Mosè in Egitto


Rossini Mosè in Egitto opera to a libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola. Directed 2011 by Graham Vick at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro. Stars Riccardo Zanellato, Alex Esposito, Olga Senderskaya, Dmitry Korchak, Sonia Ganassi, Yijie Shi, Enea Scala, and Chiara Amarù. Roberto Abbado conducts the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna and the Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna (Chorus Master Lorenzo Fratini). Set and costume design by Stuart Nunn; lighting design by Giuseppe di Iorio; video direction by Tiziano Mancini. Released 2012. Grade: B+

There are many opera houses and summer opera festivals in Italy. Lately there has been much talk of financial difficulties, layoffs, and cut-backs in the opera companies. But the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro seems to have found a formula to stay healthy: no opera house. Instead of having an expensive building that has to be maintained all year, they use a modest-size basketball stadium for their big summer show and build a smashing special set that audiences will not forget. And these sets can make also for interesting video recordings.

In 2009, the Rossini opera Zelmira was produced in the stadium with a unique set. The HDVD of Zelmira was released by Decca in 2012 and has been a best-seller even though the opera was previously known only to the most fanatical Rossini experts. Mosè in Egitto, a better-known work, was produced on a special Pesaro set in 2011; this time the Pesaro folks were able to get the industry leader, Opus Arte, to publish the video (in 2013).

Most of us are familiar with the Biblical stories of the ancient Jews seeking a place to live at peace with their neighbors. This includes the story how Moses, about maybe 3,500 years ago, led an escape by the Jews from captivity in Egypt. Director Graham Vick updates this libretto with an overlay based on the current conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. All the folks at Pesaro say they are not taking sides: this, of course, is intended to enrage everybody and boost interest in the show by making it as controversial as possible.

I thought it was pretty bold of Gordon Smith to show this to the OperaDou Jury. Gordon's friends are sophisticated and knowledgeable, but they tend also to be genteel (not necessarily Gentile) and discerning. They are not used to sipping wine and enjoying pâté while watching scenes of atrocities, torture, and self-immolation. I wonder if Gordon wore his blue "UN" helmet during the screening. Well, here are some comments from the Jury:

“Music and singing excellent. Sound excellent —the acoustics in the theatre must have been very good — and/or the mikes were very well positioned.

"However, as the staging was a mixture of history and contemporary events, one is tempted to draw parallels which may not be possible. It’s a brave try at tackling a huge subject, but I don’t really think it comes off in the end.

“Interesting production—first time I have seen a bellicose Moses. First half soporific despite all the blood. Boring music — no memorable arias. But the singers were good—some excellent. The set was magnificent but so complex it took attention away from the singing and music. Well worth watching.

“I really enjoyed the beautiful singing, as well as the original and interesting production. I also thought the set was excellent.”

According to Gordon, "the Jury was divided between those who saw this production as an entertaining and thought-provoking way of presenting this story of oppressed versus oppressors and those who found the transposition to the contemporary Israeli/Palestinian conflict inappropriate, excessive and confusing. However, the Jury was virtually unanimous in applauding the performance, particularly the choral interpretation and several of the soloists."

The Jury gave Mosè in Egitto a grade of B+, which is pretty good for any work that is intended to be controversial.