By the time Rossini wrote this opera, his last flop for Naples in 1820, he was champing at the bit to abandon the "macaroni-guzzlers" and head for Venice and ultimately Paris where he could write opera seria in a grander style. Works such as "Mosè in Egitto" (1818) had already signalled his artistic ambitions and it is evident from the start of "Maometto secondo" that he is writing on a larger scale to an inflated libretto by Cesare della Valle.
Never one to waste a good tune, Rossini eventually recycled and partially re-wrote "Maometto" as "Le Siège de Corinthe" for the Paris Opera and it then reappeared in Italian as "L'assedio di Corinto" in Parma, but this is the original version and one for the purists who want to hear the composer's intentions. We have some of the same team who recorded the original "Mosè": sprightly, sensitive conductor Scimone with the Philharmonia and the entirely dependable Ambrosian Singers plus two of the same singers: June Anderson and Ernesto Palacio. The Peruvian tenor has a rather hard, uningratiating tone but he can cope with the embellishments, even if at first he suffers by comparison with Lawrence Dale's more mellifluous tenor. Anderson has a large, sometimes unwieldy soprano occasionally reminiscent of later Joan Sutherland. She copes admirably with a demanding part written for the legendary Colbran. Margaret Zimmerman brings a chocolaty mezzo to bear on the breeches role of Calbo. The real bonus, of course, is the chance to hear the agile, rich-voiced Samuel Ramey rather than the usual resident Rossini house basso Ruggero Raimondi, who was imposing but rather lugubrious in comparison with Ramey who is on record as saying that this was his most challenging role. He despatches the fioratura required with admirable skill and power. It is not actually a particularly large role - Maometto doesn't appear until half way through the first Act, is present on stage for comparatively little time and in fewer than half the scenes, from nos.4 to 8, and then only at the end of the concluding Scene 11 - but the role makes up in vocal difficulty what it lacks in duration.
Central to Act 1 is a huge Terzettone with a wonderful sequence of numbers including a grand trio and Anna's famous "Preghiera". Rossini increasingly excelled in penning these stately, dignified outpourings of emotion and the depth and variety of the supporting orchestration complements the grandeur of the vocal line. As with "Mosè", however, the emphasis is upon superb vocal ensembles until Anna once gain takes central stage in the Finale for her extended sequence of contrasting arias. I'm not sure that Anderson has quite the sufficient vocal personality or dramatic presence that by all accounts Colbran - or Beverly Sills, for that matter - possessed in order to make the most of what should be a concluding tour de force. What should be climactic is instead a little low-key, but she is a sincere, accomplished singer.
We are very unlikely to get another, better studio recording, nor perhaps do we need one - although you might like to supplement this one with the live recording of "L'assedio di Corinto", which has additional, rearranged and different music performed by a starry cast headed by Sills, Horne, Diaz and a riotous Franco Bonisolli who could hardly present a greater vocal contrast to the thin-voiced Palacio. Bonisolli's baritonal heft is probably much closer to that of Andrea Nozzari, the first exponent of the role of Paolo Erisso; he also sounds much more like an authoritarian father and city governor than the rather weedy Palacio.
Unfortunately, the Philips Trio issue no longer includes a libretto or Philip Gossett's informative and scholarly essay.