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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792 - 1868)
Le siège de Corinthe (1826) [152:19]
Mahomet II - Lorenzo Regazzo (bass); Pamyra - Majella Cullagh (soprano); Cléomène - Marc Sala (tenor); Néoclès - Michael Spyres (tenor); Hiéros - Matthieu Lécroart (bass); Adraste - Gustavo Quaresma Ramos (tenor); Omar - Marco Filippo Romano (baritone); Ismène - Silvia Beltrami (mezzo)
Camerata Bach Choir, Poznań; Virtuosi Brunensis/Jean-Luc Tingaud
rec. live 18, 20, 23 July 2010; Trinkhalle, Bad Wildbad, Germany, XXII Rossini in Wildbad Festival. DDD
NAXOS 8.660329-30 [75:41 + 76:38]

“Le Siège de Corinthe” is Rossini’s adaptation and translation into French of “Maometto II” which had its premiere in Negroponte. As is so often the case with his operas, its editorial history is complicated and any modern performing edition has to make choices which will not please purists. Some will welcome the inclusion of the Act II ballet music; well played as it is I find it a bit of a bore purely as a listening experience without the visual enhancement of dancers on stage. Otherwise, we are told in the booklet, “Revision of the original edition and the parts for the first performance (Théâtre de l’Académie de Musique, Paris, 9 October 1826) by Jean-Luc Tingaud. New edition for ROSSINI IN WILDBAD by Florian Bauer.” I am not exactly sure what that means. Presumably we are hearing in this Naxos live recording pretty much what Rossini presented in Paris, including some material, such as the full closing section of the finale to Act II, which cannot be heard in the opera’s predecessors. On the other hand we also experience the cuts Rossini made to try to effect a compromise which would accommodate the French tastes. These were turning away from classicisms towards a more heroic operatic idiom and would eventually result in what we understand as “Grand Opera”, whereby the tragic fate of the individual was played out against a more panoramic backdrop depicting large-scale, national concerns.
Knowing only the original opera and “L’assedio di Corinto”, the thrillingly sung but frankly editorially bastardised, Italian back-formation which Thomas Schippers presented at La Scala in 1969, I was keen to hear this opera in the form which Rossini presented it to his Parisian audience. It is certainly a cogent and scholarly version we hear performed at the Wildbad Festival. It is as well sung as one could hope these days, unless Juan Diego Flórez happened to have been available. The only other available issue of this opera in its French incarnation is on Nuova Era and suffers from very Italianate treatment and pronunciation. This Naxos bargain edition seems to be a clear first choice.
However, Mahomet’s opening aria “Chef d’un peuple indomptable” hardly impresses as it should. Regazzo’s vibrato is obtrusive and he is hardly comfortable with the fioriture, resorting to a kind of breathy over-emphasis which compares unfavourably with Sam Ramey’s celebrated assumption of the Turkish leader. Nor is he at ease with the French text, although he is better than baritone Marco Filippo Romano, whose pronunciation as Omar is overtly Italianate. The rest of the cast sing in good French and I am especially impressed not only by Matthieu Lécroart’s native diction but also by the noble, mellifluous beauty of his bass whenever Hiéros - a minor role - sings. His Third Act aria is especially enjoyable. Majella Cullagh is an experienced Rossinian who has sung in some lovely Rossini operas for Opera Rara but it must be said that her soprano occasionally turns shrill these days. She is more comfortable in quieter, lower passages when her silvery voice sounds most alluring. She is not required to go stratospheric too often as this is not the edition used by Beverly Sills to show off her high coloratura soprano. No doubt some are put off by what seems, at least by modern standards, Schippers' rather arbitrary confection, with cuts and “illicit” interpolations from “Maometto II”, but his live and studio performances, both starring Sills, exhibit first-class singing which it would be a shame to overlook because of editorial scruples.
The two tenors, Marc Sala and rising star Michael Spyres - again, this is not the arrangement that Sills and Marilyn Horne sang for Schippers whereby the role of Néoclès is transposed for a mezzo-soprano - have voices very similar in timbre, neat and accomplished with fast vibratos and the range to encompass Rossini’s excessive demands. In his big Act III showpiece aria, “Grand Dieu”, Spyres bravely goes up to two rather tight, but full-voiced, high Cs and then even produces two slightly uncomfortable high Ds. Neither is exactly the heroic voice that the new French style demanded. Perhaps surprisingly, Franco Bonisolli for Schippers in the live 1969 La Scala recording under Schippers gives us far more of that while still coping wonderfully with the tessitura and ornamentation.
That is not to say that this is by any means an unsatisfactory performance. The sound is excellent, the ensemble crisp and energised and the singing generally first rate, my reservation about Regazzo’s lumpiness notwithstanding. The famous Act 1 Trio is superb, one of Rossini’s most melodic inspirations. The Third Act Trio, here performed in its shorter version, is another exquisitely sung highlight.
There was a time when Naxos would at least provide an original language libretto but since they ditched jewel cases in favour of slimline double CDs you must seek it out on their website.  

Ralph Moore 

See also review by Robert Farr (July 2013 Recording of the Month)