Gounod's La Colombe dazzles in Siena
12 July 2013, Siena, Italy
Anyone for parrot? 'La Colombe' in Siena
Report by Juliet Giraldi
At the same time that blockbuster Verdi operas are being performed in the Arena in Verona attracting thousands of tourists,the lesser known (and largely ignored) mini-festival Settimana Musicale Senese takes part in Siena.
Organised by the Accademia Musicale Chigiana, this musical jewel is held in the third week of July, preceding the summer school with its masterclasses and series of chamber concerts. Young instrumental players from all over the world attend these courses through August, attracted by the excellence of the tuition and the high standard it expects - and attains.
This year the Chigiana Week celebrated its 70th anniversary with a particularly attractive programme which included two operas: Handel's Hymen with the Ensemble Europa Galante conducted by Fabio Biondi, and Gounod's La Colombe (The Dove). The latter, which inaugurated the festival, was performed in the incredible setting of the Teatro dei Rinnovati, a beautiful 18th-century theatre that faces out onto a piazza next to the city's town hall.
This delightful two act opéra comique was composed by Gounod in 1860. It was based on a poem by La Fontaine (Le Faucon) which was itself inspired by a story by Boccaccio in the fifth day of the Decameron. (For the record, Boccaccio's 7th centenary is being celebrated this year). It narrates that Federigo degli Alberighi, who loves but is not loved in return, spends all his money in courtship and is left with only a falcon. Since he has nothing else to give her, he offers this to his lady to eat when she visits his home; on learning this, she changes her mind, takes him for her husband, and makes him rich.
The falcon becomes a dove in Gounod's opera and in a mischievous final twist the heroine Sylvie is treated by her lover to parrot instead of dove pie, the parrot belonging to her arch rival – not such an acceptable conclusion today as it would have been in 1860! The charming opera with its catchy melodies and comic episodes was performed for the first time at Baden-Baden and was met with much enthusiasm. Later, the spoken dialogue was set to music by Poulenc and it was this version that was performed with great verve in a brilliant production by Denis Krief with the Orchestra della Toscana conducted by Philipp von Steinaecker. The quartet of soloists was made up of Laura Giordano as Sylvie, a rippling light soprano ideal in this part, Laura Polverelli, superb acting and singing as Horace's servant, Juan Gatell as the lovelorn Horace and Filippo Polinelli as MaÎtre Jean.