Il Signor Bruschino
I admit it: I love the human voice. Many of you probably share my passion. No wonder, then, that Gotham Chamber Opera celebrates great singing, and what greater vehicle for great singing exists than the operas of Rossini?
The Italy of Rossini's youth was the land of the virtuoso. Having spawned the violin makers Stradivari, Guarnieri, and Amati by the 18th century, Italy then produced the great violin virtuosi Corelli and Vivaldi, much of whose music was written to highlight their own extraordinary skills. For the keyboard, the Neopolitan Domenico Scarlatti wrote over 500 sonatas that challenge the mettle of young pianists and harpsichordists to this day. (J.S. Bach, who was born in the same year as Scarlatti but in a cooler climate, had other priorities than the exaltation of the performer.) In the vocal realm, castrati (another Italian invention) were the superstars of their day, drawing huge fees throughout Europe. This was the world that gave rise to Rossini.
Given his talents and proclivities, Rossini was born at the perfect time. He combined a love of virtuosity with a love for the human voice a combination that netted him an unprecedented level of prestige, artistic influence, and wealth both at home and abroad. And Rossini was prolific. In 1813, at 21, he premiered Il signor Bruschino, his ninth opera, at the Teatro San Moise in Venice (a theater nearly identical in size and proportion to the De Jur Playhouse). Ten days later, on the other side of town, Tancredi opened at the Teatro La Fenice. A mere five months later, L'italiana in Algeri received its debut. Rossini continued working at a feverish pace, displaying the glories of the human voice, until his retirement from opera at age 37.
We have assembled a cast of extraordinary young performers to beguile you with their ravishing voices, their vocal acrobatics, and their love of singing. As singers have done for centuries, they will use every means in their disposal to win you over. No doubt Rossini would approve. - Neal Goren
Rossini's music overflows with comedy, but the muck of outdated performance conventions has threatened to dull the vibrancy and gleaming wit of even his most irrepressible works. His pulse beats quickly and demands a quality of life on the stage that is specific, detailed, responsive and filled with alacrity. So in directing his operas these days you therefore have to begin by liberating them.
Il signor Bruschino, with a libretto by Giuseppe Maria Foppa based on the play Le fils par hazard, ou Ruse et folie, was the last of four one-act farces Rossini wrote on commission for Teatro San Moise. By the time it premiered, in 1813, Rossini had almost perfected the structure of such works. The typical Commedia dell'Arte characters the young lovers, friends and enemies, police commissioners, innkeepers, servants and masters are put through the traditional burlesque paces: young love, letters lost, mistaken identities and unpaid bills. But the language, both of the text and the music, is fresh, vital, acerbic and filled with humanity.
It can be hard to live up to that combination of wit and complexity, especially in a one-act miniature. Because of the story's duration and form, there are fewer opportunities for comic strokes and yet each stroke becomes more meaningful. Of course, comedy in opera is always painstaking (and painful when bungled) because it relies on linguistic, musical and dramatic precision known in the theatre as the beat. But you can't start with the beat and work backward. The point is to make living choices rather than relying on and replaying stock ones. In short, the comedy must be discovered, not imposed. The rehearsal room is the place for that discovery. In a Rossini opera, with its locomotive of recitatives, arias, duets, trios and ensembles moving at an astounding pace, the rehearsal is where everyone, individually and collectively, must find the beat (or miss the train). Then, once the beat and all of the choices attendant upon it are discovered, they have to be set. At times it can feel like Grand Central Station.
As such, the quality of life in the rehearsal room becomes a crucial aspect of the life of the piece. I am happy to say that Gotham Chamber Opera is a company that is committed to discovery, collaboration and artistic freedom. We have been allowed the leeway to approach Rossini with the spirit of the rehearsal room. It's hard to see how we could keep up with him otherwise. - Robin Guarino