand with the Metropolitan Opera Chorus is evidenced by their rich blend and tone. Praise too for the several solo dancers in the ballet section at the end of the long second Act, but also in the many brief, seemingly spontaneous spin-off moments throughout. In general, there is a very conspicuous motion to the various elements on the stage. Stagnant it is not. 

The grand finale, the hymn to liberation

The grand finale, the hymn to liberation

The new production is by Pierre Audi, with sets by George Tsypin, costumes by Andrea Schmidt-Futterer, lighting by Jean Kalman, and choreography by Kim Brandstrup.

Tsypin’s sets are a cyclorama backdrop with filler objects, rocks, suspended sheep in Act I, stags in Act II, framed structures without walls, the ribs of the hull of a large ship hung high above from the flies, and so on. The color scheme consists of mostly peaceful shades of blue, the Swiss mountain folk sport attire in rustic gray or linen white. The brilliant red of the Market Square (Act III as written) and the bright green/yellow for the grand hymn to liberty at the opera’s close contrast with former.

The musical pace of Tell is broad enough and the numbers certainly long enough that on-stage fillers are inevitable, like everyone running around for no apparent reason or climbing up and down stairs and rocks or even the oppressive Austrian lancers, men in black, a whole pack of ‘em, shuffling across the back of the stage in unison. Happily these are not in excess and, point made often, much of it supports the contrast between the peaceful cooperative Swiss mountain folk with good family values and the jittery, inwardly raging Austrian oppressors.

Need I say ‘you never know when they’ll do this one again.’

Reviewed performance date: October 18, 2016.

Photos: Marty Sohl

Originally set in four acts, Guillaume Tell is performed here in three acts with two intermissions, Acts II and III of the original combined into a big one. The running time of the performance is about four hours forty minutes with two intermissions. The final act is about 35 minutes.

Guillaume Tell appears again on the Met stage on the evenings of October 21, 25, November 2, 5, and 9 with matinees on Saturday, October 29 and November12. Evening curtains are usually 6:30 p.m. For ticket information or to place an order, please call (212) 362-6000 or visit www.metopera.org. Special rates for groups of 10 or more are available by calling (212) 341-5410 or by visiting www.metopera.org/groups.

Enjoy! Record high for Tell and also close for the temperature today…can it be still summer? Heaven!

JRS