Opera Scotland

Elisabetta, Regina d' Inghilterra 1972Teatro Massimo, Palermo

Read more about the opera Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra

This Rossini rarity had a memorable production, sadly for all the wrong reasons.  The Palermo performances the previous year had been greeted with huge enthusiasm, indicating that this neglected work was some kind of rediscovered masterpiece.  However the bizarre elements of the quasi-historical plot cause this opera a significant problem for British audiences. In addition, this production had such a strangely misconceived design concept that it struggled from the second the familiar Barber of Seville 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 - full skirt and lace ruff for Elizabeth, but some were very odd – bright red, almost air cabin crew uniforms (with pork pie hats) for Matilda and Enrico being a particular problem.

The musical side of the performance was distinctly mixed.  The conductor originally announced, Gianandrea Gavazzeni, had conducted that well-received Palermo revival.  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, Leyla Gencer, the star soprano in the title role, was in very edgy voice and she struggled throughout the evening.  The role lay low for her in any case, and her chest register, long used to give effect in her Verdi roles, seemed distinctly rough.  Her opening aria, later remodelled into 'Una voce poco fa' for The Barber of Seville, required a coloratura mezzo, which Gencer never was.  The famously beautiful upper reaches of her voice, ideal for roles like Aïda, were hardly required, as they had been in the 1969 Maria Stuarda.

Otherwise things sounded better. The two principal tenor voices were cleverly differentiated in tone - extremely bright (Pietro Bottazzo) for the villainous Norfolk, a mellower sound (Umberto Grilli) 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 both children of Mary Queen of Scots, as yet unknown to history.

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


Opera at the Edinburgh Festival - 1972

The Festival 's opening week contained Scottish Opera's 1969 staging of The Trojans, revived with Janet Baker as Dido and Helga Dernesch as Cassandra.

There was a guest company - an unfamiliar German team, the Deutsche Oper am Rhein from Düsseldorf and Duisberg.  They brought two highly contrasted pieces.  Die Soldaten, by the late Bernd Alois Zimmermann, was a large-scale modern piece of music theatre.  Their other work was a complete contrast - a very early example of opera, or perhaps staged oratorio, Emilio de' Cavalieri's Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo.

The second team of visitors was the Teatro Massimo from Palermo.  Three rarities from the Italian  ottocento repertoire were presented.  The Rossini was the recently-revived first of his important Naples commissions, Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra.  The Verdi was the early Attila.  It was also essential that this company should feature a work by a Sicilian composer.  The obvious candidate, Bellini, was represented by an unknown early work,  La straniera.

In sum, the operas were by Cavalieri (Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo);  Rossini (Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra);  Bellini (La straniera);  Berlioz (The Trojans);  Verdi (Attila); Zimmermann (Die Soldaten)

Among the concerts at the Usher Hall, Daniel Barenboim conducted the London Philharmonic in two performances of the Brahms German Requiem.  Mahler's vocal symphony Das Lied von der Erde was presented by the Berlin Philharmonic and Herbert von Karajan.

The opera schedule was as follows:

Week commencing 21 August:  Mon 21 Die Soldaten; Tue 22 Die Soldaten; Wed 23 np;  Thu 24 Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo & The Trojans;  25 Rappresentatione;  26 The Trojans.

Week commencing 28 August: Mon 28 Attila;  Tue 29 np;  Wed 30 Attila;  Thu 31 La straniera;  Fri 1 Sep Attila;  Sat 2 La straniera.

Week commencing 4 September: Mon 4 Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra;  Tue 5 La straniera;  Wed 6 The Trojans;  Thu 7 Elisabetta;  Fri 8 La straniera;  Sat 9 Elisabetta.  


Rare Rossini Operas at the Edinburgh Festival

Several Rossini works have appeared in Edinburgh when they were little known anywhere.  The first of these imported stagings was Il signor Bruschino (from Florence 1969), then  Elisabetta, Regina d'Inghilterra, brought from Palermo in 1972.  After a near thirty-year gap Festival Director Brian McMaster in 2001 began a series of four concert performances with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and top-rank performers. The series began with Armida, sponsored by the Peter Moores Foundation.  That sponsorship continued with live recordings made by Opera Rara - Zelmira (2003),  Adelaide di Borgogna(2005), and La Donna del Lago (2006).  After a gap, in 2011 a staging of Semiramide appeared.

Performance Cast

Elisabetta Elizabeth, Queen of England

Leyla Gencer

Earl of Leicester Commander of the army

Umberto Grilli

Matilda Leicester's secret wife, daughter of Mary Stuart

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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