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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Mosè, sacred melodrama in semi-scenic version in four acts [78.50]
Mosè, the lawgiver of the Israelites - Ruggero Raimondi, bass
Elisero, his brother - Bogdan Mihai, tenor
Maria, sister of Mosè - Maria Cioppi, mezzo-soprano
Anaìde, her daughter - Lydia Tamburrini, soprano
Faraone, King of Egypt - Filippo Polinelli, bass
Aménofi, his son- Luciano Ganci, tenor
Sinaide, wife of Faraone - Isabelle Kabatu, soprano
Aufide, Egyptian officer - Giovanni Sebastiano Sala, tenor
Osiride, High Priest - Christian Starinieri, bass
A mysterious voice - Christian Starinieri, bass
Chorus master: Emiliano Esposito
Orchestra and Choir Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano/Francesco Quattrocchi
Stage direction: Cecilia Ligorio and Tiziano Mancini
Costume: Franca Squarciapino
Lighting: Valerio Tiberi
Visual design: Unità C1
rec. live semi-staged, June 2015 Duomo di Milano, Italy
Filmed in High Definition
Picture Format: NTSC - 1080i/60p - High Definition - 16.9 - All Regions
Sound formats:
Stereo: LPCM 2.0ch, 48 kHz/24 bit
Surround Sound: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1ch, 48 kHz
Original language: Italian. Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Korean, Japanese, Russian
Bonus material: Documentary about the Duomo di Milano (Cathedral Church of Milan) [22:00]
C MAJOR Blu-ray 735404 [100:50]

C Major has released this Blu-ray of Rossini’s Mosè from the Duomo di Milano. This live video recording comes about, thanks to the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, the historic supervisory body, which gave approval for a series of four performances in July 2015 of Mosè in the Duomo. In the 150th anniversary year of Italian Unification the Duomo performances formed part of the Universal Exhibition Expo Milan 2015. The Duomo was commenced in 1386 taking over 600 years for its construction. Dedicated to Santa Maria Nascente, the Duomo is the preferential seat of the Archbishop of Milan.

The development of Mosè described as a melodramma sacro in quattro atti is rather convoluted. Rossini, contracted to impresario Domenico Barbaja to write a serious opera on a sacred subject, composed his three act opera Mosè in Egitto to an Italian libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola based on L'Osiride, a 1760 play by Francesco Ringhieri. Rossini’s opera was premièred in 1818 at the newly reconstructed Teatro San Carlo, Naples and revised the next year. Still much admired, Mosè in Egitto was staged in Italy during the period 1831/35 and also in Paris in 1832/37 at Théâtre-Italien.

Specifically for Paris Opéra Rossini revised Mosè in Egitto, adding new music, including a ballet, changing it into a four act Grand opera which he named Moïse et Pharaon, ou Le passage de la Mer Rouge to a French text by Luigi Balocchi and Étienne de Jouy. Moïse et Pharaon was a real success at its première on the stage of Salle Le Peletier in 1827. It received over a hundred performances between its première and 1838. An Italian version of Moïse et Pharaon in a translation by Calisto Bassi as Mosè e Faraone was staged in Perugia in 1829.

As recently as 2009 a revival of Moïse et Pharaon under Riccardo Muti at the Salzburg festival was highly successful. At a Salzburg press conference Maestro Muti maintained that Moïse et Pharaon is a finer opera than Mosè in Egitto, stating that he preferred it “because Rossini himself preferred it… Don't get me wrong. 'Mose in Egitto' is a wonderful opera, but it remains very much a mere sketch for 'Moise et Pharaon'. And it's not just me who says that, but the great Rossini himself.” At the time of the Salzburg revival, a clearly excited reporter described Moïse et Pharaon as “having all the elements of DeMille’s 1956 blockbusterThe Ten Commandments’.”

For this semi-staging of Mosè by directors Cecilia Ligorio and Tiziano Mancini, a version of Mosè e Faraone has been used, which has been heavily truncated, dispensing with much of the drama of the love story between Egyptian Prince Amenofi and Moses’s niece Anaìde. This leaves Ligorio and Mancini to focus attention more on the exodus of the enslaved Israelites out of captivity in Egypt to the Promised Land and the tension between the polar opposite religious beliefs and intolerance between Faraone (Pharaoh) and Moses. To give some clarity of the respective lengths of these filmed opera productions available on DVD/Blu-ray: Graham Vick’s 2010 Pesaro staging of Mosè in Egitto conducted by Roberto Abbado takes 150 minutes; Luci Ronconi’s 2003 Milan production of Moïse et Pharaon conducted by Riccardo Muti takes 180 minutes compared to just under 80 minutes on this Duomo performance.

In the exceptional Gothic setting of the Duomo the stage is positioned in the crossing area between the transepts. The orchestra can be seen in front of the stage and chorus one assumes at the side. Scenery and props are absent, with Ligorio and Mancini using projection-mapping (video-mapping) techniques to project images on the high fluted stone columns and on drapes hung at the transept by the main altar. Regularly altering of the images, which are not always easy to determine, I have identified waterfalls in cliff faces, chains, rushing water, insects etc. On longer distance shots from the bottom of the nave there is some distraction from the camera jib crane that can be seen filming the stage.

There is little in the way of stage action, as clearly the semi-staging concept used by Ligorio and Mancini greatly limits the scope. Totalling just nine characters there are two groups of protagonists: Egyptians headed by Faraone and Israelites comprising Moses and his kin. Generally there is a lot of standing around and Moses’s family Elisero, Maria and Anaìde spend a great deal of time holding each other and looking suitably worried. Stunning costumes have been designed by Franca Squarciapino to provide the essence of Ancient Egypt in the period around 1230 BC. Close ups reveal some stunning detail in the fabric of which the Pharaoh and his small entourage are much more strikingly colourful, dripping with gold, than Moses and his small group of Israelites.

Renowned Italian bass-baritone Ruggero Raimondi in the role of Moses is mainly required to shamble around holding his wooden staff, but his imposing vocal prowess is steadfast and mature sounding, able to convey an urgency and authenticity to his hallowed words. Raimondi has that rare ability that when he sings, people sit up and take notice. As Aménofi the Pharaoh’s son Italian tenor Luciano Ganci sings splendidly with considerable expression, predominately conveying an emotional hurt and turmoil that is both audible and visually noticeable. Capable in the part of the love-struck Anaìde, Lydia Tamburrini is fluid in tone communicating her text with a gentle melancholy. With her striking looks Belgium soprano Isabelle Kabatu, playing Sinaide the wife of Faraone, displays her durable voice to good effect, providing an arresting depth of expression with a rich and attractive high register. Bogdan Mihai has relatively little to sing in his role as Elisero the ever anxiously brother of Moses; in reality looking more like his son. Nevertheless Mihai’s sweet, attractive tenor with an easy top sounds in splendid condition and makes me want to hear more of him. Faraone King of Egypt is sung competently by bass Filippo Polinelli and Moses’s sister Maria played by Maria Cioppisis is given little to do apart from hugging duties.
The “mysterious voice” of bass Christian Starinieri hardly sounds mysterious at all and unfortunately is nowhere near loud enough.

Magnificently sung is the great prayer Dal tuo stellato soglio (From your starry throne) from act 4, led by the voice of Raimondi, as Moses has all the inspiring emotion of the Va, pensiero (Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Verdi’s Nabucco. The context is Moses, having brought his people through the desert, they encounter the banks of the Red Sea, and Moses miraculously parts the waters clearing the way to the Promised Land. Incidentally, Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov sings the great prayer stunningly in Ronconi’s 2003 Milan production of Moïse et Pharaon. Francesco Quattrocchi directs the Orchestra Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano, providing a fine balance of sensitivity and dramatic thrust, keeping the music moving adroitly. The Duomo choir has been handsomely instructed by chorus master Emiliano Esposito and sounds striking.

Filmed in High Definition the picture focus and clarity is good, although the general character of the Duomo is weakly lit by lighting designer Valerio Tiberi, no doubt to enhance the effect of the projection mapping. No problem at all with the choice of sound formats which is stereo and surround sound both clear and satisfyingly balanced, although the challenging Duomo acoustic does present a noticeable echo and at one point the highest notes from Isabelle Kabatu disappear into the vast roof space. The bonus feature is a 22 minute documentary on the Duomo di Milano. Initially the focus is on the history of the Duomo narrated in Italian by Monsignor Gianantonio Borgonovo, presidente of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano. The second section contains filmed footage of the Duomo to the music of a string quartet playing part of the Verdi String Quartet.

Michael Cookson



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