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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Mosè in Egitto. Opera in three acts (1819 Naples version)
Mosè – Moses - Goran Jurić (bass); Faraone - Pharaoh - Andrew Foster-Williams (bass); Amaltea - his wife - Mandy Fredrich (soprano); Osiride - their son - Sunnyboy Dladla (tenor); Amnenofi - Moses sister- Dara Savinova (mezzo soprano); Elcia – a Hebrew girl - Clarissa Costanzo (soprano); Aronne - Aaron - Matteo Macchioni (tenor); Mambre - a priest - Taylan Reinhard (tenor)
Prague Philharmonic Chorus
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/ Enrique Mazzola
Director, Lotte de Beer. Set and costume designer Christof Hetzer. Lighting designer, Alex Broc.
Video Director, Felix Breisch.
Theatre Company Hotel Modern, Hermann Helle, Arlène Hornweg, Pauline Kalker
rec. live, Bregenz Festival, 18 and 20 July 2017
Filmed in HD. Picture Format 1080i, 16:9. Sound formats: PCM Stereo, DTS-HD MA 5.0
Subtitles in Italian, English, German, French, Korean
Booklet notes in English, German and French
C MAJOR Bluray 744904 [150 min]

Mosè in Egitto was Rossini’s twenty-fourth opera at its première on March 5th 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 première, during Lent, determined the biblical connotations of the chosen subject just as it had done with his Ciro in Babilonia composed for Ferrara and premièred there on March 14th 1812 (review).

The libretto of Mosè in Egitto is based on a play of 1760 where Pharaoh, impressed by the plagues visited on Egypt by the God of the Jews, intends to set the 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 Pharaoh 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 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. I give a fuller account of the work, and its revisions, as an appendix to this review.

This staging does not appear to be on the lake at Bregenz, but in the theatre, consequently there are no pretentious efforts at parting Lake Constance! Instead, and so as to keep abreast of modern conceptual productions, the norm in Europe, members of Theatre Company Hotel Modern join in the proceedings on stage. This involves the unusual sight of the singers, in costume, being pushed, pulled or generally directed by the company staff during the performance. The directing personnel are dressed in casual jeans and the like. In addition to filmed sequences projected onto the large sphere dominating the stage, there's a re-magnified puppet displayed to facilitate clarity as to what is happening as the libretto unfolds. The original staging at the San Carlo might have failed in conveying the division of the Red Sea to facilitate the escape of the Israelites, but is what is conveyed in this staging, with all the 20th century technology available, any better? You must make your own opinion. For me the staging is hindered rather than clarified by the intrusions whilst I have no objections to the crossing of the Red Sea being a filmed creation, it could hardly be otherwise even with the nearby lake!

Whilst the costumes are acceptable, albeit not in period, and the stage furniture hardly assisting the audience’s imagination, the singing cast, the chorus and the orchestral playing are altogether, and individually, of a much higher standard. Unusually for the period, Rossini uses both lower toned male voices in serious rather than buffo roles, which are in any case absent in this work. As Mosè, Goran Jurić is appropriately sonorous whilst Andrew Foster-Williams as Pharaoh shows his knowledge and previous experience of the role with the ease of his acted portrayal including depth of characterisation, albeit lacking some sonority in his lower vocal range. I was somewhat distracted by Sunnyboy Dladla’s hairstyle and tendency to force his tone from time to time, but note that Matteo Macchioni, as Aronne, uses his vocal resources to better effect.

The women soloists are, without exception, of a good standard with Mandy Fredrich as Amaltea and Dara Savinova as Moses’ sister being particularly notable for their contributions whilst Clarissa Costanzo sings and acts a her role well.

Robert J Farr


Appendix
The intrusion of the sacred into the theatres of Italy, before and during the primo ottocento, reflected both the function of the theatre in Italy and the influence of the Catholic Church. With opera being the main entertainment in many cities, across the social divide, different theatres often having their own patrons. Every evening, the social life of the locality was reflected in the clientele present in the boxes of the opera houses. 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 Catholic 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 as Director of the Royal Theatres in Naples (1815-1822) 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.

As stated above the parting of the Red Sea in the third act 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, it was heard in concert form as an oratorio. For the original staging in Naples, and as usual working against time, Rossini borrowed music from Ciro in Babilonia for Amaltea’s aria in act two (CH.16) and called on Michele Carafa to provide an aria for Faraone, A rispettarmi apprenda. For the 1820 revival of the work Rossini replaced this aria with his own composition, pasting it into the signed manuscript version and returning the original to Carafa. For presentation at the San Carlo during Lent in 1819, and which is the basis of Charles and Patricia Bruner’s Critical Edition, Rossini made several revisions. Most important was the addition of the choral prayer Dal tuo stellato soglio in act three (CH. 30). 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 work, 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) with the title Moïse et Pharaon ou Le passage de la Mer Rouge during his period as Director of the Théâtre Italien in that city. For that revision, 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 seen as a separate opera and 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!

Performances in Britain have been rare. Perhaps influenced by their choral strength, Welsh National Opera staged the work in the 1960s and again in 2014 (see review). Rossini’s four act Grand Opera version, in French, is still the best bet despite the lack of francophone singers (see review).

 

 




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