Program booklet »Guillaume Tell«

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3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo) 2 oboes (2nd doubling cor anglais) 2 clarinets / 2 bassoons 4 horns / 4 trumpets 3 trombones / percussion timpani / 2 harps violin I / violin II viola / cello / double bass 2 harps / 4 horns / 1 bell

AUTOGRAPH Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris WORLD PRÈMIERE 3 AUGUST 1829 Opéra, Salle de la rue Le Peletier, Paris PREMIÈRE AT THE HOUSE ON THE RING 27 JUNE 1869 Vienna Court Opera DURATION




SYNOPSIS ACT 1 The idyllic mountain village of Bürglen in the canton of Uri. The people sing in praise of the beauty of nature, the fisherman Ruodi sings a love song, and preparations are under way for a wedding. Only Guillaume Tell contemplates the fate of his homeland, which is ruled by the despotic Habsburgs. Old Melcthal and his son Arnold appear; whereas the old man is respected by the people, his son Arnold served in the Austrian occupying forces. Left alone, Arnoldʼs thoughts turn to his secret love for the Habsburg princess Mathilde, whom he saved from an avalanche. Tell realises that the young man is despondent and tries to win him over to the Swiss cause. Reluctantly, Arnold assures him that when the time for rebellion arrives, he will stand shoulder to shoulder with his countrymen. He steals away from the following marriage ceremony at which his father blesses the couples. The celebrations are interrupted by the arrival of Leuthold, who is being pursued. To protect his daughterʼs honour he has killed one of the governorʼs soldiers. Tell saves Leuthold from his pursuers by rowing him across the dangerous rapids to the other side of the river. The Swiss are jubilant, but Rudolphe, the leader of the Austrian detachment that now arrives on the scene, demands furiously to be told the name of the man who saved the “murderer.” When the peasants refuse, the Austrians seize old Melcthal and destroy the village.

ACT 2 Mathilde manages to seperate herself from Geslerʼs hunting party on the Rütli, confiding her secret love for Arnold to Mother Nature. Her lover enters and swears that he will make himself worthy of her by fighting bravely with the Austrians. When Tell and Walter appear, Mathilde hastily departs. The two men only succeed in persuading Arnold to join their conspiracy when they tell him that his father has been murdered by the Austrians. Men from the cantons of Unterwalden, Schwyz and Uri enter. They all solemnly swear to fight under Tellʼs command.

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ACT 3 Arnold and Mathilde meet one another secretly. When the despairing Arnold tells Mathilde about the murder of his father, she realises that there is no future for their love. The lovers take their leave of each other as Geslerʼs troops assemble. On the market square in Altdorf, the celebrations organised by Gesler to mark a hundred years of Austrian rule in Switzerland start. Gesler orders all those present to make obeisance to his hat. Only Tell refuses to do so. Tell is seized and disarmed; his son, whom he tries to send to give the signal for revolt, is also held by Geslerʼs troops. The governor puts Jemmyʼs life in Tellʼs hands: Tell is to shoot an apple from his sonʼs head. To the delight of the crowd, Tellʼs shot succeeds. However, when Tell admits that he had earmarked a second arrow for the governor, the furious Gesler has him thrown into chains. Mathilde enters and takes Tellʼs son into her care. Gesler determines to take Tell across the lake to Küssnacht, where he shall die in prison.

ACT 4 Arnold emotionally takes his leave of his fatherʼs house. Friends arriving on the scene inform him about Tellʼs arrest, and the news rouses Arnoldʼs will to fight. He takes his place at their head with the battle cry “victory or death.” Tellʼs wife Hedwige is resolved to appeal to the governor to save her husband and son. Mathilde then enters with Jemmy, and offers herself as a hostage to ensure Tellʼs safe return. Jemmy immediately runs off to light the beacon signalling the start of the uprising. During the storm, Tell escapes from Geslers boat, and when the Austrians attempt to follow him, he shoots Gesler dead. Arnold announces that he has freed Altdorf. The storm subsides, revealing a magnificent view of the countryside; the liberated Swiss gather to sing the praise of their country.




I would like to start this conversation with a general question. The British author William Somerset Maugham once said that you completely own the characters conceived in the creative process, but in the course of publishing you give them up to the public. Does the same thing apply to you as a conductor? During preparation the opera is entirely yours, but when you perform it, it belongs to the audience? bb The biggest difference between the writer Somerset Maugham and the conductor de Billy is that the latter is not a creator. I can well imagine that an author creates characters, develops personalities, “owns” them, and then as it were transfers them to the reader who perhaps identifies with those characters. But I do not create anything completely new. When I open a score, everything is already there! My job is to understand what the authors wanted and then bring them to life as best I can. Through my interpretation – and this is the personal aspect of my work – I emphasise things, highlight

certain aspects, underscore some things. I can create emphases that seem to me to be important to help clarify what I believe the authors wanted to say – if you like, interpret. But the material that I have, with which I work, that was created by someone else. ol Since you mention identification: does that exist for the conductor? Are you perhaps at times completely William Tell? Arnold? Or all the characters at once? bb I think not. In my work, I do not identify with individual characters in an opera. I am touched by them, or more precisely: I am touched by situations and emotions. That is the case with every opera. The exceptional thing about it is perhaps that there are passages in works that have always triggered the same emotions in me since I was a child. Almost physical conditions: I see the images, feel things – each time a little stronger. What I have not done is fall in love with a role or see myself in it, and in my profession that should not happen, because our task is to elicit emotions in the audience. It may be that I would sometimes like to be a person whom I



see on the stage, or I ask myself what I would do in a similar situation, but that applies not just to musical the­ atre but also plays, literature, films. Or simply life itself. ol You are French by birth, a Swiss citizen and are conducting Guillaume Tell in Vienna, an opera that was premièred in Paris and in which the Habsburgs appear. bb Yes indeed – an interesting situation at first glance. But what does that mean in reality? Naturally both the French and Austrians are familiar with this character and the story of William Tell. For the Swiss it has another dimension. There he is a personality who is really admired. A kind of legend. He is the ideal man, someone from the people who has fought for freedom. When I became a Swiss citizen, I had to pass a test – and of course one of the questions was about William Tell. In every village there is a Tell statue. I live in Lausanne, in the canton of Vaud, and the motto there is “Liberté et Patrie.” Just like Tell! And I know a number of people who insist that William Tell is not just a myth, but that he actually lived. An idealistic hero, almost a redeemer character. In the opera, when he spurs people into action with the words “Wives, drive your husbands from their conjugal beds” he is not far removed from Christ, who directed his disciples to leave everything behind. ol How attractive is such a pure hero to you? bb I always find characters who are not completely perfect more interesting. In the case of Tell, however, you can certainly find the dark sides. He is manipulative, for example when he agitates Arnold instead of comforting him after the death of his father.

So Tell uses people’s weaknesses. The other characters too have their depths: Mathilde for example is completely aware of the difference in status between her and her lover Arnold. There are also deeply human aspects, and I think it is important to emphasize these. Incidentally these are facets that are more apparent to me this time than on previous occasions when I have conducted Guillaume Tell. When we listen to this opera, which belongs to the genre of grand opera, and compare it to Verdi’s Don Carlos, which was written much later, then we see that although both operas are political, Verdi highlights the different character nuances far more. In this regard, Rossini works less psychologically. ol Were the political aspects of the opera significant to Rossini? bb Naturally Rossini was aware of the consequences. We can see this simply from the fact that he suggests the “Marseillaise” at one point in the chorus. That is naturally not by chance, but had a signalling effect in France. I would also say that for a composer as hugely successful as Rossini it was appealing to work with political material, with a story after Friedrich Schiller. Earlier, you mentioned France, Switzerland, and Austria. But not Germany. Schiller was German, and Tell is essentially a German play that was premièred in 1804 – in a different political environment and a new theatre tradition: Weimar! But then something happened. The whole thing somehow assumed an independent existence, as frequently happens with great works of art. Twenty-five years later, at the première of the opera, there was a different understanding of theatre in Paris, quite apart from the special



requirements of the art form opera, and the librettists were French and had written a libretto for the Paris Opéra that was set to music by an Italian. The end of the opera, the last ten minutes, are a leap into the future such as had seldom been experienced. What we hear borders on Wagner and Debussy. Rossini is suddenly decades ahead of his time. He wrote a finale that is like a vision, and he noticed that after the end of this opera he cannot return. It is like an endpoint. He himself was probably amazed at what had happened. We are familiar with this from other artists; the last pictures of Monet are almost modern art. In this opera I discern a musical development that we seldom find. If we compare the situation with Verdi and his Falstaff: also a masterpiece, but with Verdi we see an ongoing development. With Rossini’s Guillaume Tell: a radical leap! ol In the opera original Swiss melodies are sometimes quoted, and Rossini uses echo effects that suggest the Swiss mountain landscape. Do these elements serve as splashes of colour or are they intended to create atmosphere? bb It is atmospheric magic, like a fragrance. In Guillaume Tell Rossini intentionally creates a “Swiss” atmo­ sphere. There are for example also places where the sopranos in the chorus need to yodel a little. Not much! Just a hint – but they are there. The depictions of nature in this opera may be reminiscent of Swiss landscapes, but they also simply represent Tell’s attachment to nature. This time I decided to have names like Melchthal sung not in French but in the Swiss pronunciation.


And does Rossini give the Swiss and the Habsburgs different music? bb No, he doesn’t go that far. Sometimes the Swiss and the Austrian soldiers even sing the same melody, and in that case you have to work with different colours. Obviously it cannot sound the same. With the colouring, each character must be comprehensible. ol What does that sound like in practice? bb I told the chorus that the Austrians must sound like the witches in Verdi’s Macbeth, while the Swiss must sound sweeter. That must be readily heard! ol That also means that the composer was judging. Unlike for example Verdi or Mozart. bb Do you really think that Mozart and Verdi did not judge? I think one thing is clear: Gesler is evil. Tell is a freedom hero. So Rossini’s position is easily understandable. ol The genre of grand opera of which Guillaume Tell was an early example presupposes certain formal requirements. Would you say that these are like a corset for Rossini? bb We must be clear that Rossini did not see his principle task as fulfilling a form. The structure of grand opera was not yet clearly defined, but was evolving, and Tell made a major contribution to this development. Rossini selected a topic and asked himself what he needed to be able to realise this project – naturally with the enormous means and magnificent singers that the Opéra in Paris had to offer at the time. For example, the ballet in Guillaume Tell has dramaturgical logic: Gesler orders people to dance – and they dance. That is not a corset, but fits



into the storyline. However, we should not forget what a challenge it was at the time for a composer to write for the Paris Opéra. At the time, Paris was the opera capital of the world, and Rossini wanted to succeed – as Bellini had already done and Verdi would later! ol Is grand opera still topical today, with all its rules; it must be a historic subject, it takes large tableaus, choruses, ballet, splendour and so on? bb As in every form of opera, it is topical if the music and the libretto are good. Often elements like the ballet are a challenge in terms of the staging. However, I believe if you put on grand opera, you must include the ballet. It simply all belongs together. But in whatever form, masterworks outlive the times. ol And to what extent is Guillaume Tell different from other, let’s say humorous works by Rossini? bb Guillaume Tell is like a long journey. After all, the opera is about nothing more and nothing less than the founding of Switzerland, and that takes time. The opera opens very lyri-

cally, then gradually and gently builds up. The chorus sings about nature, praises God, but rather withdrawn, sotto voce, so subdued. Then the action gradually unfolds. The first act is huge! Rossini takes his time before things really get going. That is rather unusual for him. And we do not hear any coloratura arias, but arias with coloratura - there’s a difference! Incidentally, I am always impressed by what Rossini demands of the singers. The role of Mathilde is extremely difficult, like Anna Bolena! Arnold must be able to sing very high notes, but also have good low notes, and the same applies to the title character. At the beginning, when he is bemoaning the situation in his homeland, his role lies very low in the voice but then goes up dramatically. Later, in his big aria with the solo cello, it is almost veristic, then at the end of the opera he once again sings fantastic lines in extremely beautiful bel canto. To be honest, you need two singers for each role. But even apart from the lead roles, take for example the fisher at the very beginning of the opera, very challenging.




ORIGIN, FIGURE AND IMPACT OF THE SWISS LEGEND OF TELL Goethe heard the story of William Tell on his travels in Switzerland, but his notes do not reflect the revolutionary pathos, the dramatic panache, the spirit of the age. It was a wise decision on his part to relinquish the material to Schiller, to whom it was better suit­­ed. Schiller – and like him Pestalozzi – was appointed an honorary citizen of the One and Indivisible Republic by the National Convention – naturally not for his William Tell, which was only written in 1804, but for The Robbers. However, it was almost inevitable that Schiller’s fiery and freedom-loving soul would transform the legend of the master marksman and liberator of a nation into the story of an inspiring, politically didactic, eminently quotable and warm-hearted play. (Beethoven’s Fidelio was in the same ideological vein of zeitgeist against tyranny and for freedom and comradeship.) Yet there are two arrows shot in the story of Tell: the praiseworthy and inspiring one with which he shot the apple off his son’s head, without hitting the child, and a second which an insurgent might be proud of but not necessarily an honest citizen, or not without reservations: the second arrow was shot from ambush in a wooded thicket and aimed at a tyrant, albeit a despicable one. This situation also troubled Schiller; his scruples led him to write the most difficult scene in his play – the encounter between Tell and Parricida, the assassin of King Albrecht. The playwright felt moved to differentiate between a “good” assassination and a “bad” one – in this he was following the Swiss source material – and so between the honest, pious Tell and the treacherous and avaricious Duke of Swabia. The latter had killed his royal uncle and had hoped, not without reason, to be well received by the murderer of Gesler.


O R I G I N , F I G U R E , A N D I M PAC T O F T H E S W I S S L E G E N D O F T E L L

However, the man he encountered was an honest peasant and family man from central Switzerland, without understanding of the murder in Brugg. The spreading of a story and its literary, artistic, political, and ideological impact do not per se provide information about whether it did in fact happen. “Did it actually happen? That is not for us to ask here,” says Gottfried Keller referring to the traditional account of Swiss liberation. He was aware that the historical research of his day disputed the historical accuracy of the stories in the old chronicles about Tell and Gesler and about the three Swiss confederates on Rütli meadow. All histor­ ical research is based on authentic source texts and source criticism; archaeological finds, popular customs, weapons, coins, objects, graphic depictions, literary reports must also be checked for their validity as a source. This has been done meticulously and extensively within the scope of Swiss historical research to determine the origin of the oldest confederations. The frequent celebration of the character and deeds of Tell and the crossbowman’s elevation to a cult figure also mean that he has been subject to denial. But denial is part of Tell’s story: denial of his historical ex­istence, his role in the legendary struggle for freedom, his orig­inal character of an angry rebel, and finally denial of his deed at the Hohle Gasse. Nevertheless, we remember the character of William Tell quite simply because he has become a memorable symbol of freedom of the people.



GRAND OPÉRA, GUILLAUME TELL AND SUBSEQUENT DEVELOPMENTS With the sensational world première of Daniel François Esprit Auber’s grand opera La Muette de Portici on 29 (!) February 1828 at the Paris Opéra, a new genre of opera emerged that all later opera composers of the 19th and early 20th century had to grapple with in one form or another. Richard Wagner for example, composer of the grand tragic opera Rienzi and still fully committed to Meyerbeer and grand French opera, later became a vehement opponent of grand opera. He condemned its marked leaning towards effects as “effect without a cause.” In terms of music history, grand opera without doubt forms the root of a multi-faceted development in opera through to Verdi and Wagner’s music dramas, but also to Bizet and Puccini’s verismo. In terms of history, its emergence is closely linked to the socio-political and culture-historical upheavals of the day. With the July Revolution of 1830 incited by the oppositional liberal bourgeoisie, under citizen king Louis Philippe the rise of the financial bourgeoisie in Paris is set in motion. Grand opera becomes a favourite gen-

re and a record of an era in which the Paris bourgeoisie is seeking for expression in an art form adequate to their tastes. These big city audiences accustomed to luxury demand extravagant, sensational theatre. Grand opera bears witness to an epoch striving for monumentality and technical perfection, whose middle-class society is shaped and inspired by the spirit of modern technology and by industrial-capitalist enterprises. The artistic and administrative reorganisation of opera houses is typical of this trend. It results in the transition of the Paris Opéra to the hands of private citizen, Louis Véron, in 1831. Véron operates the business at his own risk, but is secured by state subsidies. As a national prestige organisation, the Opéra is to be operated accordingly lavishly and so becomes the poster child for a new society that feels affirmed by the compulsion for grandios­ ity and pomp. Véron’s Memoirs of a Parisian Bourgeois reinforces the political mission of grand opera and reflects the self-image of an aspiring society: “The July Revolution is a victory for



the bourgeoisie; this bourgeoisie will be anxious to entertain and the Opéra will be its Versailles, and they will come in droves to take the place of the grands seigneurs and the banished court... First-class performances of musical masterpieces must entice foreigners to Paris; they must find the boxes filled with an elegant and peaceful society... The successes and revenue of the Opéra will serve to refute the unrest.” And thus the transformation of a place of art into a commercial, professionally organised industrial undertaking was sanctioned for political-­ ideological purposes. With inge­ nious measures, such as the revival of the Opera Ball as a social event and the opening of the theatre for subscribers, the opera becomes a place for the new moneyed aristocracy to be seen. The social standing of the nouveau riche was defined based on the frequency of their visits and the quality of their seats. The Paris Opéra was constantly looking for superlatives to keep audience loyalty and the money flowing in. Grand opera became attrition warfare in the true sense of the word. New records had to be set with every new work, new sensations had to be offered: even more exciting action, larger and more colourful orchestras, even wilder mass scenes, more resounding choruses, more sensational stage effects, even longer acts, higher tenors, deeper basses and even crazier coloraturas. The Paris Opéra became the uncontested number one in Europe. Composers of grand opera could be sure of top singers, a fully-trained ensemble of singers with outstanding choruses recruited from Conservatoire students. No European orchestra came

even close to the standard of the Paris Opéra; furthermore, the opportunity of polished rehearsal work was offered. The result was an optimum in tonal output and virtuosity which goes hand in hand with the stage spectacle of optical sensations, monumental sets and extravagant decorations. It was precisely these demanding musical requirements that pointed the way ahead for opera in general, because only the performance standards of grand opera cultivated in Paris made later performance of the works of Richard Wagner possible. The success of grand opera gradually also mo­ bilised the personnel at smaller the­ atres and forced them to become more professional. With the enormous advantages of the Paris opera house, the selection of works automatically changed. The sound and stagecraft capabilities almost demand works that include large chorus and ensemble scenes. At the same time, classical/mythological works were abandoned in favour of romantic and historic subjects. With these choices, a critical connection to the present could often be established. Tell in particular must be viewed in the context of the July Revolution and the Italian Risorgimento. While in the 18th century less importance was attached to the subject matter due to its clichés and stock characters, in grand opera it became a significant factor along with the music. The stereotyping of characters gave way to individual characterisation. Sudden contrasts and rapid changes in a through-composed plot become the norm, huge crowd scenes alternate with virtuoso arias, solo and ensemble passages. Enormous expenditure on



technical effects is matched by lavish sets, decorations and costumes, which from now on are to be built specially for each opera. The art of organising crowds on the stage and coordinating the visual components of the set and costumes with the plot requires a new profession to handle the overall concept: the “metteuren-scène”, the director. The fundamental changes from stock characters to whole characters lead to far-reaching innovations in the minutiae of both music and setting. Importance is attached to portraying events with historical accuracy on the stage. Character detail becomes the major constituting factor of grand opera in all areas – music, sets, costumes, directions. So-called “couleur locale” (local colour), already familiar in literature, makes its entrance on the opera stage as part of the art of characterisation. Anton Reicha is the first to use the term in a music theory treatise in 1835: “The direction to observe local colour means that the locality, the customs, the religion, the habits, the style of dress of the country where the action of the dramatic poem is occurring, are to be observed and emulated. This is the task of the poet, the set painter, the actor and the costumer.” With Rousseau’s call “back to nature”, Albert von Haller’s famous poem about the Alps, and with the literary discovery of the Alps in nature and travel accounts, in the course of the 18th century a new period of artistic discussion of nature and foreign cultures commences, and this soon transfers to musical art forms. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, the Pastorale (1807), Schubert’s song setting of Müller’s poem The Shepherd on the Rock (1829)

and Liszt’s piano piece La Chapelle de Guillaume Tell from Années de Pèler­ inage (1835/36) are mentioned here by way of examples. Above all, opera composers dis­ cover the alpine environment as a novel subject; a veritable genre of mountain or Alpine opera emerges. Grétry and Rossini are not the only composers to choose an alpine theme for their Tell operas; amongst others are Joseph Weigl with Das Dorf im Gebirge (1798) and Die Schweizerfami­ lie (1809), Conradin Kreutzer with Die Alpenhütte (1815), Adolphe Adam with Le Chalet (1834), Alfredo Catalani with the ‘Geierwally’ story La Wally (1892), Eugen d’Albert with Tiefland (1903) and Wilhelm Kienzl with Der Kuh­ reigen (1911). Even Bizet makes use of the “couleur locale” of high mountains in the ravine scene of Carmen. In view of their choice of subject, the composers face the question of the musical style that will match their scenic representation. In his treatise, Reicha says: “As for the composer, he writes his music approximately as if it was intended for his own country. Indeed, should he compose Chinese music for a Chinese story? All that the composer can try to do is interweave a national melody now and then, or even better a song, provided it is favourably identified and of melodic interest. In this case, it is up to him to imitate the melody, embellish it and perform it. But if he is composing for a country where an instrument is commonly used, he will do well to include it and use it. He will use the harp to accompany Ossian songs; he will use the mandolin in Italy, the guitar in Spain, the alpine horn in Switzerland...” And so you start looking for typical folk



melodies appropriate for the setting in question. Grétry reports on his way of preparing to compose Guillaume Tell: he meets officers of a Swiss regiment and asks them to sing him “songs from that period and other alpine melodies with the most characteristic sound.” In his essay Opera and Drama Ri­ chard Wagner makes a rather sarcastic comment on this procedure: “Now the great hunt for folk tunes in the lands of foreigners commenced. Weber himself, finding the native flower wither in his hand, had already assiduously explored Forkel’s descriptions of Arabian music and taken from them a march for guardians of the harem. Our Frenchmen were nimbler on their feet; they simply searched the tourist handbooks, then headed off to nearby places where a piece of folk naivety existed to see what it looked like and hear how it sounded. (...) There, in the lovely but much-sullied land of Italy, the musical fat of which Rossini had genteelly and comfortably drained off for the emaciated art world, sat the thoughtlessly basking maestro, looking on with a smile of surprise at the scuttling around of the gallant hunters of folk melodies who had come from Paris. One of them was a good rider, and when, after a hasty ride, he dismounted his horse, it was clear that he had found a good melody that would earn him good money. (...) Off to Portici hurried the Parisian horseman, on to the fishing-boats and nets of those simple fishermen, who sing there (...). Master Auber (...) dismounted, gave Rossini an extremely gracious compliment (...) took the special mail coach to Paris, and what he accomplished there in no time at all

was nothing other than La Muette de Portici. (...) Rossini viewed the magnificent spectacle from afar; and, whilst journeying to Paris, he took it into his head to make a slight sojourn in the Swiss Alps, just to listen to the way in which the sturdy fellows there, with their mountains and their cows, used to amuse themselves musically. Once in Paris, he paid his most respectful compliments to Auber (...) and with much paternal joy presented to the world his youngest child which he had the happy inspiration of baptising ‘Guillaume Tell.’ La Muette de Portici and Guillaume Tell now became the axis round which the entire speculative world of opera music revolved. A new secret had been discovered: how to rejuvenate the half-decayed body opera. Opera could now continue to live as long as it included national features that could be exploited. Every country on the continent was explored, every province stripped, the last drop of musical blood drawn from every nation, and the spirit thus gained was frittered away in dazzling fireworks for the amusement of the lords and plunderers of the great opera world.” Whatever one might think of the hunt for folklore and local colour, at least in that special genre of opera we frequently find melodies typical of the alpine region; for example the “Appenzell cowherd’s melody.” In the melodic line of the cowherd’s melody we hear suggestions of the typical Swiss alpine horn, which are established by the fixed natural tones in the fourth, fifth, sixth and octave interval. The alpine horn tune seems to be a suitable means of representing the



alpine environment. In the cowherd’s melody one frequently hears fluctuation between F sharp” and F” which is due to the eleventh natural tone on the alpine horn. In addition there is a rapid succession of large interval jumps, namely fourth, fifth and sixth, which clearly emulate the natural tone row. This way of playing the alpine horn with a rapid succession of big intervals can in fact be found in the Tell overtures of Grétry and Rossini, in Weigl’s Die Schweizer Familie, in the introduction and in the finale of the second act of Rossini’s Tell. (Incidentally, this typical way of playing the alpine horn sounds especially haunting and is always connected in contemporary medical treatises with homesickness and longing, in Wagner’s Tristan in the cor anglais solo at the beginning of act 3, in the so-called “shepherd’s dance”!) While Weigl was illustrating the healing power of the Alps in the cowherd’s dance in Die Schweizer Familie, in Tell Rossini uses it in a rather different context. He uses it to illustrate the Swiss love of homeland. In addition, individual instances of the alpine horn melody played without any accompaniment are contrasted with the massive group horn sound of Gesler’s troops. In the first act, four horn players playing the cowherd’s melody individually on the stage produce the effect of an echo. This captures the atmosphere of the magnificent acoustic space of the alpine mountains. Thus, the echo makes an acoustic contribution to the setting. The “come-da-lontano” effect familiar from baroque opera is revived. Together with use of the depth of the stage, the opportunity is presented

of having things happening simulta­ neously on several levels. In this way it is possible to combine different moods musically – for example through leitmotif techniques – and scenically using clever lighting. At this point we are reminded of the artful juxtaposition in the second act of Die Meistersinger and the famous conclusion to Carmen. As Carmen collapses, fatally wounded, and the wistfully painful sigh is heard as a leitmotif effect in the strings, the shouts of excitement from the unseen crowd “come-da-lontano” are heard from the bullfight arena, contrasting uncannily with the tragic outcome of events. In Guillaume Tell, Rossini too was already working with similar effects. While the chorus and fishermen strike up a cheerful song at the beginning of the act, in the midst of them Tell is already weighed down with gloomy thoughts, indicating how events will proceed. Rossini conveys the couleur locale in the folkloric dances such as the “Tyrolienne”, a kind of Ländler in the third act. This is how he handles the relentless demand of Paris audiences for a ballet interlude in the opera, in a dramatically feasible manner. Naturally he also includes ballet interludes such as the famous “pas de six” as perfectly traditional interludes. In the opera Guillaume Tell, couleur locale is achieved musically through the use of national melodies such as cowherd’s dance, marksman’s march, and Tyrolienne. In this way, the music complements the setting and look of a story set in the alpine world of Switzerland. Incidentally, the characteristic details in grand opera are in keeping



with the general trends in the art of the day. In all arts the immaculate attitude is discarded and attempts to have art reflect both the beauty and the ugly in nature, expressed human emotions in all their naturalness. Grand opera displays visual “tableaux” representing emulation of lifelike processes that we encounter in contemporary visual arts,

for example in the works of Eugène Delacroix. With Guillaume Tell, Rossini’s last and most mature opera, he introduced a new epoch in the development of the genre. In this work he brought together a wide variety of different traditions, all of which evolved from grand opera.




Switzerland is not a nation, and it does not need to become one. It is much less, and also much more: a civil confederation of different groups, created for the protection of its dissimilarity within the context of human rights and human dignity. It was born as a European country and is welcomed by European republicans as a godsend. If it believed it could preserve itself only as an exception contrary to the expectations of history and its own contradictions – those circumstances no longer exist. Switzerland can become what it is: not a nation, but a confederation with a historic past and a possible future.


WILHELM – GUILLAUME – GUGLIELMO The story of William Tell, the Swiss patriot, seems a strange choice of material for an opera composed under the patronage of the reactionary old King Charles X, who was expelled from France one year after the première of Guillaume Tell and was replaced by the rather more democratic Louis-Philippe. But Rossini, who was anything but a revolutionary, did not consider the story to be dangerous. At least the subject was not new. Using a libretto by Michel Jean Sedaine, André Grétry had composed a Tell opera in 1791. The play by Friedrich von Schiller was written in 1804. There was also a folksy play by Pixérécourt that premièred in 1825 and that audiences in Paris certainly still remembered vividly. Rossini initially wanted to have the popular Eugène Scribe as his librettist; he had already written the libretto for the delightful opera Le comte Ory – also dated 1828. Scribe offered him Gustave III (later composed by Auber and revised by Verdi as Un ballo in maschera) and then La Juive (later composed by Halévy). Rossini turned down both suggestions and turned to an older, more conservative Académie author, the Victor-Joseph Etienne, who was known

under the name Etienne de Jouy and who had written the libretti for Spontini’s La Vestale and Cherubini’s Les Abencérages. The poet, who had written several tragedies, was long-winded; he presented Rossini with a four-act libretto with seven hundred verses. The composer was understandably upset. He subsequently called upon a second librettist for help: Hippolyte Louis Florent Bis, twenty years younger than Etienne de Jouy. Bis cut the libretto to a usable length, and revised in particular the problematic second act. But Rossini was still not satisfied. The dramatic scene where the confederates gather seemed incongruous to him. He then discussed it with twenty-seven year old Armand Marrast, who was teaching the children of his friend Aguado, a banker. Unlike Jouy, the monarchist, and Bis, a liberal, Marrast was a radical republican. When he revised the scene, he inserted his own political feelings – and with Rossini’s music he gave them their full due. Shortly after the première, the composer left for Italy, and his opera soon followed him there. The Italian première of Guglielmo Tell took place in summer 1831 in the Tuscan town of



Lucca. The organiser was the energetic impresario Alessandro Lanari, who later in his career commissioned Verdi’s Macbeth. Lanari had the libretto translated by Calisto Bassi, the official in-house poet at La Scala Milan. Bassi’s Guglielmo Tell is a service­ able, faithful translation of the French original. Despite its revolutionary leanings, the libretto was approved without changes, thanks to the liberal rule of Grand Duke Leopold II of Tuscany. The only sizeable cut in Lanari’s production – Mathilde’s aria ‘Selva opaca’ (’Sombre forêt’) – was made for musical and not political reasons. The maestro at the harpsichord was another well-known musician from the town, Massimiliano Quilici, who fortunately kept a diary. It contains the details of the Italian première of Guglielmo Tell on 17 September 1831: “Theatre very full. The work’s success exceeded all expectations. Cosselli, Duprez, la Ferlotti and Porto [Gualtiero] unsurpassable. The entire opera was well received, but the trio was the number that prompted fanatic excitement.” The Lucca troupe immediately took the work to Florence at the Teatro della Pergola, where its success was repeated. After that, in 1833, the opera

was presented at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, where the Bourbon monarchy censors changed the title to Il gover­ natore Gessler e Guglielmo Tell, however without touching Bassi’s libretto. But at La Scala and under the rule of the Austrians the story was too thorny. Accordingly, the setting was moved to Scotland, and William Tell was renamed Guglielmo Vallace (Gualtiero became Kirkpatrick and Arnoldo became Elvino.) At the Teatro Apollo in Rome this Scottish version was once again bowdlerized in 1840 and the title was changed to Rodolfo di Ster­ linga. Rome also presented a concert version in Biblical costume: Giuda Maccabeo. Even in other countries, the libretto (and on occasion the music) was revised. In St Petersburg, the opera was performed under the title Karl der Kühne. In London, James Robinson Planché (librettist of Weber’s Oberon) presented a version with the title Hofer or the Tell of Tyrol, while Henry Bishop, composer of ‘Home, sweet home’ fiddled about with Rossi­ ni’s music. By the end of the 19th century, Rossini’s Tell was performed in French, but more often in Bassi’s Italian version, however seldom in its entirety.



A RETIRED COMPOSER A QUIET VISIT TO GIOACHINO ROSSINI I found Rossini in his small workroom on the first floor of his villa in Passy. He was busy writing music, but he stood up with some difficulty when I entered, with a friendly look and warmly extended hand by way of apology. Rossini’s head, although very different from the famous images from his prime, still gives an impression of prominence and grace. Under the brown wig his forehead is still serene and clear, his brown eyes gleam with intelligence and warmth, his long but well modelled nose, fine, sensuous mouth and round chin still show traces of the old Italian’s former handsomeness. Based on his portraits, you think of Rossini as taller than he is, and in any case his powerful head suggests a taller frame. Somewhat handicapped by corpulence and growing trouble walking, Rossini nevertheless insisted on tak­ ing me down to his lounge. Leaning on his stick, he slowly went down the stairs, and with visible pleasure did the honours of his home. “The whole villa was built and furnished in fifteen months,” he said, “a year and a half ago, this was just an empty site.”

The walls and ceiling of the lounge are decorated with attractive frescoes, whose musical subjects Rossini himself specified and had executed by Italian artists. One image showed Emperor Joseph II bidding Mozart to the Imperial box after the performance of Figaros Hochzeit, another showed Palestrina surrounded by his students. Between the larger images, the eye rests on portrait medallions of Haydn, Cimarosa, Paisiello, Weber and Boieldieu. The frescoes gave Rossini the most natural opportunity to express his admiration for the older great masters, and particularly the German ones. His enthusiastic veneration of Mozart is well-known. The maestro was unusually wellhumoured and talkative. I completely avoided the dreadful temptation of so many travellers to wring the last drop of information out of every famous man for their personal use. The recollection of Vienna, which he had not seen since 1822, seemed to cheer the old maestro. Exceptionally, he mentioned one of his own operas, Zelmira, which he had written for Vienna at that time.



It is rare for a famous artist to retire as early as Rossini. He wrote Tancredi (1813) at the age of 21, and was suddenly the most celebrated opera composer in Europe. He put down his pen finally at 37 (1829). He did this with a piece which showed him at the peak of his creativity and art – Guillaume Tell. Perhaps people criticised him too severely for this early retreat from the field of artistic activity. Rossini’s genuine Italian dislike of work undoubtedly played a part in this decision. But with great difficulty. An insightful man who never overestimated his talent, he may have felt exhausted at an early age by his excessive productivity, and no longer able to create a series of works like Tell, or to improve on this. Rossini must have been aware of the shift around 1830 in aesthetic attitudes and needs, he would not have missed the increasingly rapid decline in interest in his older Italian operas. Was he so wrong to withdraw after his best work, at a time when this falling off was still the subject of loud and general complaint?

Ten years later, people would probably have found his weakened self-borrowing tedious and made unfavourable comparisons with his earlier laurels. Perhaps Rossini’s premature retirement was not so lacking in inner struggle as we assume, based on his serene expression. In the 30 years of his comfortable retirement, he has certainly come to regard himself as long departed from the fray, smiling down from the clouds on the crowd of musicians striving and labouring. The lovable old man was so tireless in speaking and listening that I had to remind myself of the need to return him to his peaceful occupation. I led him back up the stairs to his workroom, where he warmly sent me on my way. It was not without emotion that I continued on my journey, the famous old master had become dear to me. And so I wandered along the imposing alleys and past the gleaming villas towards St Cloud. From an open window, like the scent of roses, came the sweetest melodies of Guillaume Tell.


Next pages: SCENE


WOULD YOU SCREAM A LITTLE LESS THAN USUAL THIS EVENING? OR THE REVOLUTION IN VOCAL HISTORY COMMENTS ON THE FIRST SINGERS OF GUILLAUME TELL At the start of the 19th century, the Académie Royale de Musique in Paris, known as the Opéra for short, still maintained the traditions of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s “tragédie lyrique”, the style of pieces such as Orphée et Euridice, Alceste, Iphigénie en Aulide, Armide and Iphigénie en Tauride. The last opera alone had over 400 performances here, from its world première (1779) to the world première of Guil­ laume Tell (1829). The Opéra was still a solemn temple of song for worthy ladies and gentlemen who used some singular vocal and stylistic techniques and disdained Italian vocal embellishment. Virtuosity was permitted to female voices at most, but only to a limited extent. If they wanted to succeed at the Opéra, Italian composers had to adapt to these customs. When Rossini revised his Maometto II for the Opéra as Le Siège de Corinthe in 1826 and Mosè in Egitto as Moïse et Pharaon, ou Le passage de la Mer Rouge in 1827, he observed these

rules in the vocal parts, which have far less decoration than the respective Italian versions, according better with the laws of the Opéra. The two revisions evoked unexpected outbursts of enthusiasm in some French critics. The general tenor of the criticism was “At last someone [Rossini] has come along to banish the aboyements [barking, screaming] of the Gluck interpreters from the Opéra and train the singers in vocal comportment” – the singers who belonged to the socalled “école du cri” [school of screaming] of the Gluck tradition. Not even Napoleon Bonaparte himself managed to put down the screaming of the Gluck interpreters, which he hated, although he did once try to persuade several female singers, as directly as it was in vain – ”... my ladies, would you scream a little less than usual this evening?” Thirty years later the problem was clearly as evident as ever, as a letter from Giuseppe Verdi to the baritone Leone Giraldoni in early 1857 shows:



“[...] The artists, the ladies as well as the gentlemen, need to sing and not scream! They just need to remember that performing doesn’t mean shouting! If they can’t find all that many vocalises in my music, they mustn’t use this as an opportunity to tear their hair out, carry on like someone possessed, and scream. [...]” However, the change in Rossini’s choice of music theatre media in Guil­ laume Tell, which also affected the vocal style, was the result not just of the constraints of the Opéra, but also of the epic subject of Guillaume Tell and the political climate at the end of the 1820s. The latter had affected music at the latest in Auber’s opera La Muette de Portici (Opéra, 1828), which centred on the rebel fisherman Masaniello, triggered by a national census leading to Belgium’s independence from the Netherlands. In the same way, Tell – which, like Le Siège de Corinthe and Moïse et Pharaon – could be seen as glorifying political resistance, has significant potential for provo­cation. On 29 July, 1830 a large number of people went from a Tell performance at the Opéra to the barricades in Paris.

SINGERS IN THE MAIN ROLES IN THE WORLD PREMIÈRE OF GUILLAUME TELL The part of Mathilde was sung by Laure Cinti-Damoreau (originally Laure Cinthie Montalant, 1801-1863). She had studied in Paris with the famous soprano Angelica Catalani and became famous in 1819 at the Théâtre-Italien for her interpretation of Mozart’s Cherubino. She débuted at the Opéra in 1825 in Spontini’s Fernando Cortez and was soon one of the most popular

female singers in the house. She can be described as a Rossini specialist, as she sang the main roles under the composer’s supervision in the world premières of Le Siège de Corinthe (1826, Pamyra), Moïse et Pharaon (1827, Anai) and Le Comte Ory (1828, Comtesse de Formoutiers). In 1828 she sang in the world première of Auber’s La Muette de Portici, in 1831 she appeared in the premières of Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable and Weber’s Euryanthe. In the following years she sang in numerous Auber world premières at the Paris Opéra-Comique. Her career took her not just through Europe, but also to North America and Russia. Based on her repertoire, she was a lyric soprano with coloratura. She was one of the most important female singers of her time, not just because of her vocal resources but above all because of her outstanding technical and stylistic abilities. The famous aria of Mathilde “Sombre forêt” (andantino, 3/8) in act 2, described as a romance, which inspired Hector Berlioz to an outburst of enthusiasm, requires outstanding legato technique from the singer. Rossini holds up the first break until the sixteenth bar in both verses. To express the idyllic atmosphere of the piece, Rossini has set the verse of his librettists in long melodic phrases, forcing the singer to take breaths as quickly and unnoticeably as possible at logical points in the text, without interfering with the legato. The Italian term is rubare i fiati, a catch breathing technique. The tessitura of the aria lies in the soprano mid-range. The aria goes no higher than A5, the cadenza – which is kept simple – requires a Bb5. In the great duet with Arnold in act 2, Mathilde has embellishments which are not an end in



themselves, but serve as musical characterisation. While Arnold takes over the lead voice in the andantino and allegro part of the duet, which several times rises to C5 with a very high tessitura and has the tenor singing a lot around the passaggio F4-F#4-G4, the soprano stays in the middle regions. In her allegro agitato aria in act 3, “Pour notre amour plus d’espérance”, Mathilde is required to sing dramatic accents, with coloratura passages that express her agitation musically. As in the following brief duet with Arnold, the vocal line rises several times to B5, peaking in the cadenza at C6. However, the tessitura is still in the mid-range and the embellishments are significantly simpler than in Rossini’s Italian operas. The two other female roles in the opera are Hedwige and Jemmy, Guillaume Tell’s wife and son. Mademoiselle Mori (1805-?, first name unknown) sang Hedwige. She had also created several Ros­ sini roles in the French world premières, including Marie in Moïse et Pharaon and Ragonde in Le Comte Ory. In later years she left France and continued her career in Italy. Hedwige is a true alto part. There are no exposed high notes to sing (her highest note is an A#5), and the tessitura is quite low. In the trio with Mathilde and Jemmy “Je rends à votre amour” in act 4 and the prayer with Matthilde “Toi, qui du faible es l’espérance” the vocal line descends several times to A#3 and G#3. The role of Jemmy was sung by Louise-Zulme Leroux-Dabadie (18041877). She was the wife of the man singing the part of Tell, and the Opéra’s leading soprano, alongside CintiDamoreau. She also sang in the world première of Moïse et Pharaon (Sinaïde).

Her repertoire included roles in operas by Gluck, Auber, Spontini, Chelard and all Rossini’s works. Jemmy is a demanding pants part, with one mid-range tessitura and one high-lying one, ranging from B3 to C6, over two octaves. The piano score of the critical edition of Guillaume Tell has a ten-page (!) aria, “Ah, que ton âme se rassure” (andantino, 12/8). Rossini had written this for Jemmy directly before the apple shot scene, but had cut this himself during the rehearsals in July 1829, probably in the interest of proportion within the act. Her husband, Henri-Bernard Dabadie (1797-1853) sang the title role. He had dé­ buted at the Opéra in 1819 and also sang in numerous impressive world premières, including Auber’s La Muette de Portici, in his setting of the Ballo in maschera story, Gustave III ou Le bal masqué and his version of L’elisir d’amore, Le Philtre. After his success as Belcore in Auber’s opera, he was booked for the same role in Milan, in the world première of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, but was not well received there. He premièred Ruggiero in Halévy’s La Juive and appeared in several Rossini world premières. He sang Raimbaud in Le Comte Ory and Pharaoh in Moïse et Pharaon. Dabadie was a “concordant”, or high baritone. The classification is not, however, accurate in modern terms, where operatic baritones are expected to sing A4, A#4 and an occasional Bb4 as a dubious athletic feat, but is comparable with the Italian baritone as he appeared in the early operas of Bellini, Donizetti and Mercadante, who was then still described as a basso cantante (or basso cantabile). The basso cantante was almost a modern baritone, but not quite. Members of this fach were fairly com-



fortable in the baritone tessitura, but their range was limited at the top. They firmly rejected the wild idea of singing a G4. (Verdi was later accused by many contemporary critics of writing baritone parts which ruined voices because of the higher tessitura and required top notes.) Tell’s role lies in the usual basso cantante tessitura, but repeatedly rises to G4 (in the duet with Arnold in act 1 or in the finale II). Rossini avoids a higher tessitura even in the broad declamation of Tell’s recitatives, taking care to maintain the dignity and nobility of the character, despite the emphasis in many accents. The famous andante “Sois immobile” before the apple shot scene requires morbidezza (soft, delicate singing) and legato, the vocal line only rising to F4 in the closing phrase, “Jemmy, Jemmy, songe à ta mère”, demanding a vehement outburst from the singer. There are several bass roles in Guil­ laume Tell, none of them major roles. Gesler was Alex Prévost (?-1897). He was the son of Ferdinand Prévost, who sang Leuthold. As father and son were both basses and members of the Opéra ensemble, there is confusion in the Opéra archives about their appearances, further complicated by the fact that Alex Prévost sometimes appeared under the stage name Ferdinand-Prévôt. Both singers appeared mainly in smaller roles, and also appeared in numerous world premières of operas already mentioned. Gesler is a tyrannical villain, but Rossini refuses to give him a one-dimensional musical treatment. His lordly bearing is presented through declamatory elements, but his character also has meritorious features. The tessitura and range of the role are nothing special.

The role of Walter was sung by Ni­cholasProsper Levasseur (1791-1871). He dé­buted at the Opéra in 1813 in an opera by Grétry, sang leading roles from 1819-1827 at the Paris Théâtre-Italien and then changed to the Opéra, where he held a prominent position until 1853. He also sang in numerous world premières of leading works including Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable (1831, Bertram), Les Huguenots (1836, Marcel) and Le Prophète (1849, Zacharie), Auber’s Gustave III ou Le bal masqué (1833, Ankarström), Donizetti’s La Fa­ vorite (1840, Balthazar) and Dom Sébas­ tien (1843, Don Juan), and Halevy’s La Juive (1835, Cardinal Brogni). He was naturally a member of the cast in Ros­ sini world premières – ll viaggio a Reims (Don Alvaro), Le Comte Ory (Le Gouverneur) and Moïse et Pharaon (Moïse). Such a leading bass in the small role of Walter is definitely luxury casting. Walter has no aria, he primarily appears in the trio in act 3 with Arnold and Tell, the tessitura and range are normal.

ARNOLD AND THE CONSEQUENCES, OR THE LUMBER ROOM OF VOCAL TECHNIQUE While there was nothing special about the performers mentioned so far in the Guillaume Tell world première that would set them apart from their contemporaries today, almost 195 years later, the situation changes drastically where the tenor role is concerned. Arnold was sung by Adolphe Nourrit (1802-1839). The son of Louis Nourrit, the Opéra’s leading tenor, he studied with the prominent tenor Manuel García senior (father of mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot, soprano Mari Mal-



ibran and baritone and voice teacher Manuel García Jr) and débuted at the Opéra in 1821. He quickly became a darling of the public, and sang in the world premières of numerous operas, several composed for him. Difficult tenor roles written for him included Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable (1831, Robert) and Les Huguenots (1836, Raoul), Auber’s La Muette de Port­ ici (Masaniello) and Gustave III ou Le bal masqué (Gustave), and Halévy’s La Juive (1835, Éléazar). In 1831 he sang Adolar in Weber’s Euryanthe. Rossini was a particular admirer of his artistry and cast him in Le Siège de Corinthe (Néocles), Moïse et Pharaon (Aménophis) and Le Comte Ory (title role). Nourrit was a so-called “haute-contre.” This fach was called tenore contraltino in Italy, which has nothing to do with today’s fashionable countertenor (a misleading term which should be replaced by the term “falsettist”). Nourrit’s voice was described by contemporary critics as a very light and slightly guttural tenor with good volume and outstanding carrying power. The radical difference from later tenors was that Nourrit – like his French and Italian tenor colleagues – only sang to G4 in chest register, but then switched to the co-called falsettone up to C5 (and very probably higher). This also applied to the second tenor role in Guillaume Tell, the fisherman Ruodi, sung by Alexis Dupont. He also sang the difficult scene in act 1, which requires multiple rises to C5 in falsettone. Falsettone – literally, an augmentative of falsetto – should be thought of as an enhanced falsetto with a rounded tone, which, like the “mixed voice”, never sounded like falsetto and had timbre, volume, carrying power, sweet-

ness, and ability to modulate. The art of these tenors was to avoid the break in the transition from chest voice to falsettone, so that it was unnoticeable, and carry the timbre of the chest voice into the falsettone. This technique was perfected in Italy by the most famous tenor of the time, the Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini interpreter Giovanni Battista Rubini (1794-1854). According to contemporary witnesses, Rubini carried the chest voice to B3 and only then switched to falsettone, which he took to G5 (a fifth above the high C of modern tenors). The Escudier brothers, Verdi’s publishers in France, attested to the perfect homogeneity of Rubini’s voice to the top of his range. Not only the tenors of the Romantic repertoire but also the dramatic fach used the falsettone. A good example of this is the first interpreter of Pollione in Bellini’s Norma and the first protagonist in Rossini’s Otello, Domenico Donzelli (1790-1873). His tenor (actually baritone) had a baritone timbre (today he would probably sing baritone roles) and he also used falsettone. This explains the high notes which today would be unsingably screamed, for example the required C5 in Bellini’s Norma on the “i” vowel (in Pollione’s entrance aria “Meco all’altar di Venere”) which in view of the amorous situation involved Donzelli sang elegantly in falsettone rather than bellowing in a masculine tone, or an “F5” (a fourth above the tenor high C) in act 3 of Bellini’s I puritani, which the first Arturo, G. B. Rubini, naturally also sang in falsettone (and which in modern recordings is sung grotesquely in falsetto by many tenors, causing unintended mirth). The falsettone technique has been lost, and is today virtually unknown. Several



vocal theorists in the early 19th century believed that this technique could only be perfected if a singer learned it before their voice broke. Rossini, who was a baritone-tenor in his youth, and loved the falsettone, which he was an outstanding practitioner of, more than anything, had naturally thought in composing the role of Arnold of this technique and a singer who had mastered it. In his enthusiasm for the cultivated falsettone, he had set a trap which was sprung several years later and would revolutionise the opera world. Aware of Nourrit’s skill in singing high and very high notes, he set the tessitura of the Arnold role extremely high. This applies to the duet with Tell in act 1, the duet with Mathilde in act 2, the following trio with Tell and Walter and particularly to the andantino “Asile héréditaire” (which Berlioz described as the most beautiful aria in the entire opera) and the following allegro “Amis, amis, secondez ma vengeance” in act 4. These pieces require numerous Bb4, B, C5 and even C#5. It should be noted that at Rossini’s time, singers never inserted unwritten held high notes in arias or cabaletta endings. The endings were sung as written, unless the composer wrote a corona over a final note, which in the 18th century still meant that the singer could insert a free (improvised) cadenza at this point. (Later a corona – or fermata – meant that a note should be held at will.) The role of Arnold was so vocally strenuous that even a falsettone singer like Nourrit had to cut the aria in act 4 and subsequent cabaletta in several performances at the Opéra because it was too much. This, together with the fact that Guil­ laume Tell did not become particularly popular in the early years, led to prob-

lems with casting, leading to cuts and fragmented performances of the opera. (Rossini once met Charles Duponchel, director of the Opéra, on the street in Paris, who told him cheerfully that they were going to perform the second act of Guillaume Tell that evening, probably as a prelude to a ballet, and Rossini, irritated by the cuts to his opera, riposted “Really!? The whole second act?” According to Donizetti, the second act was not composed by Ros­ sini, but by God Himself.) For the world première of the Italian version of Guglielmo Tell in Italy (Lucca, 1831) it was not possible to find a tenor for Arnold, so that casting an alto as a pants part was considered (not an unusual solution in those days). This failed because of the poor vocal condition of Benedetta Rosamunda Pisaroni, a famous Rossini singer who was close to the end of her career at the time. This led to the idea of casting an unknown young tenor currently studying in Italy, Gilbert-Lois Duprez (18061896). He was originally a tenorino di grazia, a lyric tenor with coloratura, who sang up to E5 in falsettone. He tried at the time to imitate Italian tenors who took the chest register up to Bb4 and B4 and phrased con veemenza. In studying Arnold, he discovered that he could take the chest register up to C5. He has been regarded since as the discoverer of the “do di petto”, the high C in chest register, as it is sung today. Even if this is not entirely accurate (contemporary sources show that various singers, including Manuel García, had on rare occasions sung the high C in chest register), he popularised the “do di petto.” In Lucca this was not highly regarded, but when he débuted at the Opéra in the role of Arnold in 1837 and



sang his high notes in full voice, the theatre went mad. Duprez became the star of the Opéra, and sang in world premières including Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini (1838), Donizetti’s La Favorite and Les Martyrs (both in 1840) and Verdi’s Jérusalem (1847). Duprez’s achievements go beyond the new way of singing high notes. Once he had won public admiration for the new style of singing, the interpretation of tenor roles changed accordingly. His tenor colleagues imitated Duprez, there was more dramatic impetus in performance, the accents became stronger, and the tempi were increased. For Rossini’s hypersensitive ear, these high notes sounded like “the cry of a capon whose throat is being cut.” When the tenor Enrico Tamberlick came to visit Rossini once, the composer told his servant, “He can come, but he needs to leave his high C in the wardrobe. He can take it with him when he goes.” It is worth looking at the question of concert pitch here. It is sometimes claimed that composers were only able to require such exposed high notes because the pitch was significantly lower than today. This is easily refuted. They would have had to write extremely high notes for all other parts, which was not the case. In 1831, the pitch in Paris was 431 Hz, which had risen to 439 Hz in 1830 at the time of Guillaume Tell, and reached 449 Hz in 1848. The Paris

Académie de Musique then set A4 at 435 Hz in 1859 Generally, around 1850 the pitch in European concert halls and opera houses was 450 Hz or higher. In Vienna in 1859 the pitch was 456 Hz (!). It was only in 1939 that the International Standards Association Conference in London set 440 Hz as standard for A4, although this has been exceeded again. After Duprez’s rapid rise to fame, Nourrit left the Opéra and went to Italy, where he tried unsuccessfully to adapt his technique to the new vocal style. Nourrit’s letters to his wife, who had stayed in Paris, give tragic testimony of the insoluble professional and personal crisis resulting from the changed circumstances. He committed suicide in Naples in 1839, when he was unable to sing the title role in Poli­ uto which Donizetti had written for him, because the Bourbon censors had banned the opera. Rossini had to make a virtue of necessity and accept the new fashion, as Duprez made Guillaume Tell popular. Given the success, Duprez applied his achievement to the rest of his repertoire. While this brought fame and money, it also led to early vocal collapse, and he had to end his career in 1849. The results of his work were unforeseeable. The Romantic tenore di forza, the Italian dramatic tenor was born, and falsettone was relegated to the lumber room of vocal art.




PERFORMERS OF GUILLAUME TELL AT THE OPERA IN VIENNA ROSSINI’S OPERAS IN VIENNA Rossini and Vienna – this chapter of music history can justifiably be subsumed under the heading “success.” In the early 19th century, an almost unbelievable number of the works of the maestro from Pesaro dominated the repertoire of the Vienna opera scene at the leading houses: the Kärntnertor Theatre and the Theater an der Wien presented both in Italian and also in German. In 1816 L’inganno felice and Tancredi were premièred, in 1817 L’Ital­ iana in Algeri and Ciro in Babilonia, in 1818 Elisabetta, in 1819 La gazza ladra, Otello, Il barbiere di Siviglia and Ric­ ciardo e Zoraide, in 1820 Il turco in Ita­ lia and La cenerentola, in 1821 Mosè in Egitto, La pietra del paragone (under the title Weiberproben), Torvaldo e Dorliska and Armida, in 1822 La donna del lago; sixteen operas, each one more successful than the last. Vienna could be classified as THE Rossini capital when on 27 March, 1822 the Wiener Zeitung newspaper announced the arrival of the most famous Italian composer of his era: the maestro

had arrived in the imperial city on 23 March, together with his wife Isabella Colbran, and was staying at the hotel “Zum goldenen Ochsen.” He did not have a new opera composed for Vienna in his luggage, but was rehearsing for two lauded first performances: Zelmira, in which the aria “Ciel pietoso“ added for Vienna in the second act was to be sung for the first time, and Matilde di Shabran (under the title Corradino os­ sia Bellezza e cuor di ferro) with an aria from La donna del lago inserted for the famous tenor Giovanni David (along with Colbran the start of the Italian season). Rossini also made some changes to the music of Elisabetta and Ricciardo e Zoraide (in a one-act version) for the revivals of these operas. On 22 July 1822 the celebrated composer departed again, but his operas had obtained a firm foothold in Viennese opera repertoire. There followed Maometto II and Semiramide in 1823, in 1824 Edoardo e Cristina, in 1825 Bianca e Falliero, in 1829 Comte Ory, in 1830 Guillaume Tell,



in 1831 Moïse et Pharaon and Le Siège de Corinthe (these last four French operas in German and later also in Italian, but never in the original language), in 1834 L’occasione fa il ladro and La cambiale di matrimonio, and in 1854 Un viaggio a Vienna – a total of 29 operas by the middle of the century – more than two thirds of the maestro’s entire output of music drama works. For some years a third Viennese theatre had been including Rossini in its repertoire: in Josefstadt, performances were given of Barbiere (1825), La gazza ladra (1826), L’italiana in Algeri, Guillaume Tell (1833) and Otello (1844).

PREMIÈRE The Viennese première of Tell took place during an interregnum between the dismissal of Count Gallenberg from his lease agreement and Louis Duport taking over the theatre; he leased the Kärntnertor Theatre from 1 September 1830. During this short interlude, Court Theatre economist Fried­rich Treitschke was given overall responsibility for the theatre, and it was in this year of 1830 that the first performances of Auber’s successful operas La Muette de Portici and Fra Diavolo took place. The production of Rossini’s masterpiece, however, went down in the history of Viennese opera as a curiosity, for the programme booklet contained the note: “In order to ensure that our honoured theatre guests can enjoy this opera without cuts, it will be performed in two acts, as is customary at several theatres in Germany.” Even before the Paris première in 1829, the unusual proportions of the piece even for grand opera were creating a problem for the composer. In the

course of rehearsals several numbers were cut or shortened. In Vienna too a complete performance of Tell in a single evening was inconceivable. Accordingly, acts 1 and 2, which had proved more successful at the première, were performed on 25 June 1830. The German version of the libretto was by Theodor von Haupt, the sets were by Karl Militz and Johann Schlögl, Friedrich Demmer was responsible for the production, and Jean Corally for the choreography. Josef Sebastian Binder sang the role of Arnold, as he had done as a guest performer in the first performance of La Muette at the Estates Theatre in Prague; shortly thereafter he became a valued member of the ensemble in Vienna. He was one of the best-paid artists of his day, earning at least 100 guilders for each role. However, he probably spent his fee rather quickly as he found accommodation at one of the most expensive hotels in the city, the “Zum Goldenen Ochsen” known for Rossini’s stay there. Mathilde, who in Vienna was converted back to Schiller’s neutral “Fräulein von Buneck” (no member of the family of the house of Habsburg was permitted to appear on stage) was sung by Therese Grünbaum. She was the daughter of the composer Wenzel Müller and took part in the première of Weber’s Euryanthe at the Vienna Opera and the first performance of Rossini’s Otello. Franz Siebert, a famous Sarastro and Pietro in La Muette de Portici and equally well-known in the city as an alcoholic (hence his rather short career) was Walter; Friedrich Fischer sang Melcthal, his wife Caroline Fischer-­ Achten sang Jemmy, and Anna Bondra was Hedwige.



However, the interesting thing about the première was the casting of the title role: August Fischer, the Tell of the first performance (based on his repertoire, which included Rocco and Kaspar, more bass than baritone) accepted an engagement in Darmstadt soon after this performance and was replaced in the first performance of acts 3 and 4 (on 22 July) by Franz Hauser. After his very active career as a voice teacher, Hauser published a highly regarded textbook and earned an excellent reputation as a Bach researcher. In Leipzig, Hauser met the young Richard Wagner, who in his Mein Leben describes him as an important performer of Figaro in Bar­ biere. With its enthusiasm for music, Vienna was certainly enamoured of the new work; the first two acts in particular were well received by audiences and press. The “abundance of beautiful melodies” was praised, with particular mention of the introduction, the duet between Arnold and Tell, the Preghiera (act 1), some of the first finale (with the exception of the stretta); in act 2, the huntsmen’s chorus, the men’s trio which was already famous by this time, and the entire confederacy scene on Rütli meadow. The horns, often resounding from a distance, were described as exceptionally effective and anticipating the entrance of Gesler (which, however, did not take place until act 3). In this second section, the dances, Mathilde’s aria, the scene with the arrow splitting the apple (especially Tell’s arioso with the “anxiously undulating melancholy tones” of the cello), Hedwige’s Preghiera with chorus, and the trio of the three sopranos. The reviewers were less convinced by Arnold’s

big scene at the start of act 4 – a scene with which the great Nourrit had difficulty at the première and which Duprez sang in its entirety in Paris in 1837 (after Rossini had revised the opera into a three-act version). After the first complete performance in Vienna (2 August 1830 with Hauser in the title role), the critics heard “disruptive, tedious longeurs which wistfully await the beneficial shears.” The wait was not long, because like every other work that came from the Paris Opéra to Vienna, Tell too had been subject to every possible and impossible cut. These were naturally primarily various ballets, choruses and repeats in the cabalettas and finali (those who attended the première noticed the radical reduction in arias in this work); incidentally, several of Arnold’s scenes which were extremely difficult for the various performers to sing were transposed down a whole tone. Despite this abridged version, in 1831 the work was discontinued after nineteen complete performances – a rather low number for works by Rossini. However, it appeared on the schedule at another theatre in Vienna. The Theater in der Josefstadt put on a magnificent performance on 19 November 1833. Special mention was made of the performance by Karl Josef Pöck (Tell), a singer for whom Conradin Kreutzer (who was working at this theatre at the time) wrote the role of the Prince Regent in the première of Das Nachtlager von Granada (1834). At the same time a “pantomime ballet in five acts” was written to the music of Tell; it was premièred on 7 June 1833 at the Kärntnertor Theatre and saw 19 performances by 13 October 1833. Cesare Pugny, the composer



of more than 300 ballets, arranged the music using Rossini’s original score.

LATER PERFORMANCES The Kärntnertor Theatre was the venue for a new production of Tell on 12 September 1837 in a new threeact adaptation. However, the big solo scenes for Mathilde (act 3) and Arnold (sung by Franz Wild) were completely omitted, as was the role of the hunter. Nevertheless, the performance (with Franz Schober as Tell, Josef Staudigl as Walter, Josef Draxler as Gesler and Jenny Lutzer as Mathilde) garnered considerable praise. After 84 performances, most of the cut passages were restored in a new production and on 26 June 1848 Tell was again performed in a version close to the original, as was announced in the newspapers: “At the imperial and royal opera theatre, the next performance of Rossini’s Tell will be performed using the original score, namely without cutting the act 2 and act 3 finale.” The Arnold in this performance was Josef Erl, one of the most famous performers of this role. His career started in the chorus; from there he became a soloist at the Kärntnertor Theatre at the suggestion of music director Kreutzer. There, he performed in the world premières of Meyerbeer’s Hugenotten and Donizetti’s Favorita, amongst others. Appearing with him were Maria Anna von Hasselt-Barth (Mathilde), Eduard Leithner (Tell), Josef Draxler (this time as Walter) and Gustav Hölzel (Gesler). Wilhelm Reuling conducted. In later performances, Viennese opera fans cheered Staudigl in the title role and Alois Ander – an established favourite with audiences –

as Arnold. Unfortunately, he achieved dubious fame in music history as the onset of vocal problems spoiled the planned Vienna première of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. As part of the 1853 season, Tell was performed in Italian at the Kärntnertor Theatre and “was a complete flop.” In this three-act performance, Albina Marray sang Mathilde with Giovanni Mitrovich as Gesler; besides Achille de Bassini, who “was unable to fully interpret the character of the title role”, Carlo Guasco sang Arnold. The tenor who had successfully created the role of Riccardo in Donizetti’s Maria di Rohan sang so poorly that “people were saying he would never perform here again.” This was the only performance.

LEO SLEZAK AS ARNOLD In the 1860s the men’s lead roles were sung by Theodor Wachtel (Arnold), whose first appearance in this role was considered a sensation, Johann Nepomuk Beck (Tell) and Carl Schmid (Walter): three singers whose performances were at a level seldom heard in Vienna. This performance of Rossini’s masterpiece at the Vienna opera was considered one of the best cast and most effective performances on the stage. On 27 June 1869, shortly after the opening of the new court opera house, Tell was performed at this theatre, but on 17 April 1870 the piece was performed once again in the old theatre, replacing of Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable. This was the absolute last performance at the old Kärntnertor Theatre, as soon thereafter demolition of the building began. The ageing



Josef Erl is said to have stepped onto the empty stage one last time and sang Arnold’s aria “Ah! Mathilde” from act 1 with full voice in the already rundown auditorium. From 1882 to 1884 Schiller’s play was presented in five performances by the Burgtheater at the Opera – the theatre for spoken drama had to remain closed in those years for the installation of fire protection mea­sures. Performed without a break until 1904 (in three 1884 performances also in Italian), along with Barbiere, Tell was the only remnant of the former Rossini frenzy at the Vienna opera. On 11 May 1905 (in the Mahler era, however under the musical direction of Francesco Spetrino) the last new production was put on. From the length of the performance alone, from 7pm to 10pm, it is clear how significantly the work was cut. The cast list reads like a list of the most prominent

singers of the day: Leopold Demuth, a highly regarded Bavarian Sachs and Gunther, sang the title role, the famous Richard Mayr sang Walter, and Grete Forst (one of the first performers of Butterfly at the Vienna opera) played the role of Mathilde, while an unforgettable tenor triumphed as Arnold: Leo Slezak, who was to perform alongside Demuth and Elise Elizza (Mathilde) in the last performance of Tell at the Vienna Court Opera on 19 January 1907. Tell was produced in Vienna once again after the two world wars: at the Volksoper on 19 November 1958 under the musical direction of Argeo Quadri. The lead roles were sung by Alexander Sved (Tell), Karl Terkal (Arnold) and Gerda Scheyrer (Mathilde). The première of the Staatsoper's current production in 1998 finally brought the Viennese première of Guillaume Tell in French.




GUILLAUME TELL SEASON 2023/24 PREMIÈRE OF THE PRODUCTION 24 OCTOBER 1998 Publisher WIENER STAATSOPER GMBH, Opernring 2, 1010 Wien Director DR. BOGDAN ROŠČIĆ Music Director PHILIPPE JORDAN Administrative Director DR. PETRA BOHUSLAV General Editors SERGIO MORABITO, ANDREAS LÁNG, OLIVER LÁNG Design & concept EXEX Layout & typesetting MIWA MEUSBURGER Image concept MARTIN CONRADS, BERLIN (Cover) All performance fotos by AXEL ZEININGER / WIENER STAATSOPER GMBH Printed by PRINT ALLIANCE HAV PRODUKTIONS GMBH, BAD VÖSLAU TEXT REFERENCES All texts were taken from the Guillaume Tell programme of the Vienna State Opera (première: October 24, 1998). Concept and Editing of the première programme: Angelika Niederberger and Christoph Wagner-Trenkwitz. J. R. von Salis, abridged from: Lilly Stunzi: Tell. Werden und Wandern eines Mythos, Bern 1973 - Adolf Muschg, O mein Heimatland!, Frankfurt a. M., 1998 - Susanne Kaulich from: Wilhelm Tell, programme of the Nationaltheater Mannheim, 1987/88 - William Weaver from: Booklet for the Guillaume Tell recording (Decca/London 1980) - Eduard Hanslick, Aus meinem Leben, Berlin 1894. IMAGE REFERENCE Cover: Can Sun: Perfect Lover I, 2023. ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS Andrew Smith. Reproduction only with approval of Wiener Staatsoper GmbH / Dramaturgy. Holders of rights who were unavailable regarding retrospect compensation are requested to make contact.

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