Rossini revival lands in Japan


The international “Rossini Opera Festival,” which has been held annually in August in Pesaro, Italy, will grace these shores for the first time this month.

Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868), one of Italy’s greatest composers, penned an astonishing 39 operas in his lifetime. However, many of his works, except for renowned pieces such as “The Barber of Seville” and “William Tell,” were forgotten until long after his death.

The Rossini Opera Festival (ROF) was established in 1980 by the town council of Pesaro, Italy, the composer’s birthplace. In collaboration with the Rossini Conservatory of Music and the Rossini Foundation, both of which were founded on the fortune that Rossini left to Pesaro, the festival has revived the composer’s lesser-known, neglected operas.

ROF’s musical director and conductor, Alberto Zedda, 80, studied Rossini’s works in his 30s when he conducted “The Barber of Seville.” Having been surprised at the high quality of the buried works, Zedda devoted the latter part of his life to a revaluation of Rossini.

Featuring melodious arias and tricky orchestration, Rossini’s operas require a mastery of technique for both singers and orchestra that was barely possible in his lifetime. Today, excellent young singers who have studied at the Rossini Conservatory, or at seminars during the ROF festival, are able to realize the composer’s ideas.

Among previous performances at the ROF, the 1984 revival — after 150 years — of “The Journey to Reims” under the baton of Italian conductor Claudio Abbado, is renowned as one of the most important musical events of the 20th century.

The ROF performance in Japan presents two operas: “Otello” and “Maometto II (Muhammad II).”

Based on Shakespeare’s play, and bearing the same title as an opera by the great Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), Rossini’s “Otello” focuses on human relationships between the characters, who are slaves to their passions. The title role will be performed by American tenor Gregory Kunde, who gave a strong performance in a production of the same play at the ROF in 2007.

“Maometto II” is also a tragedy, telling the story of a daughter of a Venetian commander who falls in love with the leader of the enemy without noticing it. Marina Rebeka, a rising soprano star from Latvia, who performed as the daughter, Anna, was selected for the main role by conductor Zedda, among the young singers who attended the ROF’s seminars in 2007.

Rossini Opera Festival takes place Nov. 15-16 from 2 p.m. at the Biwako Hall in Shiga Prefecture; and Nov. 18, 20, 22 and 23 at Bunkamura Orchard Hall in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo. The program is “Otello” on Nov. 16, 20 and 22; and “Maometto II” on Nov. 15, 18 and 23. Tickets are ¥32,000-¥40,000. For more details, call ABC Ticket Center (06) 6453-6000 or Bunkamura (03) 3477-3244.