Lorenzo Moog | Seattle, WA USA | 12/17/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Rossini's 24th opera (prima, 1818; San Carlo), his fifth for Naples, "Mose in Egitto" is a masterful and unusual work feeling at times like the oratorio it is masking as and at other times like a night at the opera. The well known story is that, in the Italian peninsula in the 19th Century, theatricals were forbidden performance during Lent. The way impressarios and composers got around it (with and wink and a nod) was to compose a "sacred" work "Azione tragico-sacra" which is what Rossini did with this opera based on the biblical story of Moses and Pharoh with libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola.
This Philips 2 CD set (the revised original Italian version of 1819) is a London studio recording from 1981 with the Philharmonia Orchestra under the superb direction of Claudio Scimone and a fine cast of singers. There are intelligent and informative notes by Philip Gossett and the libretto in Italian and English and good tech quality.
From the ominous three crashing ensemble-notes that open this work it is clear that Rossini is exploring. A beautifully emergent melody appears along with the merging of the Chorus and Soloists in a most pleasing progression. It is sort of an Overture but not in the expected way. This is the story of the Hebrew captivity in Egypt, of Moses and Pharoh and the love story of Elcia (nice Hebrew girl) and Osiride (Pharoh's son) and the ensuing dramas and carryings-on culminating in the Parting of the Red Sea, the Crossing of the Hebrews and the Drowning of the Egyptians. The first production made such a shambles of the staging of the Parting that the audience laughed out loud and did so for all of that season. For 1819 Rossini re-wrote the ending with its powerful "Preghiera" (and new staging) so that the audience sat in awe rather than laughter. This is the version we hear.
In this work we are treated to many pieces for the Chorus, in this case the Ambrosian Opera Chorus with maestro, John McCarty, giving a stunning performance all the way through. The rich choral texture does increase the "sacra" element of "Mose in Egitto" and much of it is beautifully written. The cast is rich with talent; Ruggero Raimondi (Moses), Siegmund Nimsgern (Farone), June Anderson (Elcia), Ernesto Palacio (Osirde) and Salvatore Fisichella (Aronne). They are all accomplished Rossini singers and are all in his service for this
performance. Scimone gives a strong, passionate reading of the score as he glides and dives through the music, the orchestra under his spell. June Anderson sings a very beautiful Elcia, delicate, crystaline with lovely coloratura. Her duet, "Non e ver che stringa il cielo", with Palacio is gorgeous. He's good throughout. Nimsgern's "Cade dal ciglio il velo" is stunning. The "Padre...Signor...." that closes Act 1 wherein Moses waves his wand to challenge Pharoh and show the power of Jehovah with thunder and lightning and the whole cast is very effective. Moses only gets one aria,"Tu di ceppi m'aggravi" and Raimondi makes the most of it but he's in almost all of the ensemble scenes so you get to hear a good deal of his wonderful voice and beautifully so in the closing "Preghiera". This performance is extremely well cast, all of them in great voice. "Mose in Egitto" ends with a long orchestral passage almost as though Rossini decided to put the Overture there instead of the beginning but in any event it gives a very good and unusual finish.
The French version "Moise", a re-write of this work, is interesting in its own way but they are two distinct works. The 1819 version of this performance is filled with inventiveness, dramatic power and Rossini's ever evolving mastery. This would be a great candidate for concert performance, that way the troublesome Parting of the Red Sea could be avoided. For a performance at home put yourself in the company of maestro Scimone et al. Highly Recommended."