Rossini's operas resound in the Italian town of Pesaro
Pesaro, Italy — The name Rossini is hardly a household word in America. The composer is known in the United States almost exclusively for his opera ''The Barber of Seville''; the orchestral overture to ''William Tell'' (without which the Lone Ranger might not have ridden to such prominence in the days of radio); and for tournedos Rossinim, the gourmet's delight made with tender fillet of beef and pate de foie gras.
Not so in Italy, where most of Rossini's better-known operas - including ''L'Italiana in Algeri,'' ''Semiramide,'' ''Le Comte Ory,'' and ''Guillaume Tell'' - are regularly staged. And especially not in Pesaro, the town of his birth, which is attempting to present all of his 39 operas during its annual Rossini Opera Festivals.
Three operas were staged at Pesaro's Teatro G. Rossini during a recently concluded festival: ''La Donna del Lago,'' based on Sir Walter Scott's ''The Lady of the Lake''; ''Il Turco in Italia'' (''The Turk in Italy''), a rollicking comedy of love, intrigue, and mistaken identity; and ''Mose in Egitto'' (''Moses in Egypt''), labeled by the composer ''a sacred story of tragic impact.''
In addition to the operas, Rossini's liturgical masterpiece, ''Stabat Mater, '' was presented in the concert hall of the Conservatory of Music G. Rossini.
The Rossini Opera Festival, now in its fourth season, aspires to a position of international prominence equal to that of the Mozart Festival in Salzburg and the Wagner summers at Bayreuth. I am not quite certain, however, that the citizenry of Pesaro are aware yet of the importance and significance this festival has already achieved and what its potential for the future could be.
Located on the Adriatic coast of Italy, a little to the south of the better-known and more fashionably elegant resorts of Rimini and Riccioni, this quiet, bucolic town of 90,000 inhabitants is actually divided into two distinct sections. There is the old town, founded in AD 180, mostly made up of 17th- and 18th-century two-story brick or stucco buildings with red tile roofs.
Then there is a two-mile strip about four blocks wide along the water's edge, consisting of functionally modern family resort hotels catering to large flocks of Italians and visiting groups of Germans that move to the seaside every August for the annual ferie (vacation).
Via Rossini, a street less than a mile in length and running at a right angle to the seashore, is the central axis of Pesaro. Starting at the water's edge (at the Piazza della Liberta), it passes the narrow four-story brick house in which Gioacchino Rossini was born on the 29th of February 1792; continues to the north side of the main square, the Piazza del Popolo with its Ducal Palace; and arrives a few blocks further at the Teatro G. Rossini, the center of the festival.
Known originally as the Teatro del Sole (Theater of the Sun), when it was founded in 1637, the house has gone through a series of renovations and reconstructions because of repeated fires and the ravages of World War II. The final restoration was accomplished in 1966. It is a small jewel of an opera house, the interior laid out in the horseshoe shape so popular during the baroque era. It seats less than 100 on the main floor, above which rise four tiers of boxes surmounted by a gallery for standees. The acoustics are excellent , and the theater truly provides a most complementary ambiance for its singers.
The performance there of ''La Donna del Lago,'' which Stendahl describes as ''an opera based on a bad poem by Walter Scott,'' featured the internationally famous soprano Katia Ricciarelli in the role of Elena, the Lady of the Lake. The opera's essential construction is epic rather than dramatic, and the music, as Stendahl suggests, ''most certainly retains a kind of Ossianic flavor, and a certain barbaric energy which is characteristically stimulating.''
The chorus forms an important function in the opera, serving in turn as shepherds and shepherdesses, Grandees and Ladies of Scotland, Warriors of the Clan Alpine, hunters and Royal Guards. The festival production made use of the Philharmonic Chorus of Prague, which is always rich and sonorous in sound, but whose tone in this case lacked the almost metallic brilliance one associates with Italian opera choruses.
''Il Turco in Italia'' is an opera that presents the making of an opera. Prosdocimo, a poet, goes about the stage, observing the characters on ''a beach not far from Naples'' (a group which includes a gypsy chorus, a Turkish sultan, a slave girl, and two giddy young couples), keeping notes and meddling in the events just enough to insure that ''intrigues, confrontations, and a happy ending take place just as if they were happening in an opera.''
As the ''Turk in Italy,'' Kansas-born Samuel Ramey proved both handsome (although not looking much like a Turk except for his costume) and vocally effective. The sets and decor by Emanuele Luzzati were bright and colorful, the oversize furniture - especially in the Victorian-style salon - suggesting a ''cartoon'' approach, a caricature of the epoch.
The Orchestra Internazionale Jeunesses Musicales was in the pit (the Chamber Orchestra of Europe had done ''La Donna'' and the London Sinfonietta the ''Mose''), a group of young professional musicians, most of whom were between 18 and 25 years of age and gathered from across Europe and the US. While their playing in general was adequate, there was a weak horn solo introducing the overture.
''Mose in Egitto'' was a fitting climax to the festival, a large pageant opera, staged (one is tempted to say choreographed, since each gesture and movement was part of a total concept and overall picture) by one of Italy's leading directors, Pier Luigi Pizzi, most ably assisted by, among others, the outstanding young American director Talmage R. Fauntleroy. ''Mose'' pits an imaginary love story of Pharoah's son for a Hebrew girl against the larger historical account of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt.
The staging was most effective dramatically. Huge shiny folds of very sheer plastic in multiple shades of blue-green wafted and billowed over the heads of mimes as ''Moses stretched his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind.'' Tiny tendrils of smoke effectively suggested the foam and spray of the wind-tossed Red Sea.
The superb coloratura work of American tenor Rockwell Blake as Osiride, Pharoah's son, was outstanding among a fine cast that included basso Boris Martinovich as Moses. In place of the traditional corps de ballet, Pizzi used mimes prepared by Richard Caceres, his American choreographer-assistant. These greatly enhanced the regal pageantry of ''Mose.'' The opera was conducted by Claudio Scimone, who revised the score and directed the first modern revival of it for Lisbon in 1981.
In their efforts to return all the Rossini operas to circulation in critically published editions, the Rossini Opera Festival, in conjunction with the scholarly Fondazione Rossini, will open the 1984 season with Claudio Abbado directing ''Il Vaggio a Reims'' (''The Journey to Reims'').