Gala Rossini. Versailles.Versailles, 1985 (Video)
Director: Claudio Abbado
The kind of singing known as bel canto is currently at the top of the classical music hit parade, and a television program acknowledging this is certainly in order - especially during a holiday season when fancifulness and decoration are all about us. For much of bel canto singing is nothing if not decorative, and the subjects of bel canto operas are apt to be very fanciful.
Rossini spectacular starring Montserrat Caballe, Marilyn Horne, Francisco Araiza, Samuel Ramey and Ruggero Raimondi. These and still other solo singers and the Radio France Chorus perform with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe under the direction of Claudio Abbado.
But this is no mere concert of arias and ensembles from Rossini operas. It is, rather, an elaborate costume fantasy filmed at Versailles -largely in the theater and chapel of the palace, though there are introductory glimpes of gardens, fountains and the exterior of the vast structure.
The concert is presented in the guise of an imaginary 19th-century gala tribute to Rossini, who lived in Paris after he stopped composing operas. Before the concert there is a picnic on the grounds at which the composer may have drunk a bit too much wine, and then the guests hurry inside to listen to the music. Everybody - the audience in the small, elegant theater as well as orchestra, chorus and soloists - is in luxuriant 19th-century evening dress.
This is not all. Instead of allowing the concert to proceed straightforwardly, the director of the production, Frank Dunlop, devised all sorts of comings and goings and doings to keep the performers from coming directly to the front and center of the stage to sing. The most extreme example of this has a forlorn female flutist wandering across the stage before Mr. Ramey - over in a corner -begins to sing ''Ah! perche le conobbi,'' from ''Il Viaggio a Reims.''
Unfortunately, all this adds up to overproduction that distracts attention from the musical performances. They happen to be quite good and did not need gussying up. This listener's favorites happen to be Miss Horne's bewitching delivery of the canzonetta spagnola ''En medio a mis dolores,'' and Mr. Raimondi's of ''Medaglie incomparabili'' from ''Il Viaggio a Reims.'' But, with excerpts from ''The Barber of Seville,'' ''Semiramide,'' ''William Tell,'' ''Tancredi'' and ''L'Italiana in Algeri,'' among other things, there is bound to be something to suit the taste of almost any Rossini fan.