ROSSINI’S opera Zelmira is hardly ever performed. That’s hard to fathom given the flamboyance of the score, the thrilling virtuosity of the singing roles and a storyline that is ultimately more gripping than reading the synopsis would initially suggest.

As Saturday’s concert performance at the Usher Hall demonstrated, it does possess uncomfortable proportions - a first act, with many snapshot scenes, that lasts around two hours, and a shorter second act made slightly uncomfortable on this occasion by everyone’s clock-watching, wondering if it would all end before the Princes Street fireworks began. That was never going to be a problem, of course, as the Scottish Chamber Orchestra was also scheduled to accompany the pyrotechnics. Nonetheless, with the closing chorus at 10:20pm, the timing was neat.

For me, Zelmira ignited enough squibs and rockets for one night. Rossini set his singers Olympic challenges. And this cast, if they didn’t all pick up gold, were certainly in the medal line-up.

Antonino Siragusa’s stratospheric tenor voice gave astounding agility and purity to the role of Ilo. Fellow tenor Bruce Ford’s theatrical authority masked an occasional lack of vocal weight as Antenore, menacingly supported by Mirco Palazzi’s Leucippo. Marco Vinco’s rich definition matched perfectly the resigned heroism of Polidoro. With a lower register sensuous enough to curl up the toes, Manuela Custer’s Emma was a teasing display of emotion. If only Elizabeth Futral’s Zelmira could have been as wide-ranging. The affectionate side of the heroine’s music was utterly captivating, but we didn’t always catch the wretchedness of her plight.

This opera is full of musical surprises - twists of melody that defy expectation, and a score littered with inge nious colouring. Maurizio Benini’s sprightly conducting ignited a performance packed with energy and interest. The SCO Chorus occasionally lacked power. A professional opera chorus would have made a ll the difference.

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