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Gioachino Rossini: Maometto Secondo
21 Mar 2006

ROSSINI: Maometto Secondo

Before you watch this DVD, the best thing you can do is read the sleeve notes. They are brief but to the point; and they succinctly tell you the differences between this Venice version and the traditional one.

Gioachino Rossini: Maometto Secondo

Lorenzo Regazzo, Federico Lepre, Maxim Mironov, Carmen Giannattasio, Anna Rita Gemmabella, Nicola Marchesini. Orchestra e Coro del teatro La Fenice di Venezia, Claudio Scimone (cond.).
Stage director: Pier Luigi Pizzi; TV and Video Director: Tiziano Mancini

Dynamic 33492 [2DVDs]

$39.58  Click to buy

Not that you have much choice. As far as I know this DVD is the only version available in the commercial market at the moment. But, you may be the owner of one of the four previous commercial recordings and maybe you will wonder what happened to the half-hour long trio (you really thought Wagner introduced those interminable features?) that is the core of the original first act. In Venice they were less patient than in Naples and Rossini cut it into two separate numbers. There is a nice little outline that sums it all up—strangely enough, only in Italian and English though the rest of the notes are in French and German too.

As productions go nowadays this is not a bad one. Director Pier Luigi Pizzi as usual is also responsible for sets and costumes. He respects Rossini’s 1470 setting as the action takes place in Negroponte (nowadays Chalki) on the isle of Euboea not far from Athens. It was a Venetian colony from where the Venetians hoped to harass Mehmet (or Maometto), who seventeen years before had conquered Byzantium. The Ottoman Sultan nevertheless appeared with such an overwhelming amount of force that he soon captured the Venetian stronghold.

In the original score the heroine commits suicide at the moment of conquest; but for Venice this reminder of one of the biggest blows the city ever suffered wouldn’t do. Blissfully and wilfully ignorant of history, La Fenice asked Rossini to end the opera with Maometto’s defeat. The composer duly complied and lifted the nowadays well known concluding rondo “Tanti affetti” out of La donna del lago (it had already served the same purpose in Bianco e Falliero).

Pizzi has designed a splendid and convincing set of broken pillars and some good cellars. The costumes of the chorus are somewhat monotonous white-grey and the only colour comes from the lead singers with red, as is usual nowadays, reserved for the villain of the piece: Maometto.

As to acting, one has to admit that there is little Pizzi could ask. Singers have long and sometimes difficult arias or duets to sing in which they tell—sometimes interminably so—of their woes and hopes but there is almost no action. Therefore the director could give us some action in the background, which would surely distract us from the music; or he could ask his singers to use a few stock gestures and concentrate on their singing. Pizzi wisely chooses for the second solution as Rossini and his librettist didn’t give him many tools to work with, though the composer would have been surprised to see an audience bravely staying in their seats for the whole performance instead of visiting each other to chat during the “less interesting” moments of the opera.

Therefore, this is mainly a concert in costume and we should concentrate on the singers and a good lot it there is. The opera goes off to a shaky start with “contraltista” Nicola Marchesini as General Condulmiero. In the original version, this was a tenor; but for Venice, the composer gave the role to a bass without taking pains of lowering the score in his reworking. The sleeve notes rightly note that a high baritone is maybe the best solution for this Rossinian joke and right they are as Mr. Marchesini has a shrill voice that very much grates on the nerves. Why artistic director Sergio Segalini chose a male contralto is not clear but luckily the singer disappears after one aria. Nevertheless there is unintentional comic relief when the next general appears and this happens to be a real mezzo-soprano. Luckily for us, as the role is a big one, Anna Rita Gemmabella has a fine high and smooth voice that surmounts all difficulties; but she never looks like anything other than a rather well-fed lady in trousers with a sword.

Tenor Maxim Mironov, towering above anybody else, is a find. The voice is clear, even and strong in the high register. There is indeed some resemblance to Florez’ and casting directors who cannot lay their hands upon the expensive Peruvian would do well to engage this fine singer, who can easily compete with Raul Gimenez in his best days and whose sound is so much superior to Blake’s.

Lorenzo Regazzo is a fine Maometto and the only one who succeeds in putting down a character because the bad guy always has the better lines. He sings with a dark, somewhat grainy voice with excellent coloratura. On the lower notes his bass loses strength and focus; but he is very good with some soft notes.

Maometto gave his name to the opera but it is the soprano who has the principal role. Carmen Giannattasio as Anna looks lovely and, more importantly, has a voice to match. The legato is fine; the coloratura are sharply defined but above else the voice has warmth—that quality the Italians call “morbidezza”. The only weak link in her arsenal is the high register, which is often hit and well-rounded or miss and to be more exact somewhat shrill above the staff.

Still, with the exception of Russian tenor Mironov, the whole opera is cast with younger promising Italian singers; and it says something on the decline of Italy as an operatic country that most of us have barely heard the name of these singers, who definitely deserve a career outside the peninsula. Moreover they are well led by veteran conductor Claudio Scimone, who is well-acquainted with the score, as he conducted the first official recording for Philips 23 years ago.

Scimone still knows how to conduct Rossini. He doesn’t drag the music the way Alberto Zedda sometimes does; but he breathes with his singers and he doesn’t make himself and his orchestra more important by hurrying the Rossinian crescendo. All in all, a good version of a rarity.

Jan Neckers

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