Mosè in Egitto

Opera in 3 acts by Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)

First performed in the Teatro San Carlo, Naples in 1818 and revised in 1819

How refreshing it is to be contemplating a performance of Rossini’s Moses opera, not in the bloated and ill-ordered French revision of 1827 but in the finely crafted original version created for Naples’s Teatro San Carlo in 1818-19. Written as an azione tragico-sacra to be played during the season of Lent, the opera tells the story of the love of a young Jewish girl for the son of the Egyptian Pharaoh at the time of the enslavement of the Israelite minority in Egypt. As with Aida and Radames in Verdi’s celebrated opera, it is a tale of disputed homelands, of the tension between love and duty, and the counterpointing of the bonds of family and country.

Though the opera was written at a time when Rossini was expanding the orchestral and choral scale of his often highly innovative serious music dramas, Mosè in Egitto is remarkable for the simplicity of its action, the directness of its declamation and the neo-classical loveliness of much of the writing.

Among its highlights are the superbly atmospheric opening ‘Scene of the Shadows’, an unforgettable portrait (much admired by Wagner) of an entire people plunged in the deepest misery, and the closing scene whose celebrated ‘Prayer’ prefaces the parting of the waves, as Moses leads the Israelites to freedom and their own promised land.

© Richard Osborne


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