Since this year, two tenors from Peru have been directing the “Rossini Opera Festival” founded in 1980 in Pesaro, the composer’s birthplace: the “Sovrintendente” Erneste Palacio was joined as “artistic director” Juan Diego Florez. Both South Americans have been associated with the festival for a long time.

Palacio, who ran an artist agency after his singing career, received first prize at the “Nuovi Voci Rossiniane” in Italy in 1972 and worked at La Scala in Milan with Claudio Abbado, Alberto Zedda and Jean Pierre Ponnelle – from whom the impetus for founding the festival came in Pesaro had run out. Juan Diego Florez, on the other hand, started his steep career in Pesaro with Rossini’s “Mathilde di Shabran” in 1998.

Rossini upgraded the roles of tenors in opera, after the heroes had previously mostly been countertenors and castrati. He now replaced them with tenors – and mezzo-sopranos, who also sang daring virtuoso flourishes. To open his first season in Pesaro, Juan Diego Florez has now chosen Rossini’s penultimate opera “Le Comte Ory”, which premiered in Paris – which often recycles music from “Viaggio a Reims”, which in turn is a fixed point of the festival. Year after year, students at the Rossini Academy present this work as a prime example of Rossini’s bel canto.

While the men have gone on the crusade and taken their wives’ vows of chastity, the libertine Ory tries to seduce the Countess Adele, disguising himself first as a hermit and later as a nun. Florez himself excelled in that role at Pesaro 19 years ago. Back then, “Comte Ory” was presented in the salon of a decadent French society as a game within a game. Less plausible is Hugo de Ana’s staging and his set, which quotes the world of hell by the late Gothic painter Hieronymus Bosch. With never-ending hopping, the chorus enlivens the surreal images of “Expulsion from Paradise,” while the ladies left behind have to work out tirelessly in a gym. More convincing are the intimate scenes when Florez, as a nun, drives onto the stage on a scooter and harasses Countess Adele. He not only impresses with his precise, powerfully radiant highs, but also surprises as a comedic actor.

Rossini’s “Otello”, the second new production in 2022, was often performed in the 19th century, but was then supplanted by Giuseppe Verdi’s Shakespeare setting. However, Rossini’s approach to the material is completely different – and also more trivial. With a secret wedding, mutual intrigues and a hard-hearted father who prefers another son-in-law for his daughter, Rossini’s “Otello” almost comes close to the dramaturgy of a buffa opera – and in fact he also made a version with a happy ending without jealous murder.

However, Rosetta Cucchi’s production now features modern, all deeply traumatized characters. Newspaper reports about femicide can already be read on video boards in the overture. With wide-eyed fear, a double of Emilia, Desdemona’s friend, seems to reflect what is happening: the brutal male violence of father, lover and husband. A chorus of violated women in bloodstained nightgowns line up behind Desdemona, “No” written on the heels of their hands.

The three fighters acting out their masculinity are all tenors: Antonio Siragusa is insinuatingly and at the same time sharply assertive as the intriguer Jago; Enea Scala, on the other hand, impresses as Otello – a white militarist in Cucchi’s production – with violent outbursts. However, the most important role in Rossini’s work is not Otello, but Rolando, his lover who was rejected by Desdemona. Dmity Korchak is particularly impressive with “Che ascolto”, his virtuoso aria of despair that gets under your skin. Eleonora Buratto touches as Desdemona in this man’s world, effortlessly shifting between depths and heights.

All 39 of Rossini’s operas, some of which have been buried for a long time, have now been scientifically and scenically reworked at the festival in his honor. However, the discussions, exploration and revivals of his oeuvre are far from over. The Adriatic holiday resort of Pesaro therefore continues to be a worthwhile destination for voyages of discovery into the world of bel canto.