Giaoachino Rossini's works had fallen on hard times over the 19th and early 20th centuries - of the 40 operas he wrote between 1810 and 1829 only one, the infernal Barber of Seville (sorry it is not one of my favorites,)appeared regularly in the world's opera houses. There would be the occasionally excursion into Italian Girl in Algiers or Cenerentola (Cinderella)when the right contralto/mezzo came along who could manage the vocal line, but his opera seria where deemed unworthy of revival.
However that began to change in the 1960s with the emergence of singers who could handle the challenging vocal demands. Many of those singers were Americans: Rockwell Blake, Frederica Von Stade (my beloved Flicka), Samuel Ramey, Chris Merritt and perhaps the greatest of them all: Marilyn Horne. She had great comic flair as Rosina and Isabella and was a sweeet, tender Cenerentola, but it was in the opera seria that she shone brightest. Many of the contralto roles Rossini wrote were for woman playing the part of a man: Calbo** in Maometto II, Malcolm in Donna del Largo, Arsace in Semiramide and the title role in Tancredi . Jackie may not have been the most convincing man but I remember that first Tancredi in Houston in 1977 - she strode out on stage, opened her arms and her mouth and dared any of us not to believe in her. And believe we did - then and right up until she retired in 1999, still at the peak of her art.
Tancredi was Rossini's 10th opera and his first great success. "Di Tanti Palpati" - Tancredi's first aria heard here - was so popular that there was a Papal ban on altar boys whistling it. After this performance in 1977 apparently it could be heard everywhere on the streets of Rome. And I'm sure they heard the cheering after this remarkable performance all the way out on Via Nazionale.
*So actually it should be Giovedi Musicale but...
** I was surprised that the critic for the Financial Times in her review of this year's production at Pesaro referred to it as being written for a castrato. She obviously didn't know Rossini's views on castrati nor had she read her programme notes.
28 agosto - San Augostino