Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Mosè in Egitto - Opera in three acts (1818)
Mosè, Riccardo Zanellato (bass); Elcia, a Jewish girl loved by Osiride - Sonia Ganassi (soprano); Faraone, Pharaoh of Egypt - Alex Esposito (bass-baritone); Osiride, son of Faraone - Dmitry Korchak (tenor); Amaltea - Olga Senderskaya (soprano); Aronne - Yijie Shi (tenor); Amnenofi - Chiara Amarù (mezzo); Mambre - Enea Scala (tenor)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Communale of Bologna/Roberto Abbado
Director: Graham Vick
Set and costume designs: Stuart Nunn
Video Director: Tiziano Mancini
rec. live, Arena Adriatica, Pesaro, Italy, 11-20 August 2011
Performed in the Critical Edition for the Rossini Foundation edited by Charles S Bruner
Booklet essay and subtitles in English, French and German
Sound formats: Dolby Digital, dts Digital Surround. Video format 16:9
OPUS ARTE DVD OA1093D [150:00 + 20:00: bonus]
Mosè in Egitto was Rossini’s twenty-fourth opera at its premiere at the San Carlo, Naples, on 5 March 1818. It was the fourth of the nine opera seria he composed for the Naples Royal Theatres during his musical directorship. The date of the premiere determined the biblical nature of the subject as the ordinances of the Catholic Church forbade the performance of opera during Lent. There was a further caveat to be observed: that in any such stage work during Lent, the Biblical and interpersonal relationships be clearly separated, with the latter predominantly confined to the arias and duets while the biblical drama being the domain of the scenes with chorus and ensemble.
Whilst related to the story in Exodus, 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 of the San Carlo at the premiere and they failed to produce a convincing staging of this part of the opera. This failure was directly responsible for the composer adding the prayer Dal tuo stellato soglio for a production in 1819 and that is now one of the most famous numbers from the opera (CH.30). Despite the failure of the Red Sea to part in 1818, Mosè in Egitto 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 under the pressures of time, Rossini borrowed music from Ciro in Babilonia for Amaltea’s aria in act two and called on Michele Carafa to provide an aria for Faraone. He later replaced it with his own composition for the 1820 revival of the work and pasted this into the signed manuscript version, returning the original to Carafa.
For presentation at the San Carlo during Lent in 1819 Rossini made several revisions. This is the version that forms the basis for Charles Bruner’s Critical Edition and for this performance, Most important was the addition, already noted, of the choral prayer Dal tuo stellato soglio in act three. This, with its soaring melody, became the most popular number in the opera 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). 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, this present recording seems to mirror the Critical Edition performed in Bad Wildbad in 2006 (see review).
The present production was the second that Graham Vick has presented at the Pesaro Rossini Festival and followed his equally controversial production of Moïse et Pharaon, set in a Jewish Library, over ten years ago. The Rossini Festival has a predilection for avant-garde Regietheater concepts as has been particularly evident since the departure of Philip Gossett from involvement there. Not unexpectedly in this period of conflict in the Middle East the action is updated. As the booklet puts it, A war torn landscape is littered with the detritus of modern guerrilla action - beds equipped for torture, weapons of every variety including strap on explosives for self immolation. The Israelites’ exodus takes place through a gap in a mock-up of the separation barrier that runs along the West Bank in Jerusalem. Most controversially Moses is an Osama Bin Laden type figure. At the time of this production concept he was still alive.
Having given the broad outline of the nature of the production and sets I will not labour the issue or details any more. I would just to note that Vick, well versed in the usage of large spaces, utilises the frontage of the Arena Adriatica with a multi-layered wide set of considerable size. Staircases and Faraone’s areas are ornate but the Hebrews are relegated to the less salubrious lower level. You will like it, tolerate it or whatever, as the audience did in Pesaro, with some making their feelings vigorously heard. As to the parting of the Red Sea, that, like much that goes on before is concerned with armaments and violence; I will not spoil it for those who decide to buy this, thus far the only video version.
The singing whilst variable is never less than adequate and often significantly better. As Moses, Riccardo Zanellato, whilst more than adequate (CHs.5, 24), is out-sung by the Faraone of Alex Esposito (CHs.10, 15). This is particularly evident when the two are opposed directly as when Mosè discovers that Faroane has rescinded the free passage of the Jews from Egypt (CH.24). Esposito is also impressive in his costume as a regal figure. With his clear forward tone and flexible tenor voice, Dmitry Korchak as Osiride, son of Faraone, would grace many of Rossini’s opera seria roles written for Naples’ Giovanni David (CH.16) the original creator of Osiride. As Elcia, the Jewish girl he loves, Sonia Ganassi’s warm soprano is heard to good effect, particularly in the many of the ensembles as well as in duet with her lover (CHs. 19-20). Her voice contrasts nicely with the clarity of Olga Senderskaya as Amaltea, Faraone’s consort, and who is sympathetic to the Jews’ desire to leave Egypt.
Unlike the majority of Rossini’s operas, buffa and seria, Mosè in Egitto has no overture but opens with C major chords and a chorus of the terrified Egyptians whose land has been plunged into darkness (CH.2). There is a strong case for regarding Mosè in Egitto as a major choral work with the chorus of Hebrews as its protagonist. Rossini maintained that it was his oratorio. It is certainly a major pleasure to hear the chorus of the Teatro Communale of Bologna with that particular Italianate squilla. Whilst as yet Roberto Abbado might not be in the Alberto Zedda league as a Rossini conductor, he is in the forefront of his successors on the basis of this performance. The Video Director, Tiziano Mancini, does a good job of following the action, up and down the staircases between the levels, or when the cast roam among the audience in Vick’s interpretation.
The Opus Arte promotion of this issue stresses that this recording is the first of the opera on DVD and Blu-Ray and the second release on the labelfrom the Pesaro Rossini Festival. Whatever comments I make in respect of the staging and performance, and to what extent they might be shared by others, I guess I can guarantee unanimity in condemning the poor associated documentation provided by this label whose video products are priced at the top end of the scale. As should reasonably be expected, and is provided by others except those on the bargain priced Virgin label, there is no track/chapter listing with timings and details of which role is singing. For the sake of readers and possible purchasers I provide the following information.
Act 1 - Chapters 2-14. 67:00
Act 2 - Chapters 15-28. 68:00
Act 3 - Chapters 29-32. 15:00
Robert J Farr
The first issue of Mosè in Egitto on DVD and Blu Ray but this updated modernist production will not appeal to everybody.
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