Rossini had had a success in Paris with his Frenchified version of 'Maometto Secondo' known as 'La Si'ège de Corinthe,' and a couple of years later he did the same sort of revision of his 'Mosè' in Egitto,' already known in Paris in its French version. He expanded the obligatory choral passages and added the required ballet, which takes up most of Act III. The new opera, whose subtitle is 'La passage de la Mer Rouge' ('The Parting of the Red Sea') became a palpable hit in Paris and certainly in France at least superseded its Italian forerunner. In the world's opera houses, though, it is the Italian version that has tended to be presented. In a slightly ironic twist, then, what we have here is the French version in a production in the foremost Italian opera house, La Scala. And a first-class production it is, with good singers, Riccardo Muti leading the forces, an attractive set and costumes, a marvelously stylish ballet and, though a bit old-fashioned, an effective parting of the Red Sea in the final scene.
Nonetheless, this is not necessarily Rossinian music from the topmost drawer, however effective it may be in the theatre. I suspect that most people buying this DVD will watch it once and then rarely again. (I could, of course, be entirely wrong about this. And, that being said, I think the music in 'Moï'se' is actually a bit stronger than in 'Mos'è') Certainly, the performance is world-class.
The sonorous Russian basso, Ildar Abdrazakov, is commanding in his portrayal of Moses. The rising young Uruguayan basso, Erwin Schrott, is equally so as the Pharaoh. Barbara Frittoli makes a delectable Ana' and sings her lyrical best. Her lover, the Pharaoh's son Am'énophis, is sung a bit less effectively by the young Italian tenor, Giuseppe Filanoti, whose voice is flexible but yet more stentorian than that of most Rossini tenors. Tomislav Muzek is a bit of a cipher as 'li'zer, with a white and not terribly attractive tenor. Sonia Ganassi, however, with her rich mezzo, makes a very effective and moving Sina'ïde, the Pharaoh's wife. The ballet, concocted by choreographer Micha van Hoecke, is, with its stylized faux-Egyptian hand and foot movements, quite entertaining and the three principal dancers are terrific. Luciana Savignani, as Isis, has amazing arms and hands and actually much of her movement is confined to their contortions. Roberto Bolle as Mo'ïse, and Desmond Richardson as Pharaoh are excellent. The not-quite-narrative ballet seems to foretell Moses's defeat of the Pharaoh.
Sound is only average. There are, in fact, some odd fluctuations of volume at a couple of spots. Luca Ronconi's stage direction is uncluttered and utilitarian, and it is enhanced by the calm and expert television direction by Riccardo Managlia. Set design by is by Gianni Mantovanini and the parting of the Red Sea, while old-fashioned, is neatly done.
Sound: DD 5.1, DTS 5.1, LPCM Stereo; Subtitles: German, English, French, Italian, Spanish; Running time: 181 minutes, no extras. Filmed live at La Scala December 21, 2003.