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William Tell was performed without costumes or staging.

Something totally unprecedented happened at Roy Thomson Hall on Friday night.

When the Turin Royal Theatre Orchestra, under the leadership of their resident conductor, Gianandrea Noseda, got to the end of Rossini's ultra-familiar William Tell Overture – the Lone Ranger one – they didn't stop playing.

They kept on going.

And about four hours later, when the cheering throng in the Hall celebrated the end of this complete concert performance (i.e. without costumes or staging) of Rossini's seldom-performed masterpiece, (with a hymn to liberty that might have come from Beethoven's Fidelio), one of the most entertaining, exciting and satisfying evenings in recent Toronto musical history came to a thrilling close. It was a night to remember at King and Simcoe.

William Tell was Rossini's last opera, although he was only 38 when he wrote it, and lived for another 40 years after. At the peak of his powers, and with this great success under his belt, he just quit. The world of opera has never understood nor forgiven him for this act of abandonment. We like to think composers are born with a compulsion to do what they do – it feeds our Romantic myth of creativity. Rossini smashed that myth to pieces, spending the rest of his life happily occupied otherwise. Cooking and eating, mostly – Tournedos Rossini are named after him.

And lest you think that Rossini gave it all up through lack of inspiration, this performance of William Tell proved just the opposite – Rossini wrote a score of surpassing originality, creativity and confidence. Beautiful love duets give way to martial scenes of enmity and rebellion (the real William Tell was a Swiss patriot fighting Austrian domination); gorgeous pastoral choruses alternate with ensemble passages of great complexity and beauty. William Tell is long and somewhat diffuse, (its length one of the factors preventing many performances) although never meandering. It shows a composer feeling his way to a new operatic style, stopping just short of the highly dramatic works of a Weber, Verdi or even a Wagner that were just a generation or so away.

And the music-making that brought Tell to life Friday night was superb. Gianandrea Noseda and the Turin Royal Theatre Orchestra were the true stars of the show, but the voices Noseda assembled for his cast were also first-rate. Perhaps first among these was Enea Scala, as Arnoldo, the young man torn between duty and love, whose tenor was lithe and supple, soaring to great heights in his love duet in Act 2 and his cry for vengeance in Act 3. Angela Meade matched Scala with the beauty of her Matilde, the Austrian princess who is Arnoldo's beloved, with a burnished, roseate soprano. Fabrizio Beggi made a fine Melchtal, the Swiss patriot. Gabriele Sagonda's Gessler became, eventually, a menacing villain, and Luca Salsi's Tell, although sometimes swallowed up by the black hole that is the Roy Thomson Hall acoustic, came alive in the famous scene where he shoots the arrow off his son's head (which, without staging, was left to our imaginations to witness, almost better that way).

But the focal point of the evening's music was the Turin Royal Theatre Orchestra and conductor Noseda. Noseda prowled the podium, light on his feet, essentially dancing the score into being. He shaped the music with such loving attention to each sonic detail that wonders bloomed every moment, from a horn melody here, a woodwind line there, now the quietest of quiet pianissimos, now the most exciting of triple fortes. His orchestra responded to every challenge he threw them.

In the end, this William Tell was something you don't often say about classical music concerts. It was fun. It was long, and taxing, and different, and engaging – an event, not a mere recitation of musical texts long known and remembered. Not every evening at the concert hall can share these characteristics, but if classical music is to thrive in this rapidly-evolving century, a lot more of them need to.