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Rossini’s Moses in Egypt at Chicago Opera Theater: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Chicago Opera Theater, Leonardo Vordoni (conductor) Harris Theater, Chicago, 17.4.2010 (JLZ).


Production Designer: Anka Lupes
Lighting Designer: Keith Parham
Stage Director: Andrew Eggert
Chorus Master: Francesco Milito
Conductor: Leonardo Vordoni


Osiride:Taylor Stayton
Faraone: Tom Corbeil
Amaltea: Kathryn Leemhuis
Mosé: Andrea Concetti
Aronne: Jorge Prego
Mambre: Samuel Levine
Elcia: Siân Davies
Amenofi: Emily Grace Righter

Production Picture © Liz Lauren

Chicago Opera Theater opened its 2010 season impressively with a revival of Rossini’s Mosé in Egitto. This production continues the tradition COT has of bringing to the stage bel canto opera and other related works from the early nineteenth century. In this regard, it served the score well in assembling a nicely balanced cast in an effective staging. Designated by the compose ras an azione tragic-sacra (a “tragic-sacred action”), Mosé in Egitto is sometimes treated as an oratorio, and the libretto certainly contains enough problems to challenge the the action’s realization on stage. Yet the production designer Anka Lupes and stage director Andrew Eggert brought the epic scale of the story into the space of the stage, very skillfully allowing the music to underscore the narrative very well. This is the kind of work that COT has done equally well in the past and contributes greatly to the artistic life of Chicago. Moreover, the effort involved in bringing such an infrequently performed work to any stage is in itself an act of creation that deserves congratulations.

The familiar story from the book of Exodus translates into an opera text based in part on the play L'Osiride by Francesco Ringhieri, and Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto uses the romance between the Egyptian prince Osiride and the Hebrew woman Elcia to propel the narrative along. Even with some of the anachronisms that exist in the text, the romance between Osiride and Elcia offers some motivation for the political and religious tensions that must resolve either in the execution of Moses or with his pardon and the freedom of the Israelites. The singers who portrayed the lovers gave outstanding performances of their characters’ individual arias, both individually and in their duet and the ensemble work which involved them.

As Elcia, Siân Davies was persuasive musically and dramatically. Her vocal facility was remarkable from the start, and it was impressive to have such a talented in this unusual work. She already has credit for some major roles in Mozart’s operas, including Elvira in Don Giovanni and has also performed in Handel’s oratorios Messiah and Israel in Egypt. With this production Ms Davies had the opportunity to explore that rarely hear music, her cabaletta after the death of Osiride “Tormentia, afanni,” was impressive, especially in the context of its place near the end of the opera. She also brought finesse to her duet with Osiride in the first act, when Elcia is still consumed by her love, and not yet persuaded to forego it in deference to her loyalty to her people and faith in her deity. Her impassioned performance demonstrated all of the conflicts her character experiences in deciding between love and duty.

Similarly, Taylor Stayton brought an equally strong talent to the role of Osiride. His duet with Elcia “Ah! Se puoi così ciarmi” in Act II was a fine example of his skill, as was his part in the quartet that followed. He was also strong in the duet with his father the Pharoah, with his solo passages showing off his fine sense of style along with technical facility. As with Siân Davies, Taylor Stayton conveyed a presence that made his character work well within this sometimes problematic libretto. As an Egyptian prince motivated by love to keep Elcia near him, it was important to understand the depth of his passion Mr Stayton brought this out fully in a strong and memorable performance.

Andrea Concetti as Moses was impressive for his sonorous voice and commanding stage presence, from his opening aria “Eterno! Immense!” through the rest of the opera. He made every text ring out, with a delivery that made certain lines work particularly well, as when calling Osiride “Ingrato!” in the first act. Equally strong was Kathryn Leemhuis, who brought to life her role as the Pharaoh’s wife Amaltea and Osiride’s mother: her singing in the second-act quartet was stunning in its combination of musical and dramatic nuance.

As Pharaoh, Tom Corbeil displayed an easy and flexible bass voice. If he was sometime stoic in the first act, he become more impassioned in the second, especially in the father-and-son duet with Osiride. Mr Corbeil’s technique is impressive for its flexibility and fluidity even though the sonorous character that some singers display in this role was not always evident, which may be attributed in part to the sometimes overzealous orchestra, a problem which will probably doubt, balance out in the remaining performances of this production.

A member of the young artists’ program of COT, Jorge Prego gave another fine reading in the role of Aronne. His supple tenor voice was easy to hear and emerged nicely in the ensembles, particularly the quartet in the second act. Samuel Levine, another member of the young artist’s program, brought a nice edge to the character of the Egyptian Mamre and Emily Grace Righter gave exactly the right touches to the role of Amenofi.

Under Leonardo Vordoni’s direction, the orchestra supported the performance mostly very well, with a solid ensemble and incisive string playing. The winds and brass blended well into the orchestral color, and Mr Vordoni offered seamless direction in moving from scene to scene with a fitting sense of tempo and as well as ensuring that orchestra color helped to establish the character of the scenes. He was particularly good at distinguishing the more static oratorio-like numbers in which Moses appeared, from the more intimate scenes that involved members of the Egyptian ruling family.

This is a solid production which relies on Charles Brauner’s edition of the work and serves his version of Rossini’s score extremely well. Such a lively account helps to remind modern audiences of the popularity this work had in Rossini’s day, with the composer’s efforts appearing in multiple versions in Italian and French, as Philip Gossett mentions in his excellent program notes. Congratulations then, to Chicago Opera Theater for reviving this work with a fine cast, excellent musical direction, and effective staging.

James L. Zychowicz

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