Monday, October 23, 2006

The Siege of Corinth

I am irresistibly attracted to the serious operas of Gioachino Rossini. For my heart Rossini is perfect exactly the way he is and does not require the "improvements" of Verdi. There is a perfection of lightness in the coloratura that is not improved by the weight of future generations. I am happy to see this style returning to our ears, to hear the wonderfully ornamented da capos done as they were meant to be. Viva Rossini!

I went on Sunday to see the Baltimore Opera Company present Rossini's L'Assedio di Corinto or The Siege of Corinth, an actual historical event which took place in the 1450's. A Christian country is being invaded by Moslems who are heard praying to the prophet, something I am not sure actually happens. Never mind.

The production was traditional with Turks looking pretty much the way they do in Italian Renaissance paintings and the Greeks looking almost antique. I'm not sure my comments about the historical accuracy of costumes can be relied upon so we will assume they are not displaced from their intended setting. The two groups, Greeks and Turks, were easy to distinguish from one another, making the drama easy to follow.

The historical event requires a love theme to make it work as an opera. In preparation for invasion Maometto II has been personally casing the Greek cities, and while looking over Athens, he meets and falls in love with Pamira, daughter of the Governor of Corinth. Her father Cleomene, here sung by Bruce Ford, asks her to marry Neocle, but she refuses, saying her heart already belongs to another. Only during the opera does she discover that it is Maometto II himself that she loves. She vacillates, but ultimately decides on martyrdom with her countrymen over marriage to a foreigner.

The unusual feature of this opera is the presence of chorus in every scene, representing primarily the Greek people. It is a surprise in an Italian opera to hear so much chorus. It is they who carry the spirit of patriotism and martyrdom that is the main theme of the opera. They sing in simple block chords without counterpoint. This was very well done and effective.

Elizabeth Futral as Pamira was in a little over her head. She was better and more secure in the more solid Handel of Semele than here. The more ethereal Rossini caused her voice to become fluttery.

Vivica Genaux in the role of Neocle was a revelation. She did not quite achieve the godlike standards of Marilyn Horne, but definitely merited comparison, as great a compliment as I can imagine for a coloratura mezzo. Brava! And, yes, she looked fabulous.


Paul said...

Now that you're read Prof. Gossett's book, how did that affect your hearing of "L'Assedio," especially knowing that it was originally composed to a French libretto? I'm sorry to hear that Futral was somewhat disappointing - she has a lovely voice - but it just proves that singers do better with some roles than others. Opera is hardly a one-style-fits-all art form.

Dr.B said...

It enhanced my experience to know that the patriotic fervor present in the choral singing was originally Italian patriotism, and thus the intensity of emotion.

I thought this arrangement, concoction though it might be, worked. If Vivaca's big scene at the beginning of Act III was arbitrarily stuck in to enhance her part, good! It was the highlight of the opera.

Dr.B said...

I also found myself actively listening for the ornamentation in the repeats and increasingly aware of the style of ornamentation used, more than I would have before.

Dr.B said...

And I am hoping I was paying enough attention to notice the absence of secco recitative.