Last night the Sirius Network broadcast William Tell from the Met. This run of the opera is the first time that it has been performed by the company in 85 years. The opera when done complete, as the Met is doing it, lasts about five hours including the two intervals. But the music is good enough to risk a decubitus ulcer. The cast assembled by the Met is very good, but has no great voices among the principals. The chorus which has a major role in the opera did reach the great level.
The tenor role is notorious for its difficulties, but to my ears the most moving aria in the work is the baritone aria near the end of Act 3. It it Tell urges his son, Jemmy, to stay still while his father performs archery’s most famous feat. The words to the aria are given below in the original French followed by an English translation. The Met which had previously done Tell in German and then Italian went back to the opera’s original language. In Italian the aria is ‘Resta immobile’.
‘Sois immobile’ really needs an Verdi baritone for its fullest realization even though Verdi was just a teenager when Tell was premiered in Paris. Gerald Finley (b 1960) is a fine artist, though he is not a Verdi baritone. Here’s how he sang the aria last night – Finley Sois immobile
Ten more baritones follow singing the piece, most of them in Italian. Mattia Battistini (1856-1928) adds a high G near the end of his version. But that’s not the highest interpolation in this series. The great baritone is in splendid voice on this recording made about a century ago. Battistini Resta immobile
Paolo Silveri (1913-2001) had a major career mostly in Europe, though he did give 37 performances at the Met. Silveri Resta immobile
Tito Gobbi (1913-84) was most noted for the intensity and suavity of his interpretations. His singing is restrained and subtle. Very satisfying. Gobbi resta immobile
Gino Bechi (1913-93) worked mostly in Italy. He was noted for his large and sometimes gruff sound. Bechi resta immobile
Giuseppe Taddei (1916-2010) was famous throughout the operatic world for his large and dramatic sound. He didn’t get to the Met until he was 69 years old when he debuted as Falstaff. His version of the aria dark and powerful. Taddei Resta immobile
Dietrich Fischer–Dieskau (1925-2012) sang a lot of opera despite being best known as a lieder singer. This aria is particularly well suited to his voice and style. Fischer-Dieskau Resta immobile
Piero Cappuccilli (1926-2005) was a major figure in mid 20th century opera except at the Met where he mysteriously appeared just one time. Cappuccilli Resta immobile
Sherrill Milnes (b 1935) had one of the great baritones of the past century. He recorded this aria when he was at the peak of his powers. He inserts a high A at its conclusion. Milnes Resta immobile
Leo Nucci (b 1942) is still singing leading roles at major houses at age 74. His recording shows shows the power and vocal security typical of his work. Nucci Resta immobile
Finally, here’s Thomas Hampson’s (b 1955) rendition of the aria. It’s a very good one and it’s in French, though I must confess that I think Tell sounds better in Italian. Hampson Sois immobile
And here just because it’s greater than great is The Lone Ranger music from the overture played last night by the Met’s superb orchestra under Fabio Luisi’s direction. Note that Maestro Luisi did not cut short the applause after the overture as he did after all the arias. William Tell Overture part 4
Sois immobile, et vers la terre
Incline un genou suppliant.
Invoque Dieu, invoque Dieu, c’est lui seul,
Qui dans le fils peut épargner le père.
Demeure ainsi, mais regarde les cieux,
Demeure ainsi, mais regarde les cieux.
En menaçant cette tête si chère,
Cette pointe d’acier peut effrayer tes yeux.
Le moindre mouvement, le moindre mouvement…
Jemmy, Jemmy, songe à ta mère !
Elle nous attend tous les deux !
Jemmy, Jemmy, songe à ta mère, etc.
Stay quite still, and bend
an imploring knee to the ground.
Call upon God, call upon God, it is He alone,
Who through the son can save the father.
Stay like that, but look up at the sky,
stay like that, but look up at the sky.
In threatening this beloved head
this steel tip may startle your eyes.
Move as little as you can, as little as you can…
Jemmy, Jemmy, think of your mother!
She waits for us both!
Jemmy, Jemmy, think of your mother, etc.
I prefer Tell in French. Much smoother legato line.
*Sherrill Milnes sings a high B Flat at the end of this recording, not merely a high A!