Rossini's Maometto II (Mehmed II) - Philips CD: Claudio Scimone/Anderson, Zimmermann, Palacio, Dale
This gorgeous opera of the mature Gioachino Rossini on the libretto of Cesare della Valle is extremely rarely performed. There are many versions of it, including the more popular French resetting under the title Le siège de Corinthe (The Siege of Corinth). This recording uses the original Naples 1820 version.
The story is set in the Venetian colony of Negroponte at the height of the war between the Venetians and the Turks in 1476. The opera opens with Paolo Erisso, the Venetian Governor of Negroponte, holding a war council as his walls are being bombarded by Maometto II's Turkish force. General Condulmiero advocates surrender, but he is effectively rebutted by the more hot-blooded (in more ways than one) General Calbo... who is also wooing Erisso's daughter, Anna. Anna was already smitten with a young man called Uberto (actually Maometto in disguise), however, and doesn't want to consent to her father's plan for her to marry the general. Erisso's revelation that the said Uberto could only have been an impostor since the real Uberto was traveling with him at the time proves a blow to his daughter. They sing a splendid terzettone (great big trio) of many emotions as Calbo laments that his beloved doesn't return his affection, Erisso commanding his daughter to use her mom's dagger on herself rather than be captured by the Turks, and Anna finding herself in desperate need of divine help rather than man's.
Just then the Turks breaks through the gates and Erisso and Calbo are spared from death only because Maometto, still loving Anna, is terrified by her threat to turn herself into a shish kabab. So, a compromise is struck with the Venetian men allowed to go free as Anna agrees to stay with Maometto. The ever so proud Erisso finds this arrangement abominable, and drives his daughter to despair with his indignation. With Maometto off to quell the remaining resistance, Anna gives his imperial seal to her father and marries Calbo at her mother's tomb (to be a good daddy's girl) before helping them escape... She then does turn herself in to a shish kabab (courtesy of her mom's knife) when confronted by Maometto, and ensuring the opera's unpopularity with the audience of the day with a tragic ending.
As remarkable as the story-line is (the set is full of warlike and powerful men, but the lone female character is the only really heroic one who does all the self-sacrificing), the music is nothing short of miraculous. The structure is drama-oriented (for example; there is no real 'break' for applause until the end of the title character's spectacular entrance aria toward the end of the first Act) with apt instrumental coloring, engaging recitatives, and the vocal writing is bel canto at its best (featuring gorgeous vocal melodies requiring long breath, extra-smooth legato, and fiery coloratura fireworks). It is an inspired work of art worthy of imitations (the composer agreed with me and did just that himself... twice!).
Paolo Erisso (Governor of Negroponte) ::: Ernesto Palacio (tenor)
Anna (his daughter) ::: June Anderson (soprano)
Calbo (his general) ::: Margarita Zimmermann (mezzo-soprano)
Condulmiero (another general) ::: Laurence Dale (tenor)
Maometto II ::: Samuel Ramey (bass)
Selimo (Maometto's confidant) ::: Laurance Dale (tenor)
Claudio Scimone/ Philharmonia Orchestra
John McCarthy/ Ambrosian Opera Chorus
Hear excerpts from this CD set at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2HmuVbWMJI
There are only 2 recordings of Maometto II that I know of (I'm not counting those of Le Siège de Corinthe). This 1983 recording of the original Naples version (re-released by Philips in 2004) and the Naxos Label recording of the 1822 Venice version of the opera. The first act in both versions are quite similar, but the Venice version has many musical revision in the second act; the wonderful 'In questi estremi istante' trio goes missing, Calbo's aria 'Non temer/ d'un basso' is less complicated, and the ending is changed into a happy one with Anna happily reconciled with her dad and marrying Calbo, who she now loves, to the tune of music taken from Rossini's other opera, La donna del lago (The Lady of the Lake).
As our heroic leading lady Anna is June Anderson, the wonderful American soprano whose wonderfully light and creamy lyrical voice is very well captured in this recording. She has no trouble negotiating even Anna's most demanding roulades, and really closes the show in style with Anna's heroic final rondo. Being inclined to more drama-oriented singers, though, I'd have loved to hear more of Anna's character in her singing, however, but considering how virtuosic Rossini wrote her music, perhaps that's asking a bit too much.
Ernesto Palacio is a youngish Erisso who has no trouble projecting his character's noble bearing and (overly) proud attitudes. Listening to this Erisso gives me something of an ironic feeling, though... If I didn't know the story and which character he is singing, I'd think he is the tenor who is going after the leading lady of the show rather than her dad! This is a bit of a quirk in this opera... In relation to the soprano; the tenor is the dad, the basso is the real lover, and the contralto is the half-way successful suitor!
Margarita Zimmermann's mesmerizing Calbo is also a fine discovery. I would have preferred a younger sounding voice (her Calbo sounds older than Palacio's Erisso), but her command of her rich contralto voice that can negotiate the full (very wide) range of Calbo's music far outweighs that. I find her piano a bit hard to hear at times (especially at the start of the Act II trio), but other than that, she is a fine voice actress who projects a very sympathetic character from start to finish.
The title role of Maometto is fabulously sung by Samuel Ramey. The voice is imposing and clear, befitting the Turkish sultan's status and authority. His wonderful vocal agility also makes it easy to forget how difficult it is for the lower voices to sing floridly. As alpha-male as Ramey's Maometto is, he still inflects the Sultan's romantic feelings for Anna convincingly. This is a ramingly Ramey performance to remember! Laurence Dale pulls off double duties as both Condulmiero and Selimo with aplomb.
Maestro Claudio Scimone's Philharmonia Orchestra provides an apt musical background for the drama (though sometimes the tempo gets rather draggy, especially during the Act II Calbo-Anna-Erisso trio). The sound engineering favors the orchestra a bit more than the voices, though, and sometimes they compete to be heard rather than cooperate.
Maometto II (pronounced 'Maometto secundo') is a gem of an opera that really should be revived more often... though the difficulties of its music makes it hard to assemble a cast that is stellar enough for all 4 leading roles. This studio recording does Rossini justice. Highly recommended for all who love Italian bel canto opera.
3 CDs. Play-time: 184 minutes. Sung in Italian. Package insert: Cast list, track list, Synopsis in English, French, & German. No libretto given.
Big thank you to lambchops, our Music Category Lead, for another very speedy addition of this CD to the database!
Reviews of other Rossini opera:
Il barbiere di Siviglia (Zürich 2001), Le cambiale di matrimonio (Schwetzingen 1989), La Cenerentola (Munich 2005), Ermione (Glyndebourne 1995), L'Italiana in Algeri (Met 1986), Tancredi (R Abbado 1996), Tancredi (N Zedda), Tancredi (Schwetzingen 1992)
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