Opera Scotland

Elisabetta, Regina d' Inghilterra 1972Teatro Massimo, Palermo

Read more about the opera Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra

The Festival 's guest company in 1972 was the Teatro Massimo from Palermo. The quality of the productions and performances was mixed, and the reception by the critics was on the whole cool. While orchestra and chorus were not of the first rank, there was still lots to enjoy from the singers. It was unfortunate that the Verdi, in particular, was hampered by ill-health on the part of some singers. Three rareties from the Italian ottocento repertoire were presented. The Rossini was the first of his important Naples commissions, Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra. The Verdi was Attila. It was also essential that this company should feature a work by a Sicilian composer. The obvious candidate, Bellini, was represented by La straniera.

The Rossini had a memorable production, sadly for all the wrong reasons. The bizarre elements of the plot cause this opera enough of a problem for British audiences. This production had such a strangely misconceived design concept that it struggled from the second the overture ended and the curtain rose. The audiences progressed from stunned shock to fits of giggles as the strange visual interpretation of British history unrolled before them.

The backcloths owed something to Tuscan landscape - those odd-looking hills in old master paintings that seem completely outlandish until you discover that Tuscan hills really do look like that. The costumes were only vaguely period, and some very odd – bright red, almost air stewardess uniforms (with pork pie hats) for Matilda and Enrico.

The musical side of the performance was distinctly mixed. The conductor originally announced, Gianandrea Gavazzeni, had conducted the Palermo revival, which had been well received. However he withdrew, and Nino Sanzogno, a familiar visitor to Edinburgh, who was already coming to conduct La straniera, must have learned this extra score in a hurry. The playing was all a bit scrappy. Sadly, the star soprano in the title role was in very edgy voice and she struggled throughout the evening. The role did lie low for Leyla Gencer in any case, and her chest register seemed distinctly rough. Her opening aria, later remodelled for The Barber of Seville, required a coloratura mezzo, which Gencer never was. The famously glorious upper reaches of her voice were hardly required.

Otherwise things sounded better. The two principal tenor voices were cleverly differentiated in tone - extremely bright for the villainous Norfolk, a mellower sound for the more sympathetic Leicester - both fiendishly difficult parts, convincingly delivered, given that the modern revival of Neapolitan Rossini was still in its infancy. The lighter soprano and the mezzo 'trouser role' were both well sung, but suffered most from the difficulties of a plot that required us to believe that they were the children of Mary Queen of Scots.

In those days we knew very little about the ground-breaking experiments of Rossini in Naples, and this did little to advance the cause. Two studio recordings made available since this time actually show the strengths of the work, at least in terms of music. And other examples of the genre have since been given very successfully at the Festival, even if only in concert.

Performance Cast

Elisabetta Elizabeth, Queen of England

Leyla Gencer

Earl of Leicester Commander of the army

Umberto Grilli

Matilda Leicester's secret wife

Margherita Guglielmi

Enrico Matilda's brother

Giovanna Vighi

Duke of Norfolk

Pietro Bottazzo

Guglielmo captain of the guard

Gian Paolo Corradi

Performance DatesElisabetta, Regina d' Inghilterra 1972

Map List

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

4 Sep, 19.30 7 Sep, 19.30 9 Sep, 19.30

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