OPERA / Welcome to the menagerie: Della Couling reports from Pesaro on Dario Fo's second encounter with the wit of Rossini
Saturday 13 August 1994
Rossini's caustic wit - particularly evident in the orchestra, where sentiments nobly expressed on stage are mercilessly undercut - is matched by Fo's staging (he also designed sets and costumes). In this off-the- peg tale of wicked oriental despots outwitted by quick-thinking Italians, when the captive tenor hero, Lindoro (Markus Schafer), bewails his fate and his lost love Isabella, his sorrows are mocked both by the music and by an on- stage camel, two monkeys, a giraffe and an ostrich.
In his research, Fo discovered that for the 1813 Venice premiere, the 21-year-old Rossini had specified not only seven principal singers but also comic dancers, clowns, acrobats, jugglers: 50 in all. Where have they all gone? Killed, says Fo, by the 19th-century taste for melodrama.
Here they are all fully restored, starting with the overture, when we see a stormy sea (rows of painted waves moved from side to side by acrobatic extras), leaping fish, swooping seagulls (on long wands), rain (blue streamers), plus pirates, mariners and captive passengers. The style is Fo, the idiom pure commedia dell'arte - brilliantly illustrating not only Fo's long roots in that tradition but also Rossini's.
Fo's bawdy humour is much in evidence: when the Bey Mustafa (Donato Di Stefano) enters, he is wheeled on in what is clearly - despite oriental ornamentation - an erect phallus. And when Isabella (Jennifer Larmore) is changing, and spied on by the lustful Mustafa and his men, the palm trees hiding them suddenly all get a lot taller.
This is a very feminist opera: men are weak and ridiculous, women are strong. And, as always with Fo, and again in true commedia dell'arte tradition, nothing is sacred. When Isabella, confident of outwitting the Bey, sings a long patriotic aria, we see below her a very questionable bunch of Italians, all concentrating their patriotic fervour first on a football team, then on cheering a group of racing cyclists who end up in a tangled crash.
Jennifer Larmore as Isabella proves yet again that she is now one of the world's leading Rossini mezzos. The bass Donato Di Stefano as Mustafa, another excellent Rossini exponent, also shows great comic skills (and courage: in a boastful aria, his male swagger is made ridiculous in that he is being manhandled round the stage in a Leonardo- esque flying machine as flimsy as his fantasies). The weak link in an otherwise extremely strong cast was the young tenor, Markus Schafer: a late replacement, he was vocally not up to the demands of the role. The conductor David Robertson got a sharp, sparkling performance out of the orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna.
Like Fo's first foray into Rossini, this is a co-production with the Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam, where it can be seen this coming season.
'At times I thought he was me'film
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Film More romcom than S&M
Review: The Imitation Gamefilm
Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars
TVNetflix gets cryptic
TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth
Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination
Arts & Ents blogs
- 2 Tower Bridge glass walkway 'smashed' by night-time visitor dropping bottle of beer
- 4 Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
- 5 Grayson Perry: London needs affordable housing because 'rich people don't create culture'
Christmas 2014: The three most intriguing celebrity panto appearances
Lee Evans announces his retirement from comedy on The Jonathan Ross Show
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars
Iggy Azalea responds to Eminem rape lyrics: 'I'm bored of old men threatening young women'
Beyonce '7/11' music video: Star bounces on bed and films daughter Blue Ivy in lo-fi homage to viral video
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
Revealed: How the world gets rich – from privatising British public services
Myleene Klass: Ed Miliband 'strikes back' by comparing UK's need for Labour's mansion tax to Hear'Say track