Mosè in Egitto
Andrew Foster-Williams, Mandy Fredrich, Sunnyboy Dladla; Vienna Symphony/Enrique Mazzola; dir. Lotte de Beer (Bregenz, 2017)
C Major DVD: 744808; Blu-ray: 744904 150 mins
Puppets are big in opera now. Once the little wooden tops were banished to toy-sized theatres in implausible productions of Mozart; now they’re stepping out onto the big stage. In Mosè in Egitto from the 2017 Bregenz Festival, the Dutch director Lotte de Beer has members of the theatre group Hotel Modern, also from Holland, on stage with their video cameras, filming their stick-like puppets and ‘making’ theatre magic before our very eyes. The idea, she says, is to tell the story of all refugees in the Middle East: and the history of mankind from then, now, and in the future.
Alas, this updating and indeed future dating of Rossini’s great opera seria is neither magical nor very theatrical. The video projections onto a large geodesic dome are murky, even on Blu-ray, and we keep cutting away to Hotel Modern’s team at work at their model table, preparing to film, when it’s the cast we want to see and hear. And if this wasn’t distracting enough, the puppet masters begin to ‘position’ the principal characters as if they were, well, puppets. Perhaps that’s the point, that Pharaoh and Moses and the lovers, the Egyptian Prince Osiride who has fallen for the enemy and the Israelite Elcia, are puppets in the face of Fate; and perhaps it all looked a great deal better on stage, though booing at the final curtain suggests that not everyone at Bregenz was in tune with de Beer’s approach to Rossini. As Osiride, Sunnyboy Dladla is a useful bel canto tenor when he’s not hopping up and down like a hormonally charged schoolboy, and Andrew Foster-Williams is a stern voiced Pharoah. Best of all is the young Italian soprano, Clarissa Costanzo, who rightly stops the show in Act II with ‘Porgi la destra amata’. That’s where the magic and theatre is.