"Rossini expert Claudio Scimone conducts this Venetian version of "Maometto Secondo" and if you are only familiar with the original Neapolitan score, the happy ending may come as a bit of a shock--happy, that is for Anna (soprano) and Calbo (mezzo), but not for Maometto (bass).
When the eponymous Turkish sultan comes onstage with his victorious troops for the first time in Act One, he immediately launches into a fiendishly difficult cantabile aria and cabaletta--think of Mehmet II as the Muslim Alexander the Great. In this particular opera, he is engaged in capturing the Venetian colony of Negroponte in Greece. His most famous historical conquest, for us Christians at least, was Constantinople.
In this version, which Rossini modified for Venice's Teatro La Fenice in 1822 (the Venetians insisted on a happy ending), Mehmet II fails to conquer Negroponte because Anna, the woman he loves, betrays him. In order to save her father (tenor), Erisso, the governor of Negroponte and her fiancé, Calbo (mezzo), Anna obtains Mehmet's imperial seal of authority, and frees Erisso and Calbo when her captor has to exit the harem to fight another battle.
Now comes the shocker. Instead of Anna meeting up with her father and her fiancé in the church crypt, next to her mother's tomb, it is Mehmet himself who shows up. There is a fine trio in which Calbo challenges the Turkish general to a duel for Anna's hand and the three men (tenor, bass, and mezzo) exit for the battlefield. Anna and female chorus enter the church and kill time with various arias and choruses until her fiancé and father make their triumphant return. Anna rejoices as only a soprano can, Negroponte is saved, and she marries Calbo, the mezzo.
I also own a DVD of the original version of "Maometto Secondo" in which Samuel Ramey sings the Turkish general at the 1985 Rossini Festival in Pesaro, in what he says is his most difficult role. This is a totally intoxicating performance, in spite of the poor technical quality of the DVD (I think it was transferred to DVD off of an Italian TV screen). Some comparisons between the two productions:
- Lorenzo Regazzo is a sonorous Maometto, a bit more bombastic than Ramey and a very restless stage presence. Ramey's bass is seductive, ironic, alternating velvet with steel. Regazzo's bass is more of a plush, bumpy corduroy. Both absolutely inhabit the character and I wouldn't want to miss either version.
- Tenor Maxim Mironov reminds me of the Cossack in the movie version of "Fiddler on the Roof" with his stringy blond hair and wild blue eyes. He has a brilliant, edgy tenor and quite upstages stodgy Chris Merritt who sang this role in the Pesaro production. Merritt has a stronger, more ringing tenor but Mironov has the brilliant cadenzas.
- The late Lucia Valentini-Terrani sang Calbo in the Pesaro version and Italian contralto, Annarita Gemmabella is a darkly splendid young warrior on this DVD. They are both superb in one of the juiciest mezzo arias in all of Rossini: "Non temer: d'un basso affetto " where Calbo is trying to buck up a very depressed Erriso in the crypt after Anna has seemingly betrayed them. I have GOT to find a CD where Marilyn Horne sings this show-stopper. Both Valentini-Terrani and Gemmabella take my breath away in "Non temer".
- Carmen Giannattasio is a rather listless Anna on this DVD, pretty but most of her emotions are conveyed by a series of frowns. Her soprano doesn't really warm up until after her duet, "Gli estremi sensi ascolta" with Maometto. Of course, in this Venetian version, Anna has to reserve her voice for a much longer ending. In the consistently grim Neapolitan score, Anna literally cuts her singing short by stabbing herself. I prefer Cecilia Gasdia's spirited, well-sung Anna in the Pesaro production.
The chorus is a lethargic, almost ghostly presence on this DVD whether its members are singing as citizens of the beleaguered Negroponte or as Turkish warriors.
Technically, this DVD is far superior to the Pesaro disk but it has several annoying freeze-frames, at least on my copy.
Claudio Scimone conducts both versions. "
No Other Choice
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 10/02/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This is an elegant and pleasing evening's entertainment at home on the couch. I wouldn't have purchased it, however, if I'd realized that it's the sweetened "happy-ending" version of the opera prepared by Rossini for a tradition-bound Venetian audience rather than the daringly original tragic opera first performed in Naples. Much of the music substituted in Venice will sound hauntingly familiar to Rossini fans, having been cut-and-pasted from La Donna del Lago and other prior compositions. I venerate Rossini with all my heart, but I can't quite shake my disappointment with this production."
A great recording!
Lala R. | CA, USA | 04/05/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The fact that this is a version changed by Rossini to please the Venetians makes it only more interesting. It gives a new rather tragic dimension to the character of Maometto (sung and acted perfectly by Regazzo) and it includes a new trio between Maometto, Erisso and Calbo which is an absolutely stunning waterfall of coloratura (by Regazzo, Mironov and Gemmabella, all experts of it), and makes this "modified" opera a treasure. The staging is also tasteful - sparse in a modern way, yet the lighting, the costumes inspired by the period, the graceful poses of the singers and the decorations are elegant and caravaggesque. This restrained but rich frame supports the exuberance of the music very well. "
Sad, sadder, saddest
Rex B. Faubion | Mountain View, CA United States | 03/14/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)
"This production is, on the whole, musically well performed, with Lorenzo Regazzo outstanding, Gemmabella (as Calbo) excellent, the rest less so; Scimone's musical direction, of course, experienced and confident. However, there are many disappointments in this set for me. First of all, the Venetian version of this opera is the one used here; as a curiosity, interesting to view. . . once, but this revision omits some wonderful music from the original Neapolitan score, and it's obvious Rossini didn't take it seriously, since he simply tacked on the finale of "La donna del lago" for the happy ending the Venetians demanded.
The greatest disappointment of this production is the production itself. The sets are simple and could be effective if the stage director had known what the hell he was doing. I have seldom seen such an inadequate staging anywhere: the whole thing was a mournful dirge, abetted by a lighting scheme that emphasized so much down-lighting that half the time the singers' faces were in complete shadow. Evidently the singers were given no direction as to character and the creation of dramatic tension; consequently, their performances (with one exception) were meaningless wanderings about the stage with no sense of character or even of the theatrical situation; e.g., the reaction of the chorus and Anna to the assault on the city by the Turks was depicted with all the alarm that might be exhibited by a postponed picnic because of the threat of rain.
The greatest misfire was in the performance by Maxim Miranov as Anna's father, Paolo Erisso. His is an important role (he is the tenor) and he is on stage a lot. He plays the part with the gravest, saddest, sodden, downcast, mournful, funereal demeanor without any variation whatsoever. He is a tall man but played the whole performance with his head bent down almost never looking up. With the relentless down-lighting, his face was almost always in total darkness. The character, although he has his set-backs, should be fiery, proud, defiant, and at the very least, animated. I dreaded his every appearance: here is a totally defeated and hopeless, depressed robot, barely going through the motions of being a live human being. The whole cast (with one exception) more or less played the piece in that manner: the "rejoicing" at the end was about as merry an occasion as a funeral on a stormy day. The Calbo does show some spirit and animation, but the mezzo is up against the odds. The great exception in this production is Lorenzo Regazzo as Maometto Secondo: here is a performer who knows his way around a stage, has commanding presence, a strong sense of character, a complete understanding of the dramatic situations, and knows how to use the tools of his trade to create a theatrical impression. He has to fight a directorial scheme that seems to try everything in its power to weaken his effects. I'll give one example: the first entrance of Maometto. His entrance should be the focus of the scene; he is the triumphant warrior who has conquered the city. Regazzo has all the proper bearing and swagger. The director has him center stage at a height of about 15 feet, good! But, he is costumed in a dull, tomato-red coat, vest, tunic, pantaloons. . . and what is the background and lighting? A dull, tomato-red. He has been given a clumsy, ill-shaped, large turban that casts a complete shadow over his face (down-lit, of course), so you can see none of his features during his entrance aria. He is supposed to be on the ruins of the city wall; so, after the aria, when he should be able to stride vigorously onto the main playing area of the scene, he is forced by the director to pick his way cautiously down a pile of rubble, feeling every step with timorous care, and assisted by two of his lieutenants holding his hands to guide him down. If you should ever want to weaken a character's entrance (which here should be bold and aggressive), man-oh-man, here's the way to do it!
Signore Pier Luigi Pizzi is credited for stage direction, costumes, and set (did he also do the lighting, I wonder), and Signore Sergio Segalini is listed as "Artistic Director." I don't know who is responsible for what here, but they should be sent to their room without supper. If one wants a perfect summary of the theatrical disaster in this production, he can take a good look at the curtain calls. Quite obviously they were never staged. It is a Marx Brothers film; no one knows where to go, where to stand, when to move forward; there is much milling about in confusion and perplexity. Could this have been a directorial concept? Too subtle for me. Caveat emptor."
Maometto II, Rossini
D. Leclaire | Bourget, On, Canada | 10/12/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
Very enjoyable presentation, from the overture to the end. Excellent singers, especially Anna Rita Gemmabella, great direction by Maestro Scimone, sobre setting, as it should be in such an opera."