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Tv Review : Caballe And Horne With 'Rossini'

December 27, 1985|DANIEL CARIAGA | Times Music Writer

A fictional tribute to Rossini in late-middle age, staged at the Royal Opera House and chapel at Versailles and performed by Montserrat Caballe, Marilyn Horne and others, is the "Great Performances" offering at 9 tonight on Channels 28 and 15 (also at 8 tonight on Channel 24, and 9 p.m. Saturday on Channel 50).

It is a tribute in singing and vocal display by two of the preeminent divas of our day, with assistance from a handful of their operatic colleagues, plus chorus and orchestra. The format in which they function is a concert attended by the composer, mimed vaguely by actor Paul Brooke, surrounded by a theaterful of 19th-Century types in costume.

The staging, on the French site by Frank Dunlop and for television by Humphrey Burton and Yves-Andre Hubert, looks silly (Horne, for instance, sings excerpts from two of her more famous trousers-roles in a voluminous, red ball gown), but remains largely peripheral. What is important is the singing--much of it authoritative, some of it very pretty--and the playing, by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

Claudio Abbado conducts, constantly, it seems, at tempos that fail to assist the savoring of mood, word and bel-canto expression. The show-opening reading of the Overture to "La Gazza Ladra" is only the first example one encounters, but it is typical: The small orchestra plays scrappily and with inconsistent balances. Abbado seems to work hard at keeping the little band together; sometimes his efforts pay off.

The singing--accomplished with dignity by Caballe, Horne, tenor Francisco Araiza, baritone Ruggero Raimondi and basso Samuel Ramey, with incidental help from four others--soars in moments, remains earthbound in others.

Caballe produces gorgeous tone and genuine musical repose in the aria "Sombre foret" from "Guillaume Tell," and achieves, with Horne, predictable vocal splendors in a duet from "Tancredi."

Horne again subdues the challenges of "In si barbara" from "Semiramide," charms effectively in an irresistible "Canzonetta Spagnuola," and reiterates her dominion in the Sextet from "Cenerentola" and the Septet from "L'Italiana in Algeri."

Raimondi gives the most subtle demonstration of vocal art of these 90 minutes in an ear-opening, wonderfully stylish performance of "La Calunnia" from "Il Barbiere di Siviglia." Ramey proves rough and fuzzy in tone and expression in his four appearances; given the considerable opportunity of "Cujus animan" from the Stabat Mater, Araiza's impact emerges only bland.

The accompanying Chorus of Radio France performs gamely, and wears its 19th-Century costumes (by Tirelli) handsomely.

"Rossini at Versailles" is a production of Columbia Artists, in association with WNET/New York and Antenne 2, BBC-TV, NHK, ORF, Rada Film, Rai tre and ZDF.

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