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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Maometto II - melodramma eroico in two acts (1822, Venice version).
Libretto by Cesare della Valle revised for Venice by Gaetano Rossi.
First performed at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, 26 December 1822
Maometto, Lorenzo Regazza (bass); Calbo, a Venetian general, Anna-Rita Gemmabella (con); Anna Erisso, daughter of the Governor, Carmen Giannattasio (sop); Paolo Erisso, Governor of Negroponte, Maxim Miranov (ten); Condulmiero, another Venetian general, Nicola Marchesini (male falsetist); Selimo, Maometto's confidant, Federico Lepre (ten);
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro La Fenice, Venice/Claudio Scimone
performed in the Critical Edition prepared by Claudio Scimone.
rec. live, February 2005
Artistic director, Sergio Segalini.
Sets and costumes by Pier Luigi Pizzi.
Lighting, Sergio Rossi
Video Director Tiziano Mancini
Recorded in High Definition. Presented in dts digital surround sound, Dolby, PCM 2.0. Vision 16:9 Colour. NTSC
Menu language English.
Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish and Chinese.
Notes and synopsis in Italian, English, German, Italian and French
DYNAMIC DVD 33492 [2 DVDs:174:00]


Rossini’s original version of Maometto II was premiered at the San Carlo Opera in Naples on 3 December 1820. It was his 31st opera and the eighth, and arguably the most radical, of the reform operas that Rossini wrote for performance there. At Naples he had the benefit of an outstanding full-time orchestra and chorus as well as an unequalled roster of star singers. This enabled him to distance himself from the populist clamour of Rome and Venice for crescendos and simplistic orchestral forms as well as static arias and stage scenes.

Despite critical approval the audience received Maometto only modestly. When Rossini was commissioned to write an opera to open the 1822-23 Venice season, in advance of his completely new opera for the theatre later in the season (Semiramide), he intended to revise and present Zelmira. This had been premiered in Naples on 16 February 1822. Despite Rossini’s efforts, and there being no copyright laws on the Italian peninsular, an appropriated and bowdlerised version of the work was presented at Venice’s small San Benedetto theatre on 21 September 1822. The Fenice contract stipulated that the work had to be new to the city. Maometto with its plot harking back to Venice’s historical past was ideal. However, Venice was not sophisticated Naples and Rossini needed to adapt the score to more simplistic forms and supply a happy ending. This was a requirement for any presentation north of Naples, even of Otello for Rome (LINK). Nor were the contracted soloists, whilst of appropriate vocal range, of the quality of those at Naples. The upshot was that Rossini made radical revisions to the score and reduced the burden on the soloists by removal of solo items and by splitting up the complex long trio of the middle scene of act one. He also wrote a new ten-minute orchestral introduction (Disc 1 Ch. 1). The happy ending is a straight lift of Tanti affetti in tal momento (Disc 2 Ch. 6) from La Donna del Lago, which Rossini also used for the conclusion of Bianca e Falliero composed for Rome and presented on 26 December 1819. The differences between the Naples and Venice versions are summarised via a side-by-side layout of the opera numbers on page 16 of the accompanying booklet. It is a pity that this was not used as the basis of Chapter divisions. They are far too meagre at nine on disc one and a mere six on disc two. The booklet also has an informative essay on the genesis of the opera. Incongruously, while the essay notes that the role of Condulmiero, written for a high tenor in Naples, was rewritten for a bass for Venice, it fails to point out that in this performance the role is taken by what the Italians call a ‘contralista’, a male alto or counter-tenor. In the Naxos World Premiere CD recording of the Venice version (LINK) the role is taken by a bass but he does not sing the high E in the first act. As there is no surviving complete score of the Venice version, and no critical edition, this performance follows one prepared by Claudio Scimone. There are some slight textual differences from that given on the Naxos issue presented at Bad Wildbad in July 2002. Both this and the Naxos are just over 15 minutes shorter in length than the excellent 1983 Philips recording of the original Naples version featuring Samuel Ramey as Maometto and June Anderson as Anna: recently reissued (AmazonUK).

The Teatro La Fenice reopened after its disastrous mid-1990s fire with Verdi’s La Traviata, a work premiered at the theatre on 6 March 1853. Since that reopening the administration has staged several rarely seen operatic works with a particular association with the theatre. Shortly after this production of Maometto II, Donizetti’s rarely performed Pia De’ Tolomei was given . It was premiered at La Fenice in 1837. This is a wholly commendable and welcome policy that I hope will continue despite the strict economic regime currently being applied to Italy’s lyric theatres and which threatens several with bankruptcy. Cancelled revivals, new productions and scheduled performances in some theatres are already the order of the day. Dynamic’s policy of recording these stagings is to be applauded and one can but hope the opportunity continues to be available in the prevailing climate.

This production of Maometto II is set in the period of the story and without the distraction of any producer’s fancy ideas. The set is on two levels. For most of the opera the upper level comprises a temple with the lower being the crypt, doubling as a meeting area. As Maometto comes to celebrate the capture of the city of Negraponte partly broken city walls replace the temple. The broken wall down which Maometto will later descend is lit in vivid red, as is the backdrop, representing the bloodshed of the battle. The lighting here, and elsewhere, illuminates in every sense, the action of the opera. It is really first class and with the aid of good camera work and the High Definition recording, makes for a clear and enjoyable production. The costumes of the Venetian women are in subtle colours that also benefit from the clarity of the lighting.

Apart from the restricted acting of Maxim Miranov as Erisso, I was struck by the lack of involvement in terms of facial and bodily expression of the male section of the chorus. I was reminded of a conversation with an Italian primo singer who has sung at La Scala as well as elsewhere in Europe and America and who glories in the commitment and acting involvement of the chorus when he sings in the UK. The upside here is the vibrant singing and the particular squilla that native Italian choruses bring to their own language and which is pleasingly evident throughout this performance. Wholly commendable too is the shaping of the music and appropriate tempi by Claudio Scimone on the rostrum. Notable too is his support for the singers in their florid music. He is a scholar as well as a conductor and to him we are indebted for several Rossini Critical Editions. I hope that his researches for this production will form the basis of a forthcoming Critical Edition of Maometto II.

The singing on the male side is a little mixed. I found the casting of a counter-tenor as Condulmiero completely incongruous in his brief appearances although his voice and phrasing were good. Glyndebourne have satisfactorily cast the high tenor parts originally written for the Naples tenor duo of Nozzari and David and I cannot see why La Fenice could not do the same. I have commented on the poor acting of the Russian Maxim Miranov as Paolo Erisso. Very tall, he spent far too long with his head bent and slightly to one side with complete lack of any facial expression. He coped well with the vocal demands of the often high-lying music, florid runs and vocal decoration. That being said, I personally found his tone lacking in vocal beauty, a not unusual state of affairs from tenors in this demanding music. Whatever limitations the other principal male singers had, Lorenzo Regazza as Maometto did not share them. Imposing of stature and vocal colour, his was a formidable interpretation. It was made all the more enjoyable by his histrionic skills in evidence via deportment and facial expression. These register strongly from his arrival at the top of the broken walls of the city (Disc 1 Ch. 7) to his final departure to fight and die in a second battle, offstage this time (Disc 2 Ch. 4). His bass voice is sufficiently flexible for the demands of his music and is allied to an evenness of tone throughout its range and good diction. This may reflect his experience in Rossini buffa roles where the ability, in patter arias, to manoeuvre the voice around notes is an absolute necessity. Both female roles were outstandingly sung and acted. Carmen Giannattasio as Anna Erisso has a lovely stage presence matched by a lyric soprano voice of beauty, clarity and a wide palette of colour. Her acting was on a par with her vocal skills and could not be faulted from her Ilarita! …Per me? in act one (Disc 1 Ch. 4) to her rendering of the rondo finale at the happy conclusion in this version (Disc 2 Ch. 6). The singing and acting of Anna-Rita Gemmabella in the trousers role of the Venetian General Calbo was of the same high standard as her female colleague. She has sung at La Scala and took the same role on the Naxos audio recording of this Venice version. As in that performance, her rich, Marilyn Horne-type tonal colour and range is most impressive. Add her involved acting, clear diction and command of the florid singing demanded and this further buttressed the overall quality of the performance. An excellent example of her qualities is to be found in her acting and singing of Non temer; d’un baso affetto as Calbo determines to fight the second battle and rescue Anna from Maometto (Disc 2 Ch. 30).

This recording is a welcome and valuable addition to the rapidly expanding repertoire of Rossini operas on DVD. I recommend it in the strongest terms. I hope La Fenice continues to perform such repertoire and that Dynamic will be there to record it.

Robert J Farr

 

 



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