Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rossini's "Tancredi"

This afternoon, Joshua and I attended the matinee performance of Rossini’s opera seria, “Tancredi”, presented by Opera Boston.

“Tancredi” is a noble work, with a noble score, and I did not want to miss a rare opportunity to attend a stage presentation of the work.

Ewa Podles sang the role of Tancredi, and she provided the only enjoyment of the afternoon.

Podles has a remarkable contralto voice, a voice of great power, depth and range (three octaves). Podles is not a particularly subtle artist, but she is a unique one.

Josh and I last heard Podles precisely three years ago, when she appeared in Rossini’s “La Donna Del Lago” presented by Minnesota Opera. Her voice has lost some of its gleam over the last three years, but she still possesses a remarkable instrument.

The performance itself was a trial to endure.

We do not live in an age of Rossini conductors, but Opera Boston should have engaged a conductor more suited to Rossini than Gil Rose, Music Director of Opera Boston, who clearly found nothing of interest in the score. The music did not come alive for a single moment in what proved to be a very long afternoon.

Opera Boston utilizes a pick-up orchestra, and the results were about what one might expect. Since Rossini’s orchestra is smaller than the orchestra of Weber, and Rossini’s orchestral writing much less complicated than Weber’s, today’s playing was not as shockingly bad as the playing in last year’s “Der Freischutz”, which had to be heard to be believed. Nonetheless, the orchestra’s work today provided no pleasure whatsoever.

None of the other singers was at Podles’s level. Podles overpowered every other singer on stage, including the poor young woman who sang Amenaide (who was blown away by Podles in their duets).

Opera Boston apparently has very little money. The “Tancredi” production was bare-boned, the stage direction elementary if not amateur (and entirely lame). It was all very listless. I was surprised that the company did not make more of an effort to provide a suitable setting for one of Rossini’s most inspired works.

The costumes were particularly unflattering as well as cheap-looking to an extraordinary degree. They looked off-the-rack from J.C. Penney.

The company should have settled for a concert presentation of the score.

Opera Boston needs to reduce its ticket prices. The public is not getting its money’s worth.

Ticket prices for “Tancredi” ranged from $29.00 to $132.00 per seat, five times more than the quality of the company’s presentation warranted. More irritating still was a $7.00 per ticket transaction fee and $2.00 order fee tacked on to each purchase.

Today’s performance was not well-attended—we observed lots of empty seats—and I suspect a good portion of the opera patrons that were present this afternoon had been issued complimentary tickets.

I am told that the Boston Symphony and The Handel And Haydn Society are papering their halls like crazy these days.

I suspect Opera Boston has been reduced to the same practice.

Ticket sales for “Tancredi” have been so poor that this coming Tuesday night’s performance, the final night of the “Tancredi” run, will play to a near-empty house if paying patrons—and only paying patrons—are in attendance.


  1. You are mistaken- I happen to know that sales have been extremely good for Tancredi, and word-of-mouth and reviews have been in general extremely favorable.

    Chacun a son gout....

  2. Bandusian, you come to me from the Opera Boston website.

    The empty seats we observed spoke for themselves. Last-minute patrons had their pick of seats yesterday afternoon, including prime orchestra seats in the center of the 13th row.

    Further, on your Opera Boston website, you advise patrons that ticket availability for Tuesday is much better than Friday and Sunday (and Sunday's attendance was pretty desultory).

    I've only seen three reviews: one pro (the Globe) and two con (one of the local newspapers and The Boston Musical Intelligencer).