The Rossini Opera Festival had planned a new production of Moïse et Pharaon for its 2020 edition, which was disrupted by the pandemic. Instead, it opens this year’s festival. Director Pier Luigi Pizzi had a whole year to rethink his staging, which has ended up changing considerably. Scenes are minimalistic and elegant, in pure Pizzi style, Massimo Gasparon's lighting playing a big role in shaping the images. Costumes are colour coded: the Egyptians in blue and purple; the Jews in white and Earth tones. Videos on the back of the stage gave life to the most spectacular events: the plagues of Egypt, the destruction of the great pyramid, and the parting of the Red Sea.

Roberto Tagliavini (Moïse)
© Studio Amati Bacciardi

The scene tended to be static, in a style that a less generous critic would perhaps describe as “park and bark”. I don’t think it disturbed the narration: the story is biblical and very well known, it is full of special effects (the thunderstorm of hail and fire was particularly successful), and the music is simply spectacular.

Moïse is the 1827 French version of Mosè in Egitto, written in 1818, where Rossini adapted the score to a French libretto, rewrote all the recitatives, and added several numbers, including 20 minutes of ballet music, a must-have accessory for French grand opera at the time. The ballets are taken mostly from his opera Armida and don’t fit very well, neither with the rest of the music, nor with the biblical plot. Pizzi and choreographer Gheorghe Iancu tried to insert them into the drama by exploiting the location, in the temple of Isis, by telling the story of Isis and Osiris’ love, and the birth of their son Horus. 

Erwin Schrott (Pharaon) and Vasilisa Berzhanskaya (Sinaide)
© Studio Amati Bacciardi

The RAI orchestra, under the baton of Giacomo Sagripanti, did justice to the wonderful score with an emotional and powerful interpretation, characterised by great highlights (the harps!) and sense of the ensemble. The chorus has a prominent role and graced us with a great performance, strong and nuanced.

Roberto Tagliavini’s Moïse was authoritative and tender, his booming bass convincing in the threats against the Egyptians, in the mysticism of the prayers, and in the expression of his love for his family and his people. His intonation of the splendid final prayer “Des cieux où tu résides” was a perfect show of his breath control and beautiful voice. His counterpart as Pharaon, bass-baritone Erwin Schrott, gave a less measured performance. He displayed some quirky mannerisms, in what seemed his own interpretation, rather than a directorial choice. The result was a short-tempered Pharaon, an arrogant bully, certainly not a bad choice for such a character. Unfortunately, his singing, as a result, lacked elegance in the most exciting passages. However, he found his Rossinian style in the duet with Aménophis (his son), where he displayed good technique and emission.

Eleonora Buratto (Anaï)
© Studio Amati Bacciardi

Andrew Owens (Aménophis) seemed to struggle a little with this impossibly hard Adolphe Nourrit role, at times losing focus and presence. He nevertheless showed very good high notes and an appropriate style. The other tenor of the cast, Alexey Tatarintsev, was singing Éliézer, Moïse’s brother. He pushed a bit too hard at the very beginning, resulting a tad sharp (probably nerves), but quickly settled and gave a very satisfying performance.

The female side of the cast was excellent. Eleonora Buratto may seem an unusual choice for a classic Rossini soprano role such as Anaï, her voice and vibrato being fuller than one is accustomed to, but the sheer beauty of her tone, the elegance of her legato and her pianissimi, and the successful management of the coloratura passages made her performance very convincing. She gave life to a sweet young girl, torn between loyalty to her people and love for the son of the enemy, giving her best in the sweet, larmoyante arias.

Eleonora Buratto (Anaï) and Roberto Tagliavini (Moïse)
© Studio Amati Bacciardi

Vasilisa Berzhanskaya triumphed as the Egyptian queen Sinaïde. She was a total surprise for me and, it seemed, to much of the rest of the audience attending this “pre-premiere”. At only 28, the Russian mezzo stole the show with a beautiful, full voice, laser-sharp high notes and uniformity of timbre across her entire range. As a former member of the Accademia Rossiniana, her style was impeccable, supported by great breath control. A young singer to follow in her career. Monica Bacelli gave a heartfelt performance in the small role of Marie, Moïse’s sister and Anaï’s mother, her deep mezzo very well suited to the part, her technique always on point

The loud cheers at the end were clearly not only for the performers, but also to celebrate the return of the Rossini Opera Festival and in hope for the future.