Ah, grand opera at its grandest! The legendary Metropolitan Opera stage will showcase French-Lebanese director Pierre Audi’s new staging of Gioachino Rossini’s last opera, “Guillaume Tell,” starting Tuesday, Oct. 18. Absent from the repertory more than 80 years, it has never before been performed there in its original French. Clocking in at four hours and 36 minutes, the four-act grand opera, given with two intermissions, makes for a full evening. Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi, known for energetic yet sensitive pacing, will surely keep things moving along.

More than just a famous overture

The 12-minute “William Tell Overture” ends with the universally recognized dynamic cavalry charge, popularized by the iconic television show “The Lone Ranger.” First, though, come colorful musical depictions of dawn, a storm and even a bucolic scene that will bring to mind a herd of cows.

For the role of the Swiss patriot Arnold Melchthal, Rossini wrote some of the most punishing high notes in the tenor literature. And his love interest, the Habsburg princess Mathilde, has a show-stopping aria of exquisite beauty, “Sombre forêt” (Dark Forest).

The story, in brief

Based on Friedrich Schiller’s play, “Guillaume Tell” depicts the 13th-century Swiss overthrow of their Austrian oppressors by its patriotic title character. Historical drama with a sweeping love story between young people from enemy camps, it includes the test of Tell’s steady hand when ordered to shoot an apple off his young son Jemmy’s head. The co-production with Dutch National Opera adheres closely to Rossini’s grand intentions, including an extensive choral scene with ballet, all judiciously trimmed without harming the overall flow.

Quite a cast

An all-star international lineup features:

  • Canadian baritone Gerald Finley, who has performed the title role recently to great acclaim in London and the Netherlands, where this co-production originated;
  • American mezzo-soprano Maria Zifchak is Hedwige Tell, Guillaume’s wife;
  • American soprano Janai Brugger is their son Jemmy;
  • Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka is Mathilde, a princess of the House of Habsburg, who happens to be in love with a young patriot from the enemy camp;
  • American tenor Bryan Hymelis her suitorand said patriot, Arnold Melchthal;
  • Korean baritone Kwangchul Youn sings the role of Arnold’s father, Melchthal;
  • In a bit of luxury casting, Italian tenor Michele Angelini is Ruodi, a fisherman;
  • Italian bass Marco Spotti debuts as Walter Furst;
  • House favorite American bass John Relyea interprets the role of the hated Austrian governor Gesler;
  • American tenor Sean Panikkar sings the role of Rodolphe, captain of Gesler’s guard; and
  • Italian maestro and Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi leads the mighty Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

The production’s look

Scenic designer George Tsypin, costume designer Andrea Schmidt-Futterer, lighting designer Jean Kalman, choreographer Kim Brandstrup and dramaturg Klaus Bertisch have all contributed their talents to give this production its much lauded look and feel.

Young retirement

Rossini, though just age 38, never wrote another opera after “Guillaume Tell,” having composed an astonishing 39 stage works. It was to be his final masterpiece among so many enduring, beloved operas, from the ebullient comic opera “Il barbiere di Siviglia” (The Barber of Seville) to the sweetness of “La Cenerentola” (Cinderella) through the hilarious “L’italiana in Algeri” (The Italian girl in Algiers) and the epic “Moïse et Pharaon” (Moses and Pharaoh).

His was an illustrious career that begs the question, What if he had continued composing into old age? He still had half his life ahead of him when he quit.

“Guillaume Tell” by Gioachino Rossini. Performances Oct. 18–Nov. 12, Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, N.Y.

Don't miss our page on Facebook!