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The Sunday Opera: Rossini's "Guillaume Tell" from the Vienna State Opera

Join us as we head off to the Vienna State Opera for this week’s Sundy Opera (6/30 3:00 p.m.) and their recent production of Gioachino Rossini’s “Guillaume Tell.” The opera was Rossini’s last opera to be completed, after which, he retired and would live for some forty more years. 

“Tell’s” history is not without controversy. Since it is the story that glorifies a revolutionary figure who rails against authority, some countries, specifically Italy, censored it for many years. 

“Guillaume Tell” is performed in both French and Italian, and it premiered at the Paris Opera in August of 1829, but the original four acts were already being cut down after three performances. The four-hour plus running time has now been pared down to about three hours and twenty minutes for most performances. 

The opera takes place in the 13th century when Austria had occupied Switzerland. 

Even though the story opens with the celebration of three weddings, William Tell (Roberto Frontali), who is attending with his wife Hedwige (Monika Bohinec) and son Jemmy (Maria Nazarova), is restless because of Switzerland’s oppression under the Austrian Governor Gesler (Jean Teitgen). Arnold Melchtal (John Osborn) is chided by his father (Evgeny Solodovnikov) for not marrying, but he is in love with Mathilde (Lisette Oropesa), who hails from the enemy Austria. During the wedding festivities, a wounded shepherd named Leuthold (Nikita Ivasechko) explains that he killed one of Gesler’s men to defend his daughter. Tell helps Leuthold escape as Gesler’s men arrive. Arnold’s father is taken prisoner for not revealing the identity of Leuthold’s helper. 

Mathilde and Arnold meet and reveal their love for one another. She asks him to join the Austrians and fight for glory. After she leaves, Arnold is confronted by Tell and another freedom fighter, Walter (Stephano Park). They tell him that Gesler has executed his father and Arnold immediately pledges allegiance to the Swiss. 

Arnold tells Mathilde of Gesler’s crime, and she realizes that they cannot be together. Meanwhile, Gesler captures Tell’s son Jemmy and forces Tell to fire an arrow at an apple over his son’s head. Tell takes two arrows, hiding one, and manages to pass the test. Gesler notices the second arrow and Tell confesses that he plans to use it to kill him. Jemmy and Tell are captured once more, but Mathilde arrives and claims Jemmy for herself. 

Arnold vows to save Tell as Tell manages to pilot a ship that is headed for a shipwreck. Tell ultimately kills Gesler and then Arnold arrives to tell the others that they have taken Altdorf, the main palace. Mathilde joins Arnold and promises to stand by his side in the battle for independence. 

They’re joined by the Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orchestra, and our conductor for this performance is Bertrand de Billy. 

Stay tuned after the opera for more of Rossini’s music, this time, there won’t be any “opera” music per se, instead we’ll hear his Bassoon Concerto featuring bassoonist Patrick De Ritis which was reportedly written for a student’s final exam and the fourth of his six sonatas, which are some of the earliest works attributed to Rossini. This is the Sonata No. 4 in B flat major performed by the London Musici.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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