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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Maometto II (1822 Venice version) [166:40]
Denis Sedov (Maometto, bass), Anna-Rita Gemmabella (Calbo, contralto), Luisa Islam-Ali-Zade (Anna Erisso, mezzo-soprano), Massimiliano Barbolini (Paolo Erisso, tenor), Antonio De Gobbi (Condulmiero, bass), Cesare Ruta (Selimo, tenor)
Czech Philharmonic Choir, Brno, Czech Chamber Soloists/Brad Cohen
Recorded live in Kurhaus Bad Wildbad on 15th, 17th and 20th July 2002
NAXOS 8.660149-51 [3 CDs: 71:58 + 26:12 + 68:30]


The thoroughly researched booklet explains that Maometto II was originally written in 1820 for Naples. This was a city then noted for its progressive operatic tastes which permitted the composer to make some fairly bold experiments, setting aside the traditional closed forms linked by recitatives in favour of something more continuous. For Venice, two years later, various revisions of a more traditionalist nature (all listed in the note), as well as the provision of a happy ending and a few rabble-rousing crescendos, were required. This version of the opera, as recorded here for the first time, still shows an impressive shape and continuity, the set pieces frequently being made to appear parts of a larger whole by the insertion of choral interludes and the like. Later still the material was reworked as "Le siège de Corinthe", in which form it is perhaps better known. Whatever the pros and cons of the various versions, the opera we hear on these discs is a very fine one, musically rich and with a clear dramatic shape. The fact that the principal role is for a bass and that there is no soprano gives it a sombre colour all of its own.

Naxos have sometimes been accused of assembling rag-bags of provincial singers whose only virtue lies in their low fees but they have struck lucky here. Not so much with the tenor, though even he is not bad as modern tenors go. The voice is an attractive one and as a "tenore di grazia" in less strenuous works I am sure he could be very effective. Here he is obliged to strain at times.

In Anna-Rita Gemmabella we seem to have a real star, a powerful voice with smouldering chest tones and all the agility needed to bring off her great scene in the second act. I fully endorse the shouts of "Brava! Brava!" which break out at the end. She is described in the credits as a contralto but as a mezzo-soprano in the brief biography in the booklet. She could take a leaf out of Rebecca de Pont Daviesís book and call herself a "mezzo-contralto" for the richness of timbre and the power of the lower register suggest a contralto, but she is able to go somewhat higher than would normally be expected of such a voice.

Certainly, she is readily distinguishable from Luisa Islam-Ali-Zade, a mezzo-soprano of a quite different type, nearer to a pure soprano and able, in fact, to sing high soprano roles as well as mezzo ones. She does not have quite the technical security or the authority of Gemmabella but, apart from a strained top C at the end of Act One she acquits herself well.

Denis Sedov is an Israeli of Russian extraction and American training; he has the typical rich Slavonic bass timbre and sufficient agility to bring off his big aria with aplomb. He easily dominates the proceedings when he is on stage. The smaller parts are decently taken and there is good work from the chorus and orchestra under a conductor who shows a good sense of pace and instrumental colour. The recording is good.

As well as the documentation referred to above, the booklet gives a detailed synopsis (as is customary with Naxos) but no libretto. This, however, can be accessed (in Italian only) on the Naxos site at an address which is provided. So all things considered a notable opera enters the catalogue in a version worthy of the occasion.

Christopher Howell

see also review by Robert Farr


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