Alexey Birkus (bass), Patrick Kabongo (tenor), Elisa Balbo (soprano), Albane Carrère (mezzo-soprano), et al; Virtuosi Brunensis; Górecki Chamber Choir/Fabrizio Maria Carminati
Naxos 8.660473-75 76:30 mins
Rossini made three versions of his (semi-) Biblical narrative of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt: the first, Mosè in Egitto (in Italian), was premiered in 1818 at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples; it was relaunched there the following year with a largely new third act. Far more substantially reworked was the final edition, a French opera introduced at the Paris Opéra in 1827 and here recorded live at the 2018 Rossini in Wildbad festival.
While some Rossinians prefer the tauter second Italian version, it’s interesting to hear much of the same material adapted and expanded in Parisian quasi-grand-opéra manner. This performance gives a decent account of the result but is let down by constricted sound, hampering the impact of the substantial forces involved. The Polish chorus is enthusiastic but rough around the edges. The orchestra is decent enough and the conductor provides some much-needed momentum.
A multi-national cast could have done with more native Francophones: best in this respect is Moses’s brother Éliézer, sung by Congolese tenor Patrick Kabongo, who also provides some stirring high notes and a generally lively vocal presence.
As Moses himself, Alexey Birkus provides solid, beefy sound though admittedly Luca Dall’Amico provides indifferent opposition as the vacillating Pharaoh. Non-Biblical love-interest is supplied by the fluently expressive Randall Bills as Pharaoh’s son Aménophis, in love with Moses’s niece, Anaï, of whom Elisa Balbo is an impassioned though not always accurate exponent. Silvia Dalla Benetta sounds fresh and engaged as Aménophis’s mother Sinaïde.