HOW do you solve a problem like Gioacchino Rossini? It is a fact that when some opera lovers saw the programme for the 2018 Edinburgh International Festival, they rolled their eyes and turned to the Usher Hall pages to book seats at the concert performances of Siegried and Hansel & Gretel.

After the Italian composer wrote William Tell in 1829 (which had a mixed reception at its Paris premiere, but celebrated its 500th performance in 1868, the year of his death) the composer who had been the prolific superstar of his generation – Beethoven moaned that no-one whistled his tunes as often as he heard Rossini’s – stopped writing operas entirely, well short of his fortieth birthday. Before he was 50, and although he was a revered teacher at home in Italy, his works had fallen from favour internationally, and a century later Edward Dent’s pocket Pelican paperback on Opera, published during the Second World War, concluded: “To hear the overture to William Tell is always an exciting experience; to strum through half a dozen of Rossini’s forgotten operas is wearisome and monotonous.”

The two contrasting productions of Rossini Operas that come to Edinburgh this year, playing at the Festival Theatre at its opening and closing weekend, are a very long way indeed from that description. Although they could not be more different from each other, both are stunningly staged and demonstrate original ways of tackling the works. Both have been created by exciting European teams: the Theatre des Champs-Elysees’ The Barber of Seville is the work of internationally renowned Laurent Pelly, with conductor Jeremie Rhorer directing his period instrument ensemble Le Cercle de l’Harmonie in the pit, and Norwegian director Stefan Herheim, whose Pelleas et Melisande opened recently at Glyndebourne, is working with Italian baroque violinist-turned opera conductor Stefano Montanari on Lyon Opera’s La Cenerentola.

What both conductors emphasise is essential to making a success of Rossini – and implicitly suggest may be the reason why his works have fared badly since his death – is an utter respect for the detail of the score. That could hardly be more explicit in The Barber of Seville, where the director’s set and costume design sees the story unfold against various backdrops that are huge depictions of the composer’s manuscript pages.

“It is strange that it has taken until recently for Rossini to have the benefit of research into historically informed performance,” says Rohrer, “when that happened quite quickly for Beethoven and Mendelssohn.”

For Rohrer, the Italian is as much a part of the “great beginning of the 19th century” as those composers.

“Rossini visited Beethoven in Vienna. He know the worth of The Barber of Seville, and Beethoven, even in his most glorious time, was in the shadow of Rossini.”

The received wisdom is that Rossini saw the writing on the wall, and the rise of Guiseppe Verdi as his successor as the great popular composer of Italian opera, but for both Rohrer and Montanari that does not diminish the value of the earlier works.

“It only proves that some things take time to be appreciated,” says Rohrer. “If a work is great enough it will always come back.”

He thinks that the “vocality” of Rossini’s music has often not been sufficiently respected. The carefully phrased articulation the music requires benefits from the approach his generation has learned from the pioneering work of Austrian conductor Nikolas Harnoncourt.

“The symphony orchestra we know only dates from the late 19th century, when there had been a complete transformation from wood to metal. Before that the sound was much lighter and closer to the voices.”

“Laurent Pelly was inspired by that energy and contrast in the music, so there has been no contradiction between us, we have worked hand-in-hand.”

Speaking backstage before a performance of La Cenerentola (which is our Cinderella story, but not as you know it), Montanari echoes those sentiments.

“You have to love it. You cannot do Rossini if you don’t like Rossini. All these details make it like a puzzle. There are a lot of different effects and specific instructions in the score. Every little detail is important and if you lose a detail you are finished. During the rehearsals with the orchestra, if you follow the score precisely, the music comes out on its own, but if you miss a diminuendo it will be terrible.”

“La Cenerentola is one of the most famous operas of Rossini, but the music is really simple. Le Conte Ory, for example, is very different in its structure. The danger with La Cenerentola is that it could be really boring, but I love to open the score and imagine that it has been written the day before and try to understand the style in that way.

“Some conductors and singers do this music without knowing the music that came before, but it is like when you study human history – you cannot understand the Second World War without knowing what happened in the years before it. If you don’t know Mozart, you cannot understand Rossini, and if you don’t know Handel you cannot understand Mozart.”

Montanari is an unconventional figure, perhaps a little like an Italian Nigel Kennedy in his goth dress-style and populist approach, who has come to conducting after a career as a star soloist and concert-master with the Accademia Bizantina in Ravenna and work with Christophe Rousset and Les Talents Lyriques in Paris.

“In 2005 a friend in Italy asked me to conduct the Marriage of Figaro and I thought ‘why not?’, because 99% of the time that will be my answer. It was not the most simple opera to start with, but it was interesting.”

His work in Bergamot came to the attention of the management at Lyon, and an invitation to conduct the trilogy Mozart wrote with Da Ponte. Montanari’s repertoire of interest had moved forward in time.

“I spent 25, maybe 30, years around Baroque music, not because I don’t like other music, but to understand something needs time. Maybe that was too much time, but it was a good challenge to me. I studied a lot and met a lot of different musicians and developed my personal opinion about music.

“But so far, although I have done a lot of Mozart, Donizetti and Rossini, I have conducted only one baroque opera, Agrippina by Handel. I don’t know why!”

Crucially, perhaps, the conductor has found a very conducive atmosphere to work in France, no matter what the repertoire.

“Lyon is a good station for me – it is one of the most important opera companies in the world I think. We have a very good relationship: I love the city, I love the orchestra, I love the theatre and I love the way that we can work together.

“In Italy people say everyone is friends, but it is even more so here. I like to understand the job of everybody, including those in the office and at the stage door. This communication is good. After some performances we all get together on the tenth floor for some food and a drink, it is like a little family.”

Rossini’s The Barber of Seville is at the Festival Theatre tomorrow, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7.15 as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. La Cenerentola runs at the same venue and time on August 24, 25 and 26.