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Mosè in Egitto
NEW YORK CITY
New York City Opera
Repertoire gamble: Counts's NYCO production of Rossini's Mosè in Egitto
© Carol Rosegg 2013
In a much-anticipated repertoire gamble, New York City Opera brought Rossini's Mosè in Egitto to the stage at City Center on April 14. The newly revamped company made a convincing case for Rossini's 1818 biblical music drama, drawn from the book of Exodus as fashioned by librettist Andrea Leone Tottola for Naples's Teatro San Carlo. Production director and designer Michael Counts confronted the staging challenges — representations of such Old Testament miracles as the appearance of pillars of fire and bolts of lightning, and the work's climactic parting of the Red Sea — with sophisticated video technology that eliminated the need for any sets or furniture. The flight of the religion-crossed couple (the Egyptian prince Osiride and the Israelite Elcia) across the desert into an abandoned cave was handily represented with 360-degree cinematic panning and a revolving stage-piece. Moses led the Israelites through a neatly clipped Red Sea projected onto the stage's rear wall, while Pharaoh's pursuing army was engulfed in murky clouds of blackness revealing dead bodies floating creepily among the waves.
Design tricks and staging precision — working the entire cast on and around the revolving treadmill — must have eaten into rehearsal time, and aside from giving stylized arm movements to the Egyptians (handsomely outfitted by Jessica Jahn in black and gold) in contrast with the naturally-moving Israelites (in togas and flowing robes of earth tones), Counts failed to help the cast develop character or relationships.
Mosè and its French derivative Moïse et Pharaon offer a thrilling battle of the basses, even juicier than the religious confrontation between Moses and the Egyptian Pharaoh, but New York City Opera's basses generated no vocal sparks. Stepping in for an ailing David Cushing, David Salsbery Fry portrayed the charismatic Israelite leader Moses, with his bag of miracle tricks, as a wan, apologetic wallflower. Even from a cover, this performance lacked vocal or dramatic personality, with poor Italian to boot. As the Egyptian Pharaoh, Wayne Tigges was dramatically convincing, and his voice showed plenty of character. Some impressive high notes made up for an unreliable bottom register, and while better coaching might help him negotiate Rossini's coloratura demands more accurately, Tigges's performance was appealingly honest.
Soprano Siân Davies brought melting lyricism and shapely phrasing to the sympathetic role of the Hebrew girl Elcia, although her high notes were occasionally shrill. Keri Alkema's incisive soprano made a strong impression in the role of Pharaoh's wife, Amaltea, and her Act II aria, "La pace mia smarrita" — beautifully sung in stillness on a rocky cliff, as a gigantic full moon rose — was one of the performance's most magical moments. As Moses's sister Amenofi, mezzo-soprano Emily Righter sang and acted with concentrated elegance, while tenor Zachary Finkelstein brought an appropriate eeriness to the role of Mambre, a shadowy soothsayer/priest.
Aldo Caputo showed a handsome, elegant and well-projected tenor voice in the role of Aaron, brother of Moses, but it was tenor Randall Bills, as Pharaoh's son Osiride, who stole the show with his consummate mastery of Rossini's style, range and vocal bravura. In addition to impeccable Italian and a total commitment to Counts's hieroglyphic body language, Bills's dark-hued voice carried well throughout an impressive dynamic range.
NYCO music director Jayce Ogren showed command of Rossini's flexible tempos and led the singers sensitively, but he failed to bring power to the score's climactic moments and paid little attention to orchestral textures and colors, although wind solos were capably played.
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