Naxos claims this is a first recording. And indeed it is, in a sense. Many Rossinians, though, remember a blockbuster recording of 'Maometto Secondo' issued in 1983 on Philips (and now available at mid-price and available here at Amazon) with a star-studded cast: Philip Ramey as Maometto, June Anderson as Anna, Margarita Zimmermann as Calbo, with the Philharmonia under Claudio Scimone. The thing that makes this recording a world première is that it is a performance of a revision that Rossini made for the less sophisticated Venice opera after its première in the house for which it was written. the San Carlo in Naples. As a consequence some of the more complicated numbers are cut; I estimate the new version is about twenty minutes shorter than the original.
This is a live recording of what I take to be a concert performance. Applause is inobtrusive and there are no stage noises. It took place at the Bad Wildbad Festival, which presents many Rossini operas (and presented a similarly titled but completely different 'Maometto' by Peter von Winter in the same season as this performance; it has been issued on Marco Polo) and features young and upcoming singers, a Czech orchestra and chorus, all under the direction of an Australian conductor, Brad Cohen.
The plot needn't concern us here, but there is a very detailed synopsis in the CD booklet and one can access the Italian libretto (without an English translation) online at a Naxos site given in the booklet.
The cast of singers is quite a mixed bag. The part of Erisso is sung by a dry-voiced tenor who frankly detracts from the proceedings; his coloratura is, ahem, pretty basic, but he does contribute nicely in the ensembles. The basso singing Maometto, Denis Sedov, does not have quite the resonance of his competition, Sam Ramey on the Philips set but he is fine vocal actor. Calbo (a general, a pants-role) is sung fabulously by a mezzo (who actually sounds more like a coloratura contralto and has a very solid lower extension), Anna-Rita Gemmabella. She handles the fioriture with ease, makes dramatic hay when appropriate, and plays a vital part in the ensembles that this opera is known for, and particularly in the passages where she sings in close harmony with Anna. She is stellar in the terzetto in Act I (which, by the way, is simplified from the extraordinarily complicated--and grand--terzettone of the Naples version). The real discovery here, for me, is a lyric coloratura, Luisa Islam-Ali-Zade, whose Anna is a real delight. She is excellent in the part's dramatic demands (and they are many). Her singing in her big Act I aria is lovely. I like her bright-sounding fast vibrato. She holds her own against her competition in the Philips set, June Anderson.
Brad Cohen's direction is pointed and solid. His orchestra and chorus are just a notch less than top-rate. We must remember that this is a live performance at a festival whose budget cannot be all that big. They tend to get by (and nicely, from the sound of it) with young artists.
All in all, I am glad I have this version. But I'm also glad I have the Philips set. I frankly don't know which of Rossini's versions I prefer. (And this doesn't bring into the equation the final French-language revision that Rossini made for Paris, considerably recast and moved to a Greek setting as 'La Siège de Corinthe.')
3 CDs. Act I is continued onto a short CD2, and then Act II is on CD3. TT=ca. 165