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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Mose in Egitto - azione tragico-sacra in three acts (1819 version)
Mose - Lorenzo Regazzo (bass); Elcia - Akie Amou (soprano); Faraone - Wojtek Gierlach (bass); Osiride - Filippo Adami (tenor); Amaltea - Rossella Bevacqua (soprano); Aronne - Giorgio Trucco (tenor); Amenofi Karen Bandelow (mezzo); Mambre - Giuseppe Fedeli (tenor)
San Pietro a Majella Chorus, Naples/Elsa Evangelista
Wildbad Wind Band/Martin Koch
Wurttemberg Philharmonic Orchestra/Antonio Fogliani
rec. live, 1, 7, 12 July 2006, Kursaal, Bad Wildbad, Germany, Rossini In Wildbad festival/ (Artistic director: Jochen Schonleber)
A co-production with SWR Producer: Siegbert Ernst
Cover: Stage design by Auguste Caron for the second act of the French version of Moise et Pharaon (4 acts) by Rossini, Paris, 1827
NAXOS 8.660220-21 [75:44 + 60:54]

Experience Classicsonline

When Gioachino Rossini sat down to compose Mose in Egitto in 1818, he was in the midst of his most prolific musical period as an opera composer. On the one side of his musical journey, Rossini had already mounted the dramme giocosi, L’Italiana in Algeri and La Cenerentola, the dramma, Elizabetta, regina d’Inghilterra, his first Neapolitan work and his most popular comedy, Il Barbiere di Siviglia. And as for the years after 1818, the opera world would soon get to hear such rich musical works as the azione tragica, Ermione, the melodramma, La Donna del Lago and what Phillip Gossett calls in his book, ‘Divas and Scholars’, Rossini’s most innovative Italian serious opera, Maometto II, the last three composed for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples under the watchful eye of the impresario, Domenico Barbaja.

At that moment, the 26-year-old composer and his librettist, Andrea Leone Tottola, were very much occupied in how to present Mose in Egitto, an azione tragico-sacra for the upcoming Lenten season. Their dilemma was to figure out how to keep the work sufficiently religious in tone to satisfy the Neapolitans during their forty-day observance and how to weave in a love story to spice up the work operatically. This was not such an easy task for Rossini as he revealed in one of the many letters he wrote to his mother, where he said, after finishing the work, “Certainly I will not write anything more like it because I will not again muster the patience that I did on this occasion.” And as for Tottola, he had to go back to a five-act tragedy written by Francesco Ringhieri in 1760, to find an acceptable romantic subplot for the opera which he developed between the Pharaoh’s son Orside and his beloved, Elcia, a Hebrew woman. 

This very much fitted with the topsy-turvy world in the first half of 19th century Italian opera, where outside opera contributors were expected to be on hand if needed, substitute arias had to be hastily written, and irksome, fussy librettists became part of the daily upheaval in this musical world. Mose in Egitto was no exception in this hectic environment in which composers were expected to create. Besides the premiere in 1818, there were two revisions, one in 1819 and the other in 1820. The first was well-received, but in the third act where Mose parts the Red Sea, both the flimsy material that waved like the sea and the stage-hands doing the waving became part of the miracle. Naturally, the raucous Neapolitans rioted in laughter. 

Along with this unexpected audience reaction it became apparent to both Rossini and Tottola that they had to make a number of changes in the musical and textual components concerning Mose in Egitto. When we look just at the problems they faced concerning the opera’s arias, we can imagine how big the challenges were for the composers of 19th century Italian opera during this exciting period. 

To start, Rossini recognized he needed to add a section that would make the third act more convincing. As luck would have it, he composed one of the most beautiful passages in all his canon. Reto Muller in the notes that accompany the CD, explains it best, “The entire force of the religious element is concentrated in this section of the opera, which is given epic and awe-inspiring expression in the moving prayer: “Dal tuo stellato soglio” (”From Thy starry throne“). Mose, Aronne and Elcia sing one verse each, accompanied by a harp, and the refrain, which show extraordinary pathos by virtue of its simplicity, is taken up by the entire chorus and orchestra.” 

But Rossini and Tottola had other problems to contend with such as time constraints. The composer needed an aria in the first act: a piece that expressed the Pharaoh’s desire and determination to keep the Hebrews from leaving Egypt. Rossini turned to his good friend and collaborator, Michele Carafa, to supply the music for Tottola’s text, “A respettarmi apprenda,” an adept piece very much in Rossini’s musical style. Obviously the composer liked it for he kept it in the 1819 version. However, for the 1820 version, Rossini replaced Carafa’s aria with his own music again to Tottola’s text called,”Cade dal ciglio il velo.” The reason was, most probably, as Muller states, “…in order to do justice to the new interpreter’s (Antonio Ambrosi ) greater virtuosic potential or requirements.” 

Also in 1818, Rossini had to turn to an unknown contributor for Mose’s second act aria, in which the protagonist rebels against the Pharaoh and is wrapped in chains. That aria, “Tu di ceppi m’aggravi,” was a hastily put together piece; so Rossini, for the 1819 version, composed a multi-faceted, vigorous, but beautiful aria called,”Dal Re de’ Regi,” which on this recording, the bass, Lorenzo Regazzo exemplifies why he is one of the best Rossinian singers in the world today. 

This 1819 version of Mose in Egitto is the first live performance of the opera on disc that seems to be available. Staged in concert version by the Rossini in Wildbad Festival in July 2006, the performance, which is enthusiastically showcased by conductor Antonio Fogliani and the forces gathered at Wildbad, is another significant contribution to the continuing interest in Rossini’s serious operas. 

Rossini and Tottola decided to present only three of the ten plagues from the Old Testament that God inflicted on the Egyptians through Moses’ ministry. While listening to the opera and reading the concise text that Tottola gave Rossini, one realizes they made the right theatrical decision. In ‘Rossini’, scholar Richard Osborne elucidates his preference for Mose in Egitto over Rossini’s French makeover, Moise et Pharaon composed in 1827. Osborne is unequivocal in his praise for the original version when he states, “For much of its length, Mose in Egitto has a guileless beauty about it ….Wherever we turn … whether it is to the lovely F major Quintet in Act 1, to the famous Quartet ‘Mi manca la voce’ in Act 2, or to Moses’ yet more celebrated Prayer in Act 3 - we hear melodies … graceful as only Rossini could make them, wafted over harp and strings, and, in the Quintet, wonderfully irradiated by characteristically atmospheric writing for the horn.” 

In this Naxos recording, Fogliani leads his Wurttemberg Philharmonic with just the right amount of spirit and reverence that is the essence of Rossini’s music. The San Pietro a Majella Chorus, Naples delivers both the pensive and brisk responses necessary for the ensembles, and the cast — soprano, Akie Amou as Elcia, tenor, Filippo Adami as Osiride and bass, Wojtek Gierlach as Faraone — most times keeps the vocal interest at a satisfactory level. Rosella Bevacqua as Amaltea brings clarity and a dash of excitement to La pace mia smarrita, her aria expressing compassion for the plight of the Israelites. But it is Lorenzo Regazzo who puts his vocal stamp on Moses with a wide range of vocal color and varied dynamics embodied in a rich vocal style that would, no doubt, delight Rossini.

Nicholas del Vecchio

see also Review by Robert Farr




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