Saturday, 13 April 2013

Rossini Maometto Secondo Garsington Opera Talk Oxford

Garsington Opera is staging Gioachino Rossini's Maometto Secondo at Wormsley from 8th June. This will be an event because Maometto Secondo is a very good opera, which deserves the interest it's been getting in the last few years. As background, Richard Osborne, the Rossini specialist, will be giving a talk on Wednesday 17th April at North Wall in Oxford (directions here). The talk will be repeated before the 16/6 performance. More details HERE including sound clip and synopsis. Public bookings start Monday 15th.

"Two supreme interpreters of Rossini’s music lead the company; conductor David Parry and tenor Paul Nilon, with bass-baritone Darren Jeffery in the title role. This is the eagerly awaited British premiere of an opera described in the New York Times in July 2012 as ‘a Rossini masterwork ahead of its time’. This performance, using a new edition, reinstates Rossini’s vitality, grandeur and freshness of inspiration."

Rossini's Maometto secondo is a wonderful work., and surprisingly trenchant for its time and our own. The real life Maometto secondo, or Mehmet II (1432-1481) was Fatih Sultan of the Ottomans. He conquered Constantinople, and ended the Byzantine Empire. His next  plan was to invade western Europe, and take on the Holy Roman Empire, thus linking Europe and Asia under Islam. Mega geopolitics. This Turk was no buffo. Venice was in the front line because Venetians traded throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. For Venetians, Turks posed the biggest ever threat to their survival.

Rossini doesn't, however, portray Maometto as a villain. Perhaps that's why Rossini's Maometto Secondo flopped in Naples in 1820 but was a hit in Venice in 1822. Although the opera fell out of the repertoire, it's come back into favour now that European and Islamic nations reassess their relationship.  Rossini with political depth? Surprisingly, yes, for he treats his characters as individuals rather than cardboard stereotypes. Paolo Erisso is chief of the Venetian outpost at Negroponte in Greece. It's besieged and finally taken by the Turks. Oddly enough, Erisso's daughter, Anna, has a secret lover whose identity she doesn't know. Guess who? Maometto, himself, whom she recognizes when the defeated Venetians are rounded up. Maometto loves Anna so much that he pardons Erisso and gives Anna his official seal to keep her safe when he has to go back into battle. Anna is torn between love and duty. He father chides her and she obeys by marrying Calbo, a Venetian nobleman, and uses the safe conduct pass to let the Venetians escape. News comes that Maometto's lost the second battle, and Erisso's saved the city, but somehow Maometto appears in her chambers, and she kills herself.

Order is restored, but in the process we glimpse another type of Turk. In real life, the Ottomans consolidated their Empire by intermarriage - Maometto was part-Greek - so at the time, theirs was a more sophisticated authority model.  For 19th century audiences, Turks were supposed to be the enemy, so the idea of Maometto as lover must have caused a frisson.

There are quite a number of recordings. The version with June Anderson and Sam Ramey (conductor Claudio Scimone) is probably the best, given the singers. I've reviewed the DVD of the 2005 production at the Teatro La Fenice di Venezia, also conducted by Scimone, but the singing isn't quite so good.

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