• For Everything Music and Theatre, look no further. Gioachino Rossini’s last opera, William Tell, in French, closed Saturday, Nov. 12, at Metropolitan Opera. Pray that this majestically moving, spectacular work returns soon in regular repertory. “Guillaume Tell” brims with breath-taking arias, stirring duets, martial trios and rousing ensembles, plus numerous choral and ballet sequences—a visual and aural feast. This review’s first part covers what your ears would have heard, had they been present and listening; the follow-up article, what your eyes would have seen.

    The show’s star

    Despite the solid, practically irreproachable 11-member cast, the stellar standout was by far Chorus Master Donald Palumbo’s massive Metropolitan Opera Chorus— augmented to some 120 choristers. They sang from the wings or occupied the stage—at times even dancing vigorously while singing perfectly—for at least half of this work’s four and a half hours. Fittingly, they received a hearty standing ovation at curtain calls.

    From their quiet offstage Act-II hymn to the dawn, to the sonic tsunami of the closing chorus, extolling the Swiss nation’s regained freedom, their performance was incredible. They are arguably the opera’s main character, whether depicting the oppressed Swiss or the arrogant Austrians.

    Title honors

    Baritone Gerald Finley plainly owns the role. Hardly missing from the stage, he joined other characters’ arias, sang in ensemble numbers, his warm, powerful voice omnipresent. His big moment, the aria “Sois immobile” (Stand completely still), before shooting the apple from his son Jemmy’s head with his crossbow, duetting in identical range with doleful solo cello, his paternal pleading … well, it was truly heart-rending.

    Princess Mathilde

    Latvian beauty Marina Rebeka cannot be bettered among sopranos. Such luminous, velvety tone, such agility—even embellishing Rossini’s already-heavily-ornamented riffs—and such legato have scarcely been seen in the same soprano, ever. In both her arias, she deftly deployed the entire arsenal of pyrotechnics, including the quietest gorgeous floating high notes, which she has the solid technique to spin and probably could sustain much longer, to the audience’s utter heartbreak.

    Murderously difficult

    Totally naked, completely exposed … the lead tenor role starts treacherously high in the voice and only climbs impossibly higher. American tenor Brian Hymel acquitted himself as Arnold Melcthal and lived to tell the tale. Vocal tightness in Act I loosened in the next two acts, but the orchestra tended to cover his low-grade “squillo.” By Act IV’s aria, “Asile héréditaire” (Ancestral Home), it was clear he had wisely been saving his strength. It would be great to hear his lovely tones in a smaller venue.

  • Oops

    Someone goofed casting Korean baritone Kwangchul Youn as the elder Melcthal since Melcthal is murdered at Act I’s end, thus prematurely silencing his elegant voice of smoky honey. Likewise, Italian tenor Michele Angelini as fisherman Ruodi has just one aria; we hear his limpid lyricism in the first strophe and he shares the second strophe beautifully with the Tell family in an aria-turned-quartet. After Act I’s finale, Ruodi is done.

    The rest

    This opera has no minor roles, just singers deserving a longer edition, to give each an aria or other star turn. John Relyea’s glowing bass begs for even more of Gesler’s snarly odiousness. Bass Marco Spotti’s cavernous voice as Walter Furst suggests a future success as Gesler. With over 420 Met performances, stalwart mezzo-soprano Maria Zifchak excelled as Tell’s wife, Hedwige. Soprano Janai Brugger was a splendid Jemmy, whose Act III aria was sadly cut. American tenor Sean Panikkar sang with verve as Rodolphe and is a worthy sword wielder.

    Magnificent orchestra

    The orchestra played superbly under Maestro Fabio Luisi, who perfectly balanced stage and pit, soloists, chorus and ballet corps. The orchestra and ballet dancers are just part of this review’s continuation, so watch for it.

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