Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Barber of Seville Is Fun in Tucson

On March 4, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in Tucson. Allen Moyer designed the bright and happy scenery for performances at Minnesota Opera,

Moody, Mysterious Morel

Long Beach Opera often takes willing audiences on an unexpected journey and such is undeniably the case with its fascinating traversal of The Invention of Morel.

Acis and Galatea: 2018 London Handel Festival

Katie Hawks makes quite a claim for Handel’s Acis and Galatea when, in her programme article, she describes it as the composer’s ‘most perfect work’. Surely, one might feel, this is a somewhat hyperbolic evaluation of a 90-minute pastoral masque, or serenade, based on an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which has its origins in a private entertainment?

Oriana, Fairest Queen: Stile Antico celebrate the life and times of Elizabeth I

Stile Antico’s lunchtime play-list, celebrating the Virgin Queen’s long reign, shuffled between sacred and secular works, from penitential to patriotic, from sensual to celebratory.

Daniel Kramer's new La traviata at English National Opera

Verdi's La traviata is one of those opera which every opera company needs to have in its repertoire, and productions need to balance intelligent exploration of the issues raised by the work with the need to reach as wide an audience as possible with an opera which is likely to attract audience members who are not regular opera-goers.

Haydn's Applausus: The Mozartists at Cadogan Hall

Continuing their MOZART 250 series, The Mozartists/ Classical Opera began dipping into the operatic offerings of 1768 at Wigmore Hall in January, when they presented numbers from Mozart’s La finta semplice, Jommelli’s Fetonte, Hasse’s Pirano e Tisbe and Haydn’s Lo speziale.

Schubert Schwanengesang revisited—Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Schwanengesang isn't Schubert's Swan Song any more than it is a cycle like Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The title was given it by his publishers Haslingers, after his death, combining settings of two very different poets, Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. Wigmore Hall audiences have heard lots of good Schwanengesangs, including Boesch and Martineau performances in the past, but this was something special.

Rinaldo: The English Concert at the Barbican Hall

“After such cruel events, I don’t know if I am dreaming or awake.” So says Almirena, daughter of the Crusader Goffredo, when she is rescued by her beloved warrior-hero, Rinaldo, from the clutches of the evil sorceress, Armida.

Hamlet abridged and enriched in Amsterdam

French grand opera and small opera companies are an unlikely combination. Yet OPERA2DAY, a company of modest means, is currently touring the Netherlands with Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas.

The ROH's first production of From the House of the Dead

Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production for the ROH of From the House of the Dead is ‘new’ in several regards. It’s (astonishingly) the first time that Janáček’s last opera has been staged at Covent Garden; it’s Warlikowski’s debut at Covent Garden; and the production uses a new 2017 critical edition prepared by John Tyrrell.

Così fan tutte at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With artifice, disguise, and questions on fidelity as the basis of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the composer’s mature opera has returned to the stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

WNO's Wheel of Destiny rolls into Birmingham

Welsh National Opera’s wheel of destiny has rolled into Birmingham this week, with Verdi’s sprawling tragedy, La forza del destino, opening the company’s ‘Rabble Rousing’ triptych at the Hippodrome.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal College of Music

The gossamer web of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sufficiently insubstantial and ambiguous to embrace multiple interpretative readings: the play can be a charming comic caper, a jangling journey through human pettiness and cruelty, a moonlit fairy fantasy or a shadowy erotic nightmare, and much more besides.

Robert Carsen's A Midsummer Night's Dream returns to ENO

Having given us Christopher Alden's strangely dystopic production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2011, English National Opera (ENO) has opted for Robert Carsen's bed-inspired vision for the latest revival of the opera at the London Coliseum.

Turandot in San Diego—Prima la voce

The big musical set pieces in Turandot require voice, voice, and more voice, and San Diego Opera has gifted us with a world-class cast of singing actors.

Dialogues de Carmélites at the Guildhall School: spiritual transcendence and transfiguration

Four years have passed since my last Dialogues des Carmélites, and on that occasion - Robert Carsen’s production for the ROH - heightened dramatic intensity, revolutionary insurrection (enhanced by an oppressed populace formed by a 67-strong Community Ensemble) and, under the baton of Simon Rattle, luxuriant musical rapture, were the order of the day.

'B & B’ in a new key

Seattle Opera’s new production of Béatrice et Bénédict is best regarded as a noble experiment, performed expressly to see if Berlioz’ delectable 1862 opéra comique can successfully be brought into the living repertory outside its native France. As such, it is quite a success.

Of Animals and Insects: a musical menagerie at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall was transformed into a musical menagerie earlier this week, when bass-baritone Ashley Riches, a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and pianist Joseph Middleton took us on a pan-European lunchtime stroll through a gallery of birds and beasts, blooms and bugs.

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.

San Jose’s Dutchman Treat

At my advanced age, I have now experienced ten different productions of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in my opera-going lifetime, but Opera San Jose’s just might be the finest.



Moses' Journey into Egypt by Pietro Perugino (c. 1482) [Source: Wikiart]
06 Oct 2014

Mose in Egitto, Welsh National Opera

Welsh National Opera’s production of Rossini’s Mose in Egitto was the second of two Rossini operas (the other is Guillaume Tell) performed in tandem for their autumn tour.

Mose in Egitto, Welsh National Opera

A review by Robert Hugill

Above: Moses’s Journey into Egypt by Pietro Perugino (c. 1482) [Source: Wikiart]


Both use the same scenic concept, directed by David Pountney, designed by Raimund Bauer, with costumes by Marie-Jeanne Lecca and lighting by Fabrice Kebour. Both are conducted by Carlo Rizzi and with some cast in common. We caught the first night of Mose in Egitto on 3 October 2014 at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. The cast included David Alegret as Osiride, Andrew Foster-Williams as Faraone, Christine Rice as Amaltea, Miklos Sebestyen as Mose, Barry Banks as Aronne, Nicky Spence as Mambre, Claire Booth as Elcia and Leah-Marion Jones as Amenofi.

Rossini’s Biblical opera was written for Lent, 1818 at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples where Rossini was the musical director. Between 1815 and 1822 he would write an important sequence of opera seria for the Royal theatres in Naples, which enabled him to take advantage of a superb orchestra, fine chorus, celebrated set design team, long rehearsal period and some of the finest soloists of the day including the leading diva Isabella Colbran and tenor Andrea Nozzari. The ensemble at the San Carlo was famously tenor rich, so that Rossini’s Neapolitan operas are tenor heavy and it is to WNO’s credit that in what was clearly a budget production they found three very strong, and finely contrasting tenors in David Alegret (Osiride), Barry Banks (Aronne) and Nicky Spence (Mambre).

In most of his Neapolitan operas Rossini pushed the bounds of what was possible on the operatic stage and Mose in Egitto is no different. Not only does it have grand scene effects, but they are accompanied by significant orchestra music, and the role of the chorus is highly prominent throughout. These are things we take for granted nowadays, but were innovations at the time.

Essentially, Rossini wrote a two-act opera seria which grafted the story of Mose (Miklos Sebestyen), Aronne (Barry Banks) and the Children of Israel in captivity and attempting to leave Egypt ruled by Faraone (Andrew Foster-Williams), onto a doomed love story involving Faraone’s son, Osiride (David Alegret) and a Hebrew girl, Elcia (Claire Booth). Things are complicated by the fact that Faraone’s wife, Amaltea (Christine Rice) has secretly converted to Judaism and supports the Jews, whilst the high priest, Mambre (Nicky Spence), is active against them. Things start with Egpyt in darkness, with a chorus and then prayer from Mose, and then proceed in typical opera seria fashion, but with inclusion of some rather dramatic choruses and an unusually prominent bass role in Mose. The Colbran role was Elcia, the Hebrew girl, so it was she who closed act two with a spectacular solo. But Rossini had a trick up his sleeve, and with act three moved well away from conventional opera seria with a mainly orchestral crossing of the Red Sea designed to show off the scenic splendour. In fact, the first night audience laughed and the opera remains something of challenge. Poutney and designer Raimund Bauer came up with their own highly theatrical but very simple solution.

The opera opened in virtual darkness, with a central white light diminishing leaving the opening choral ensemble, and then the solo for Mose (Sebestyen), in complete darkness. When light did come on, the set looked like an explosion in a paint factory, everything and everyone was a riot of colour. The set was a pair of huge movable textured screens, one red and one blue, in front of which were risers. The Children of Israel were dressed in blue/green/purple, whilst the Egyptians were in red/yellow/orange, to highly vivid effect especially as the face make-up reflected this. The Israelites were in 20th century workers style uniforms with the women in headscarves, the Egyptians were more formally dressed, the men of the chorus wearing fezzes. Osiride (David Alegret) was in a suit, and the rest of the Egyptian royal family mixed styles but had Egyptian head-dresses. My companion commented that the costumes with their use of colour and all over pattern reminded him of the work of the Serbian painter and designer Bernat Klein.

Within this, Pountney gave us a very straightforward production of Rossini’s drama, with few if any axes to grind. There were hints of links to modernity, in the costumes and the behaviour of the choruses (the way the Israelites prayed for instance), but everything was intelligently suggested rather than pressed on you. Rossini’s music is difficult, and his musical structures are large scale, and it was admirable the way Pountney and his cast articulated the drama without you ever feeling like they were keeping you entertained as can happen in opera seria. It helped that all the soloists were of a very high order.

In Rossini’s opera seria, there is a general rule that you are never alone; arias are relatively rare (until the heroine’s final scene, when Colbran got to come centre stage), and can often be accompanied by chorus. Solos develop into duets, and duets develop into quartets, Rossini seems to have taken a highly fluid view of drama and Pountney, his cast and Carlo Rizzi in the pit, made this work.

Singing the Colbran role of Elcia, Claire Booth really came into her own with Elcia’s final scene which closes act two. Before that, the character is a little one-sided, spending rather too much time drooping. Pountney, Booth and Alegret brought a rather nice suggestion of domination/submission into the Elcia/Osiride relationship. They have two duets, each powerful with the second rather disturbing (Alegret leading a blindfolded Booth onto the stage), this latter is interrupted and they are discovered, so Rossini leads us into the spectacular quartet sung by Alegret, Booth, Rice and Spence.

At first, I had to admit that I thought perhaps Booth’s voice was too light for the role. She had flexibility, but did she have the power and darkness in the lower voice, which Colbran (probably a mezzo-soprano with a high extension) seems to have had? Booth blended beautifully with Alegret in their duets, and with Leah Marian Jones, in another moving duet. But in the closing scenes of act two, she came into her own and revealed a wonderful armoury of fire-power in her voice which gave us all of the vocal fireworks necessary, yet all aligned to a powerfully dramatic performance. This performance was part of WNO’s Music and Madness season and it was clear that Booth’s Elcia was well on her way.

Spanish tenor David Alegret has sung Rossini tenor roles for Garsington in the UK and extensively all over Europe. He has the admirable combination of a tall-slim frame (unusual in a tenor), and a flexible, high-lying voice which fits Rossini’s complex music. It has to be said that his voice has a certain, narrow-focussed edginess to it, but he always used this expressively. And he combined a superb technique, with a fearlessness in the high lying range. The character of Osiride is not the most sympathetic, secretly in love with Elcia he wants to keep the Israelites in Egypt purely so that he can see her.

The two other roles, apart from Elcia, who get real solos are Faraone and his wife Amaltea. Foster-Williams impressed greatly as Faraone, making the character quite strong even though he has to spend the opera vacillating, alternately freeing and not-freeing the Israelites. Foster-Williams was both musical and dramatic in his solo, with an admirable facility for passagework, but it was the entirety and completeness of his performance which really impressed. The same was true of Christine Rice as Amaltea. This is not the most dramatically necessary of roles, but she had a superb solo in act two and participated in the famous quartet, as well as being dramatically vivid in the rest of the opera. But Rice brought her rich tones and an expressive facility in to passagework to bear and drew us in. This was a great example of a strong and intelligent singer making a role work for her.

The role of Mose, though the title role, is not the biggest in the opera, but then having a bass singing the title role in an opera seria was still something of a novelty. Sebestyen certainly had the physique du role, looking very much the Old Testament prophet and he brought the same level of authority to Mose’s series of prayers and imprecations. Mose does not take part in the opera seria shenanigins, he simply appears and disappears, spending his time either praying to God or hurling abuse at the Egyptians. This Sebestyen did extremely well (I am sure he is a highly sophisticated singer and capable of far more in other roles!), and topped a fine performance with his lovely opening of the famous prayer in act three.

Aronne (Moses’ brother Aaron) is not the largest of roles but Barry Banks who sang it is also singing Arnold in WNO’s performances of Guillaume Tell! Banks brought a high degree of drama and a vivid sense of the character’s anger and downright nastiness to the role, and his always characterful voice was well differentiated from Alegret’s in the ensembles, which is always a nice point. The quartet in act two is unusual because Rossini scores it for soprano, mezzo-soprano and two tenors, which certainly requires a nice differentiation in style and timbre, something that Alegret and Banks were clearly aware of.

The third tenor in all this was that vicious High Priest, Mambre played with relish by Nicky Spence. In fact, the libretto is relatively sympathetic to Mambre, he is devoted to his own Gods and believes that Mose is simply a charlatan. Spence is one of those singers who seems incapable of giving a boring performance and he is on something of a Rossini roll at the moment. Having seen him as Iago in Buxton Festival’s Otello last year, it was good to see and hear him back in action as Mambre (and he is singing in Guillaume Tell too).

Leah-Marian Jones sang the relatively small role of Amenofi, a Hebrew woman, and she use her familiar mellifluous tones in sympathetic duet with Claire Booth.

Another character in all this was the chorus. Pountney had them divided into two, half Israelites and half Egyptians, but staged it so that the entire chorus participated in all the action (for the prayer in act three they hovered discreetly almost off stage; in darkness but able to contribute). And the chorus was magnificent. One of the joys of this opera was the way Rossini took the opera/oratorio form (Lent called for such things in Italy) and gave it a highly dramatic context. Not only does he write good choruses, but he gives the chorus dramatic role. And the WNO Chorus, chorus master Alexander Martin, were clearly on thrilling, peak form.

As were the WNO Orchestra, playing superbly for Carlo Rizzi. Rossini pushed orchestral as well as vocal boundaries, making the orchestral part far more complex. Rizzi clearly has a good feel for this period of music and made the piece flow beautifully, keeping pace just right and never making it feel rushed but never over indulging. The orchestra followed him, and we were treated to some lovely individual solo moments along the way.

The staging was simple and direct, with the screens and risers being moved around by visible stage-hands who almost became part of the show. It was clear that Pountney was intentionaly making this a theatrical performance, and whilst the rain of fire from heaven at the end of act one was a little disappointing, the crossing of the Red Sea with the screens parting and a billowing wave of silk covering Faraone and Mambre, was very effective.

This was one of the most satisfying Rossini opera seria that I have ever heard in the theatre. Poutney, Rizzi and their cast not only brought a high degree of musicality to the work, but they made dramatic sense too. You never felt preached to, and you never felt that the performers were struggling to entertain you in one of the long arias or ensembles, instead were were treated to a superbly dramatic whole which paid Rossini the compliment of taking him seriously as a really gifted dramatist.

Robert Hugill

Cast and production information:

David Alegret: Osiride, Andrew Foster-Williams: Faraone, Christine Rice: Amaltea, Miklos Sebestyen: Mose, Barry Banks: Aronne, Nicky Spence: Mambre, Claire Booth: Elcia, Leah-Marion Jones: Amenofi. David Pountney: Director, Raimund Bauer: Set Design, Marie-Jeanne Lecca: Costume Design, Conductor: Carlo Rizzi. Welsh National Opera at Wales Millennium Centre, 3 October 2014.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):