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Italy’s Teatro Regio Torino debuts at Harris Theatre with ‘William Tell’

BY KYLE MACMILLAN | FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

Because the “William Tell” Overture — better known as the theme to the 1950s “Lone Ranger” television show — is so familiar on its own, it’s easy to forget that it was written in 1829 as the opener to an opera by Gioachino Rossini.

And not just any opera. The Milan-born Gianandrea Noseda, recently named Musical America’s conductor of the year, believes it is the apex of the famed Italian composer’s output. And that’s saying a great deal, considering Rossini is revered for such popular works as, “The Barber of Seville” and “The Italian Girl in Algiers.”

“It’s a real masterpiece,” Noseda said. “It’s not only the overture — there are so many magic moments in the opera.”

Noseda will lead the Teatro Regio Torino in a Dec. 3 concert performance of the Italian-language version of “William Tell” at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, launching the Turin, Italy opera company’s first-ever North American tour.

TEATRO REGIO TORINO

‘William Tell’

When: p.m. Dec. 3

Where: Harris Theater for Music and Dance,

205 E. Randolph

Tickets: $55-95

Info: (312) 334-7777; harristheaterchicago.org

New York’s Carnegie Hall first expressed interest in bringing the company across the Atlantic Ocean. It sought partners for the project, and the Harris Theater was one of three other venues to sign on.

President and managing director Michael Tiknis said the Millennium Park theater was attracted to the tour because of Noseda’s standing as “one of the developing major conductors in the world today” and because of the rarity of “William Tell.” The opera has never been performed by the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and according to Harris Theater research, the last time it was presented anywhere in Chicago was 1986.

“If they were touring with ‘Don Giovanni’ or ‘Rigoletto,’” Tiknis said, “we probably would have said, ‘It’s a great idea and terrific project, but we’re not really that interested.’ We don’t want to re-duplicate things that are already happening in Chicago.”

Noseda has built the Teatro Regio Torino into what some experts believe to be one of three best opera companies in Italy. “When I started seven years ago with the company,” he said, “I immediately realized that we shouldn’t try to just be one of the important opera houses in Italy, but we should put ourselves on the world map of opera.”

<em>Gianandrea Noseda conducts the L’Orchestra del Teatro Regio di Torino | © Fonazione Teatro Regio di Torino</em>
Gianandrea Noseda conducts the L’Orchestra del Teatro Regio di Torino | © Fonazione Teatro Regio di Torino

To do that, he and the company have produced high-profile recordings and undertaken tours to countries such as Japan and Spain in addition to annual appearances in Paris. Touring by any opera company is very rare today because of the high costs associated with such ventures, which for this tour includes transporting and lodging some 200 orchestra musicians, chorus singers and soloists.

But Noseda’s future with the Turin opera is up in the air because he announced in August that he would not renew his contract with the company if the current general manager remained in place. The conductor, however, agreed to fulfill his remaining obligations, including this tour.

Set in Austrian-occupied medieval Switzerland, the opera revolves around William Tell, a Swiss freedom fighter with legendary skills as an archer. Baritone Luca Salsi, who appeared in the Chicago Symphony’s September 2013 concert performances of “Macbeth,” will sing the title role. Among the other principal cast members are up-and-coming soprano Angela Meade as the Austrian princess Mathilde and tenor John Osborn as Arnold.

One reason the opera is so seldom performed, Noseda said, is because its technical and dramatic demands require a stellar cast of singers, especially the challenging tenor role of Arnold. Indeed, he believes there only three or four tenors in the world who can successfully handle it, including Osborn.

At the same time, the four-act opera is dauntingly long — 3 hours and 45 minutes, not counting intermissions — so Noseda has made some trims, cutting portions of dances and repetitions in arias while striving to ensure that overall structure remains intact.

“We can give a right and complete image of the opera without cutting too much,” he said. “It’s still a long opera but more compatible with today’s audiences.”

Noseda knows well that the Teatro Regio is coming to a city that has one of the top three opera companies in the United States, and Riccardo Muti, one of the world’s leading opera conductors, at the artistic helm of the Chicago Symphony.

“It’s one more possibility for the Chicago audiences to approach opera and to hear it performed by an Italian opera house,” he said. “It will be an extra sparkle instead of competition, even if, of course, we know we have to compete with the high quality of the Chicago Symphony and Lyric Opera, so we will try to give our best.”

Kyle MacMillan is a local freelance writer.