William Tell: Rossini's last opera
Rossini’s William Tell is a French-language opera in four acts to a libretto by Victor-Joseph Étienne de Jouy and L. F. Bis. At the age of 37 Rossini composed this last opera, a great work originally planned for 1828, but it took until August 1829 for the first performance by the Paris Opéra at the Salle Le Peletier. Never before had Rossini taken so much time to create an opera.
Already for the premiere Rossini had to make cuts due to the huge dimensions. The opera's length, roughly four hours of music, and casting requirements, such as the high range required for the tenor part, have contributed to the difficulty of producing the work. When performed, the opera is often cut. Today the opera is performed in French and Italian, so that we hear in this opera portrait versions of both languages.
As mentioned, the role of Arnoldo is undoubtedly one of the most difficult tenor roles in the opera repertoire. Adolphe Nourrit, the great tenor of the first performance had problems with this role. Eight years later his rival Gilbert Duprez sang in this opera the first documented high C from the full breast voice (the famous “do in petto”) instead of the falsetto voice. Even if Rossini was shocked and repulsed by this sound, the audience was enthusiastic influencing the following generation of composers and the prevailing singing style.
William Tell can be considered as one of the most influential operas that has co-founded the modern tenor and the Grand Opéra. The most famous and often-performed overture ends with the famous gallop, the "March of the Swiss Soldiers".
Notable moments are also the wonderful romance “Selva opaca” (“Sombre forêt”) tenderly accompanied by the orchestra and the great duet of Arnoldo and Matilde, both in act II. In the iconic scene of the apple shot in act III, Tell sings the moving “Resta immobile” («Sois immobile») to express the pain of the father.