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Andrea Concetti as Moses [Photo by Liz Lauren courtesy of Chicago Opera Theater]
11 Aug 2010

Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto at Chicago Opera Theater

Although productions of Gioachino Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto are infrequent, the lively debate on successive versions of the work has generally led to questions of priority and to informative discussions on performance history.

Moses: Andrea Concetti; Faraone: Tom Corbeil; Elcia: Siân Davies; Amaltea: Kathryn Leemhuis; Mambre: Samuel Levine; Aronne: Jorge Prego; Amenofi: Emily Grace Righter; Osiride: Taylor Stayton. Conductor: Leonardo Vordoni. Director: Andrew Eggert. Production Designer: Anka Lupes. Lighting Designer: Keith Parham. Chicago Opera Theater.

Above: Andrea Concetti as Moses

All photos by Liz Lauren courtesy of Chicago Opera Theater

 

For the first opera during its Spring 2010 season Chicago Opera Theater staged a production based on the new critical edition of Mosè by Charles S. and Patricia B. Brauner. As Philip M. Gossett indicates in his notes accompanying the program for this production, the Italian Mosè, originally performed in Naples, “is a work of great value” which “contains some of Rossini’s finest music.” The present production, with strong vocal contributions from a convincing cast, gave ample support to these statements.

Under the direction of Leonardo Vordoni the brief orchestral prelude set a tone both stately and somber, in which the distraught court of the Pharaoh and the plight of Moses and his people are alternately depicted. Darkness has fallen over the land, and Faraone determines to free the camp of Moses in order to release Egypt from such a plague. When he sends for Moses and makes known his intention, the captive leader calls out to God and, with the gesture of his staff, causes light to return to the land. The two opposing leaders were sung by bass-baritone Tom Corbell as Faraone and bass Andrea Concetti as Mosè. Mr. Corbell showed admirable facility in his delivery of rapid notes whereas Mr. Concetti struck an imposing figure with declamatory weight in his delivery of Mosè’s opening lines. In the ensemble showing varied reactions to this change, brought about by Mosè, Faraone and his consort Amaltea are joined by the Egyptian heir and Prince Osiride along with Aronne, the compatriot of Mosè. Faraone declares that the Hebrews will, in return for this gesture, be set free and Amaltea supports the decision. Corbell as Faraone was joined in his florid statement with the equally challenging line composed for Amaltea, here sung admirably by Kathryn Leemhuis, a member of the Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Leemhuis gave a strong individual impression in her careful decoration yet blended with the others to yield a memorable and dramatic ensemble. The final lead member featured in this group was the Osiride of Taylor Stayton. Mr. Stayton shows great promise as a tenor able to project with dramatic lyricism the challenging dramatic line featured in this and comparable pieces by Rossini. Here Osiride expresses his disagreement concerning the release of the Hebrews, since his secret beloved Elcia is one of the people of Mosè, now scheduled to depart in freedom.

After the others leave, Osiride plots with the high priest Mambre and suggests that the latter use his powers to sow discord once again between Mosè and Faraone. Elcia now joins her lover Osiride in order to bid farewell as she expects to leave Egypt with Mosè. In their moving duet Siân Davies sang the part of Elcia with great urgency and proved to be an appropriate match for Mr. Stayton’s compelling depiction of the Egyptian prince. Upon the exciting conclusion to their duet, Amaltea appears and chides Mambre for his attempts to dissuade Faraone from releasing the Hebrews. Her words go unheeded, for Osiride’s plan has succeeded, Faraone declares his decision revoked, and the Hebrews feel themselves betrayed. At the close of the act Mosè invites further storms to fall upon the land of Egypt.

Moses_COT_Photo-5.gifTaylor Stayton as Osiride

After an intermission, Acts II and III were performed without pause in this production by Chicago Opera Theater. Attempts to resolve the imprisonment of the Hebrews are fueled by Amaltea’s independent negotiations with Mosè. At the same time Faraone resolves to marry off Osiride to an Armenian princess and to proclaim him co-ruler of Egypt. The dismay of Osiride was expressed in Stayton’s fervent delivery, in which he maintained hopes still to retain Elcia’s love. When the latter enters among the imprisoned Hebrews, she advised Osiride to seek an equivalent love in his official betrothed. Ms. Davies’ moving expressiveness and exquisitely secure pitch in this aria remained one of the highlights of the performance. Osiride then threatens violence to Mosè but he is, instead, struck dead by a lightning bolt; as the act concludes, both Faraone and Elcia mourn his loss.

Moses_COT_Photo-8.gifJorge Prego as Aronne, Andrea Concetti as Moses and Siân Davies as Elcia with the Israelites

In the brief Act III on the banks of the Red Sea the famous prayer delivered by Mosè calms his people, who fear that they will be sacrificed to the anger of Faraone’s troops. Elcia is encouraged to continue her journey with the other Hebrews. In this Mr. Concetti as Mosè delivered a fervent declamation in the concluding piece of the opera. The Red Sea parts and his people cross, just as Faraone and the high priest are swallowed up as they attempt to pursue. The dramatic moment received an appropriately conclusive orchestral flourish.

Salvatore Calomino

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