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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Mosè in Egitto - opera in three acts (1819, Naples 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); Amnenofi - Karen Bandelow (mezzo); Mambre - Giuseppe Fedeli (tenor)
San Pietro a Majella Chorus, Naples; Wildbad Wind Band; Württemburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Antonino Fogliani
rec. live, 1, 7, 12 July 2006, Kursaal, Bad Wildbad, Germany, Rossini in Wildbad Festival
Performed in the Critical Edition for the Rossini Foundation edited by Charles S. and Patricia B. Bruner
NAXOS OPERA CLASSICS 8.660220-221 [75.44 + 60.54]
Experience Classicsonline

è in Egitto was Rossini’s twenty-fourth opera at its premiere on 5 March 1818 and the fourth of the nine opera seria he composed for the Royal Theatres of Naples during his musical directorship. The date of the premiere, during Lent, determined the biblical connotations of the subject-matter just as it had done with his Ciro in Babilonia composed for Ferrara and premiered there on 14 March 1812 (review). The intrusion of the sacred into the theatre before and during the primo ottocento reflected both the function of the theatre in Italy and the influence of the Catholic Church. Every evening the social life of the locality reflected in the clientele was played out in the boxes of the opera houses, with opera being the main entertainment across the social divide, different theatres often having their own patrons. Meanwhile, the restrictive nature of the ordinances of the Catholic Church forbade the performance of opera during Lent. At the turn of the 18th century the Church, ever seeking to control the emotions of the populace, used the excuse of escape from the ravages of an earthquake to ban the popular staged performances of opera for five years as an act of thanksgiving. As a result, oratorios of ever more dramatic undercurrent became the substitute. They may not have been staged as operas, but the emotions conveyed were clear to the audience. The castrati and other singers could give vent to their singing skills in ornamentation and coloratura to their hearts content without fear of approbation or condemnation. By Rossini’s time it was common practice for theatres to present operas during Lent as long as they were based on Biblical themes. This is the case with Mosè in Egitto, with the caveat that in the opera the Biblical and interpersonal relationships are clearly separated, with the latter predominantly confined to the arias and duets while the biblical drama is the domain of the scenes with chorus and ensemble.

The libretto of Mosè in Egitto is based on a play of 1760 where Pharoah, impressed by the plagues visited on Egypt by the God of the Jews, intends to set Moses and his people free. His son Osiride, who is in love with a Jewish girl Elcia, dissuades him from doing so. Only after Osiride is struck dead by a shaft of lightning are the Israelites able to leave Egypt, but are pursued by Pharoah and his army swearing vengeance for the death. When the Israelites reach the Red Sea, Moses touches the waters with his rod causing them to part and allowing them to cross before closing again on the pursuing Egyptians.

The parting of the Red Sea in the third act, itself unusual for Rossini at this stage of his career, posed severe difficulties for the technical staff at the San Carlo and they failed to produce a convincing staging of this part of the opera. Despite this failure the work was an immediate success and soon began to circulate in Italy and abroad, including England where Biblical subjects were not allowed on stage and where it was heard in concert form as an oratorio. For the original, and as usual working against time, Rossini borrowed music from Ciro in Babilonia for Amaltea’s aria in act two (CD 1 tr.17) and called on Michele Carafa to provide an aria for Faraone, A rispettarmi apprenda (CD 1 tr.9). Rossini replaced this aria with his own composition for the 1820 revival of the work pasting his own into the signed manuscript version and returning the original to Carafa. For presentation at the San Carlo during Lent in 1819 - the basis of Charles and Patricia Bruner’s Critical Edition and of this recording - Rossini made several revisions. Most important was the addition of the choral prayer Dal tuo stellato soglio in act three (CD 2 tr.12). This, with its soaring melody, became the most popular number in the piece and helped to maintain the work through to the present day. Aware of the virtues and popularity of the opera, Rossini revised it radically as Moïse et Pharaon, a four act French version, complete with ballet, for presentation at the Paris Opéra in 1827 (review). For Paris he reduced the vocal ornamentation in favour of clear melodic lines and greatly increased the role of the chorus (representing the Children of Israel). This French version was in turn translated back into Italian using the title Mosè in Egitto. Scholars often have trouble determining exactly which version was actually performed later in the nineteenth century!

With the original 1818 score lost, the present recording is of the work in the Critical Edition. It includes the reinsertion of Amaltea’s aria which makes good dramatic sense. It was probably omitted from the original 1819 performances as the singer concerned was not considered sufficiently experienced. The opera has no overture but opens with C major chords and the terrified Egyptians whose land has been plunged into darkness (CD 1 tr.1). This recording from Bad Wildbad 2006, unlike the recently issued one of La donna del lago from Naxos (Naxos Opera Classics. 8.660235-36, review in process), was made at live performances during the annual summer festival. The orchestra and chorus are recorded significantly more forward of the soloists, a distinct disadvantage. The solo singers are also more variable than on that excellent performance. Of the two basses, Lorenzo Regazzo as Mose has most to offer (CD 1 tr.3-4, CD 2 tr.6 and CD 3 tr.3) whilst as Faraone, Wojtek Gierlach’s cavernous bass lacks a solid centre, much expression and sounds rusty in tone (CD 1 tr.9). Filippo Adami’s tightly focused tenore di grazia is flexible although he tends to squeeze the tone as he goes up the scale. Nonetheless he makes a good contribution to his duets with the Elcia of Akie Amou (CD1 tr.7 and CD 2 tr.2). She is musical and has plenty of expressive ability as well as encompassing the coloratura with skill. The lesser roles of Aronne and Mambre are well taken whilst the Amaltea of Rossella Bevacqua sings the aria originally omitted in 1819 with a creamy soprano. The chorus of San Pietro a Majella, Naples, sing quite magnificently with that squilla which only native Italians bring to music such as this. They are a great strength to the performance. Antonio Fogliani hasn’t the lightness of touch or flexibility of the likes of Alberto Zedda on the La donna del lago or Claudio Scimone on the rival Philips version of Mosè in Egitto, however he handles his chorus and soloists adequately. The audience applauds at the ends of arias, but not too obtrusively. 

I was able to give the Naxos recording of La donna del lago referred to above a very strong recommendation, not only on the basis of its strengths, but also on the price differential against its rival from Opera Rara. In this case, the Philips 1991 version (420 109-2) featuring Ruggero Raimondi as Mose, June Anderson as Elcia and Ernesto Palacio as Osiride, in an all-round stronger cast than found here, and with a better-balanced sound, is at mid-price and is to be preferred.

Robert J Farr


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