COMPOSERS: Gioachino Rossini
ALBUM TITLE: Rossini
WORKS: Most in Egitto
PERFORMER: Ruggero Raimondi, Bogdan Mihai, Lydia Tamburrino, Isabelle Kabatu, Filippo Polinelli, Luciano Ganci, Giovanni Sebastiano Sala, Christian Starinieri, Maria Cioppi; Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano Orchestra and Chorus/Francesco Quattrocchi; dir. Cecilia Ligorio and Tiziano Mancini (Milan, 2015)
CATALOGUE NO: C major DVD: 735308; Blu-ray: 735404
In Naples in 1818 it wasn’t possible to stage opera during Lent. Rossini got around the prohibition by writing one on a Biblical theme and calling it an ‘azione tragica sacra’ (‘tragic sacred action’). The result was Mosè in Egitto (Moses in Egypt), which the composer expanded and revised in Paris in 1827 as the French opera Moïse et Pharaon, ou Le passage de la mer rouge (Moses and Pharoah, or the Crossing of the Red Sea). This was later translated back into Italian.
It is the latter version – or at least a much shortened edition of it – that is heard here. Just 80 minutes long (as compared to a good three hours for the complete French version), the result was performed in Milan Cathedral in June 2015. To give you some idea of the cuts, it ends with the famous prayer ‘Dal tuo stellato soglio’, so that the crossing of the Red Sea doesn’t happen at all. Admittedly such a spectacle would be even more difficult to bring off in a cathedral than it is in a theatre. Positioned on a platform near the altar and eked out with lighting effects and videos projected onto columns and a gauze, it’s not really adequate.
What really damages the performance, though, is the acoustics. Rossini wrote his score for a theatrical acoustic, not one created by innumerable reflecting stone surfaces. Each individual chord lingers for several seconds, muddying the textures and making it hard for the orchestra to maintain ensemble.
They play creditably enough, though the chorus is weak. Of the principals, Ruggero Raimondi, at 73, maintains considerable vocal and physical authority. Bogdan Mihai reaches a good standard as Elisero, but neither Lydia Tamburrino’s Anaide nor Isabelle Kabatu’s Sinaide are really good enough.