Lauro ROSSI (1812 – 1885)
Cleopatra - Melodramma in four acts (1876)
Dimitra Theodossiou (soprano) – Cleopatra; Alessandro Liberatore (tenor) – Marco Antonio; Paolo Pecchioli (bass) – Ottavio Cesare; Sebastian Catana (baritone) – Diomede; William Corrò (bass) – Proculejo; Tiziana Carraro (mezzo) – Ottavia; Paola Gardina (mezzo) – Carmiana; Giacomo Medici (bass) – A slave; FORM – OrchestraFilarmonica Marchigiana; Coro Lirico Marchigiano ’V. Bellini’/David Crescenzi
rec. live, Sferisterio Opera Festival, Macerata, Italy, 24, 29 July 2008
The Italian libretto may be accessed at
NAXOS 8.660291-92 [47:56 + 57:14]

Born in 1812 (or 1810) Lauro Rossi was a close contemporary of Verdi but started his career as an opera composer almost a decade earlier. He was prolific and produced his tenth opera within four years, La casa disabitata, which was premiered at La Scala, Milan. He then composed an opera for the famous Maria Malibran for Naples, but it was a flop, so Rossi emigrated to the new world, where he became music director for several opera companies. On his return to Italy he was again successful with a whole range of operas but in 1850 he was appointed Director of the Milan Conservatory, where among other things he wrote a work on harmony which became the standard text for years to come. Verdi invited him to write a movement of the requiem for Rossini, which unfortunately was never performed – until 1988!

Cleopatra was his penultimate opera, composed a few years after Verdi’s Aida, with which it shares the setting: Egypt. I won’t pretend that Cleopatra is anywhere near Verdi’s masterpiece in musical terms but it brims with catchy numbers and we should be grateful to the production team in Macerata – incidentally Rossi’s birthplace – for unearthing it.

The plot is well known and many composers have been fascinated by the Egyptian queen, from Antonio Canazzi in 1653 to Samuel Barber, whose Anthony and Cleopatra was the inauguration work for the new Metropolitan Opera House in 1966. And we mustn’t forget Handel’s Giulio Cesare, where she is just as important as the name-part. With four short acts and a running-time of just over 100 minutes the action fizzes along rather swiftly. The recording is close and detailed and there is surprisingly little external noise.

Rossi was evidently a skilled orchestrator, which can be heard in the introduction of the opera but in many other places as well. Listen for instance to the delicate woodwind that introduces the Cleopatra – Carmiana scene (CD 2 tr. 13).There are also some lively choruses and a grand finale to act I. Several of the arias are real showstoppers, Cesare’s Non basta a me (CD 2 tr. 6) one of the very best.

The singing is a bit variable but Dimitra Theodossiou in the title-role is magnificent. Hers is a classy voice, a true spinto with ability to scale down and sing a fine beautiful piano without losing the spinto quality. On high sustained notes the tone sometimes spreads but not to a disturbing degree. Her aria in act II is thrilling and the whole of act IV finds her in superb form, not least in the scene with Cesare. She also characterizes well. Listen to the opening of CD 2 tr. 16. The resignation is depicted through a flutter in the voice previously unheard. An impressive performance.

Paolo Pecchioli bass is also well suited to the role of Cesare. We have to wait until the third act before we encounter the Roman Triumvir, but then he is a real force to reckon with. He is both dignified and dominant. Alessandro Liberatore as Marco Antonio is less of an asset. His tenor voice is rather strained and his timbre isn’t very attractive either. His recitative and aria at the beginning of act IV is a fine piece of music and he manages some beautiful nuanced singing but his glaring fortes are a liability. Sebastian Catana is dramatic and expressive as Diomede and Paola Gardina is a good Carmiana while Tiziana Carraro’s Ottavia is over-vibrant. The singing of the chorus, not least the maidens in the opening of act III, is assured and the orchestra play well.

Fascinating to find an opera that has spent 130 years in total oblivion and on its resurrection turns out to be eminently listenable and also works well as drama. The singing of Dimitra Theodossiou, first and foremost, but several of the others as well, justify a purchase – and at Naxos price you won’t be ruined but the possessor of an operatic rarity to try on friends and neighbours. They will be hard put to identify the composer – unless they too have read this review.

Göran Forsling

130 years in total oblivion and on its resurrection turns out to be eminently listenable and also works well as drama.